E FOR EVO­LU­TION

AMG’s ver­sion of the mid­size Mer­cedes de­liv­ers on emis­sions and ex­cite­ment

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Front Page - CRAIG DUFF

AMG isn’t known for do­ing things by halves — yet that’s ex­actly what the Mer­cedes-Benz per­for­mance tuners have done to the lat­est ar­rivals in the E-Class range. The E53 is ef­fec­tively half-a-hy­brid, pack­ing an elec­tric mo­tor with­out the ex­tra mass of a lithium-ion bat­tery pack. In sedan, coupe or con­vert­ible guise, the mo­tor aug­ments ini­tial ac­cel­er­a­tion un­til the six-cylin­der en­gine has reached boost.

The mo­tor also pow­ers the 48V elec­tri­cal sub-sys­tem — there’s still a regular 12V wiring loom — and con­trib­utes to one of the most im­pres­sive take-offs you can hope for.

AMG boss To­bias Mo­ers says the new vari­ants are the first step to­wards a hy­bridised fu­ture. “We are pro­vid­ing an ad­di­tional life­style-ori­ented cus­tomer group with a fur­ther at­trac­tive of­fer­ing,” he says.

Trans­lat­ing the mar­ket­ing talk: AMG has iden­ti­fied there are plenty of peo­ple who want to be seen in an AMG-badged ve­hi­cle with­out want­ing the li­cence-los­ing lethal­ity of a hand­built V8-pro­pelled su­per­car such as the E63.

The 48V ap­proach is far cheaper than en­gi­neer­ing and build­ing a full hy­brid driv­e­train. It com­bines snappy ac­cel­er­a­tion — think 4.4 sec­onds for the 0-100km/h dash — with fuel use you just don’t ex­pect to see from an AMG-badged ve­hi­cle.

The coupe’s claimed con­sump­tion is 8.8L/100km and we re­turned 11.0L on a rep­re­sen­ta­tive mix of high­way, ur­ban and back­road driv­ing.

A start­ing price of $167,129 for the sedan makes the E53 about $23,000 dearer than an E450 and $43,000 cheaper than the E63. That sort of sav­ing will come close to putting an A-Class in the garage as a sec­ond car.

Aspir­ing coupe and cabrio own­ers look­ing for an AMG-en­hanced ex­pe­ri­ence will pay $172,729 and $181,329 re­spec­tively.

The in­te­rior is as spe­cial as you’d ex­pect at this price, from the pair of 12.3-inch screens dom­i­nat­ing the dash to the leather up­hol­stered seats and Mer­cedes’ lat­est “com­fort and con­ve­nience” ad­di­tions such as air fra­granc­ing, wire­less phone charg­ing and panoramic sun­roof.

Be­yond the AMG badges, lo­gos and flat­bot­tom steer­ing wheel, the E53 doesn’t ad­ver­tise its per­for­mance po­ten­tial un­til you slip into the sportier driv­ing modes or man­u­ally ac­ti­vate the ex­haust flap to trans­form the sonic sig­na­ture into a bur­bling, over-run crack­ling sound­track that will have the neigh­bour­hood dogs bark­ing, if not the neigh­bours them­selves.

ON THE ROAD

Te­na­cious is the most apt de­scrip­tion of the E53, be that ac­cel­er­at­ing or cor­ner­ing. Power is shunted to the rear wheels un­til the soft­ware de­tects im­mi­nent wheel­spin when it seam­lessly shifts some drive to the front rub­ber.

By any def­i­ni­tion, the E53 is quick, be that off the line or pow­er­ing out of a cor­ner. Quick is a rel­a­tive term given the E63 is a full sec­ond faster to high­way pace but the E53 has more than enough mumbo to sat­isfy its “lifestyle­ori­ented” tar­get au­di­ence.

In keep­ing with that lower ex­pec­ta­tion, this isn’t a ve­hi­cle where you ad­just cor­ner­ing an­gle with the brake or ac­cel­er­a­tor. It’s a point-and­squirt ex­er­cise where the car trav­els pre­cisely where it is di­rected un­til physics dic­tates the

front-end will start to push wide. That thresh­old is well above what most sane driv­ers will en­counter on pub­lic roads.

Ac­cu­rate enough to sat­isfy sur­vey­ors, the steer­ing lacks a lit­tle feed­back by AMG stan­dards, es­pe­cially if you’ve been in a C-Class tweaked by the Af­fal­ter­bach engi­neers.

The air sus­pen­sion is no­tably firmer than a regular E-Class but is still more than ca­pa­ble of cos­set­ing the oc­cu­pants in the “com­fort” drive mode. The seats are su­perb and re­in­force the E53’s re­mit as a long-dis­tance lux­ury cruiser.

In coupe guise — the sedan wasn’t avail­able at launch — ac­cess to the rear pews isn’t par­tic­u­larly el­e­gant and legroom is tight for taller adults, though fine for my 175cm frame.

Ac­tive driv­ing aids are an­other as­set. Set the adap­tive cruise con­trol to the posted speed and the cam­eras will read signs ahead and ad­just the pace ac­cord­ingly. It may not be sim­ple but it is un­ob­tru­sive.

The self-steer­ing is also steadily im­prov­ing, even if it isn’t some­thing to which I’ll en­trust the oc­cu­pants’ safety when it can’t see a line on ei­ther side.

VERDICT

The E53 head­lines the en­gi­neer­ing evo­lu­tion needed to bal­ance emis­sions with ex­cite­ment. It’s still an AMG, if un­like any that’s come be­fore … and it still isn’t half-bad.

FIRST DRIVE

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