Mercedes-AMG re­vives the straight-six in high-tech hy­brid fash­ion. Is its new E 53 the real deal?

ARE YOU a suf­ferer of techno-fear? Best skip the next few pages, then. Maybe you’re a Henry Ford fan­boy and be­lieve his­tory re­ally is bunk; that a new de­sign is in­her­ently bet­ter than an old one. Then the same goes, be­cause the Mercedes-AMG E 53 is not just a smor­gas­bord of get­ting your geek on, it’s also a throw­back – turn­ing its back on ac­cepted wis­dom and re-em­brac­ing a bet­ter time. And do­ing a bet­ter job as a lux­ury car in the process.

Let’s start by spin­ning up those pro­pel­ler hats. EQ Boost? Mild hy­brid? This is se­ri­ously edgy tech and it’s an­other way of ex­tend­ing the rel­e­vance of the petrol en­gine as we know it. I’ve said it be­fore, but en­gi­neers work best when some­body (in this case emissions leg­is­la­tors) is shoot­ing at them. Fun­da­men­tally, what you have is an elec­tric mo­tor sand­wiched be­tween the AMG’s inline-six and the nine-speed auto. As well as act­ing as the car’s starter mo­tor and al­ter­na­tor, the 48-volt elec­tric mo­tor can also add a 250Nm boot up the bum of the E 53 at low revs to over­come the turbo lag of the 3.0-litre and the in­er­tia of a car that won’t give you much change from two tonnes. The mo­tor also pro­vides off-throt­tle en­ergy re­cu­per­a­tion as well as pow­er­ing stuff like the wa­ter-pump and air-con which tra­di­tion­ally have been belt-driven (and, there­fore, par­a­sitic, and have made the inline-six longer).

So how come the mo­tor’s in­put is 250Nm, yet only 16kW? Sci­ence, old chook. It’s all down to the fact that torque is a mea­sur­able force (and an elec­tric mo­tor pro­duces its max­i­mum twist from zero revs) and power (kW) is an ab­stract. And since that ab­stract rep­re­sents torque mul­ti­plied by revs,


and the mo­tor only chimes in at low en­gine speeds, the mul­ti­pli­ca­tion fac­tor is small and the power stays low. And why not bring the mo­tor in at higher revs? Be­cause by then, the elec­tric turbo has weighed in, bulk­ing out the torque curve be­fore the gas-driven unit huffs up. Did I not men­tion the 48-volt elec­tric turbo? Yep, there’s a bit go­ing on here.

All up, you’re deal­ing with a max­i­mum of 520Nm and 320kW with the full meat of the torque avail­able from 1800rpm all the way through to 5800rpm, and that is about as flat as a torque curve can be with­out go­ing full-elec­tric. Power peaks at 6100rpm, which sounds a bit low, but is more to do with the turbo(s) hav­ing done their job by then and the auto’s (with a torque con­verter and lock-up clutch) abil­ity to punt the whole show down the road on gear­ing rather than revs.

Mean­while, what’s with the turn­ing-back-the-clock in­li­ne­six? Bliss and com­mon-sense, is what. The world aban­doned the straight-six for the V6 years ago as the longer inline dude be­came harder to pack­age (the planet was also em­brac­ing front-wheel drive) and im­posed a some­times less-than-op­ti­mal crash sig­na­ture when you hurled it into the wall. But some of us main­tained that if you couldn’t get a full-sized, north-south en­gined car to zip up and crash prop­erly, you weren’t try­ing. Turns out we were right.

And once you’ve over­come those fears, you re­dis­cover that an inline-six has per­fect pri­mary bal­ance (even a V8 doesn’t have that) and the only real sec­ondary im­bal­ance is a rock­ing cou­ple across the length of the crank­shaft. So, yep, they can be very smooth. And this one is.

The fa­mil­iar 4MATIC+ all-paw plat­form uses an electro­mechan­i­cal cen­tre diff to shift torque from the al­ways-driven rear axle to the some­times-driven front. The way it should be.

Plonk­ing your­self down inside re­veals an in­te­rior that is more Marie Curie than Marie Claire. But get used to that, be­cause this next-gen of tai­lorable, smart dis­plays isn’t go­ing any­where. That’s be­cause they work and give you the op­tion of what you get to see and what’s hid­den away on a need-to­know ba­sis. The me­dia-con­troller seems like a bit of a dou­bleup to me when there are also but­tons that ap­pear to do the same thing. Some­body less com­puter-dis­mis­sive may dis­agree. Equally weird are the air vents which dis­play a dis­turbingly InSinkEra­tor qual­ity. As in, I wouldn’t stick my fin­ger in one.

But if the in­te­rior looks slick, it’s noth­ing com­pared with that driv­e­line. Even fir­ing it up has you check­ing the tach to see whether it’s re­ally run­ning or not. The gen­tle, hushed start also makes the stop-start func­tion less in­tru­sive than it nor­mally is. You may ac­tu­ally leave this one switched on. Big call, I know.

From there it only im­proves with a good step-off cour­tesy of the elec­tric mo­tor and a real ramp up un­til about 2000rpm when the thrust comes on hot and strong. The 48-volt turbo can get to 70,000rpm in 0.3 of a sec­ond and is over and out by 3000rpm while the elec­tric mo­tor weighs in up to 2500rpm.

I hon­estly couldn’t dis­cern the point where the mo­tor handed over to the elec­tric snail and then to the con­ven­tional turbo. It’s all ut­terly seam­less and com­bined with the al­most-can’t-pick’em shifts from the nine-speed au­to­matic (the elec­tric mo­tor uses torque to pa­per-over any shift-shock) it al­most feels like

you’re be­ing squirted along by a jet of wa­ter rather than by pis­tons jig­ging up and down.

The en­gine has a great six-pot note, too, and while this will start a fist-fight in Stuttgart, it re­ally does snarl like a 911 when you have the ex­haust flap open and your boot on the floor. And pace? No short­age of that with the E 53 all but match­ing the fac­tory claim (which is rarer than an ac­cu­rate house-auc­tion es­ti­mate). Which is to say that we man­aged 4.5sec for the 0-100km/h dash and a 400m time of 12.7sec at 177.7km/h.

To be bru­tal, it’s so re­fined and lack­ing fran­tic-ness that it doesn’t even feel quite that fast. But on the road, the bulked out mid-range is what counts and it’s here that even the 1400 revs the E 53 is pulling at 100km/h in top gear doesn’t matter. It’ll ei­ther pull that ra­tio with­out fuss or, if you tip in deeper, it’ll drop three or four cogs and blast off.

Dy­nam­i­cally, the only dis­ap­point­ing as­pect is the fidelity of the steer­ing. Sure, the front wheels are driv­ing this time around and that’s usu­ally a smack-down to tac­til­ity, but this time the tiller is re­ally numb. Ac­cu­rate still, but numb. A re­laxed ra­tio does it no harm and although the spec-sheet says the driv­ing modes al­ter the ra­tio, I couldn’t pick it.

If there’s one thing that has char­ac­terised AMGs lately, it’s been a ride that takes firm to new lev­els. But again, there are clues that the E 53 is de­signed to be dif­fer­ent. There’s less dif­fer­ence in the way the air-sus­pen­sion and adap­tive dampers feel when switch­ing from Sport to Sport Plus. But there is a de­cent im­prove­ment in plush when you switch back one more to Com­fort. But here’s the thing, even in Sport Plus, the E 53’s de­meanour is smoother, com­fier and less edgy than the blood­ied-urine ride of the E 63 S. And that’s on run-flats! It’s sim­ply less brit­tle over pat­tery stuff, more com­pli­ant over big yumps and doesn’t take sharp road-edges per­son­ally. And all the while, the cor­ner­ing is flat re­gard­less of what mode you’re in. And brakes? Loads of them. Enough, in fact, to haul her up in less than 36 me­tres and they don’t seem to need bulk heat in them, so the first stop is as good as the sec­ond and third.

I can’t help feel­ing that AMG is al­most a lit­tle wor­ried about just how good the E 53 is and what that might mean to sales of the E 63. And if I’m right, then that would ex­plain how some of the E 53’s more ap­par­ent elec­tron­ics have been cal­i­brated. That starts with the cruise con­trol that is ac­tive not merely in the re­cent sense of be­ing able to see what’s hold­ing you up and ad­just­ing speed ac­cord­ingly, but also, in this car, in of­fer­ing to keep you out of the trees.

It does so by pre-emp­tively ad­just­ing your speed down in cor­ners or when­ever there’s a rapid ad­just­ment in steer­ing an­gle. Prob­lem is, it con­stantly as­sumes you’ve left the house with­out your padded hel­met on. Set the cruise for 110km/h on a wind­ing road that you could cruise­lessly ham­mer along at 140km/h, and the car will wipe off a hand­ful of kliks as you turn. I’m tempted to as­sume it uses the ESP to do this, but the ve­loc­ity hit oc­curs at a speed that seems well be­low the point at which you’ve started los­ing grip. That there’s so much all-paw grip here in the first place, the sen­sa­tion is only am­pli­fied. And you can’t turn it off, mean­ing, for me, that this luxo ex­press only of­fers cruise-con­trol on free­ways. Straight free­ways.


Even the ESP it­self is a buzz-kill. It in­ter­rupts way be­fore it should and, even though it’s less in­tru­sive as you ramp up the drive modes to­wards Sport Plus, it’s still in­ter­ven­ing be­fore you’ve gone any­where near the grip limit. It’s at its most in­sis­tent when pow­er­ing out of a turn, when it ig­nores its own grip and flat-lines the en­gine just when you want it to boost up and punt you on­ward. There are some se­ri­ous al­go­rithms at work here (mak­ing it truly ac­tive, rather than re­ac­tive), but none of them make me smile. And I’m not even look­ing for slides, just a brisk, even cor­ner speed. ESP that shuts you down be­fore you’ve run out of grip is just a waste of ex­pen­sive, sticky rub­ber. Yes, you can turn ESP off, at which point, in my case as an em­ployee of MO­TOR driv­ing on a pub­lic road, I’m in con­tra­ven­tion of com­pany OH and S regs. Cue solic­i­tors and the sound of in­sur­ance poli­cies be­ing torn up.

I can kind of see where AMG was go­ing with all this just the same: you don’t want to cloud the E 63’s mis­sion state­ment by of­fer­ing some­thing cheaper that is al­most as ca­pa­ble. But you know what? For me, the E 53 is the one I’d buy. I’d give me enough change to in­dulge my raw, red-meat V8 urges in other ways, yet it’d still be a ter­rific day-to-day car with plenty of ’tude. And if that plugs a gap that was pre­vi­ously ex­is­tent in the AMG line-up, then this thing is a bulls-eye. Just gotta find a tuner who can re-map the ESP.

MAIN The E 53 makes a de­cent sound, with the trade­mark pops and bangs on the over­run OP­PO­SITE Tech­nol­ogy and gad­getry are some of the ma­jor themes of the E 53’s in­te­rior

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