Mercedes E-class AMG E53 Estate – long-term review
Life with an E-Class: great car, but too over-complicated?
Opposable thumbs are one of the things that separate humankind from animals and wildlife. Dolphins, we’re told, are unusually bright but they don’t have thumbs of any sort. This is surely an evolutionary fail.
Fast-moving thumbs, meanwhile, are one of the things that separate the young and the old. I watch my 18-year old daughter’s thumbs ablur on her smartphone as she uploads something and it’s like looking at that Quicksilver dude from X-Men.
I haven’t yet asked her to try the touch-pad or steering wheel controls on the E53 but I can only assume it’ll be second nature to her. My digits are substantially less keen. Mercedes is positioning itself right on the forefront of the user interface experience and the process is one of constant refinement, but despite the presence of a volume slider on the steering wheel, I almost always use the physical control on the centre console.
It’s small and a bit fiddly but at least it’s there. One of the other wheel spars allows you to reconfigure the instrument dials, but once you’ve had a play how often do you really do that?
As for the trackpad, well, if the USB cable so much as breaches the airspace above it, the radio switches stations. Imagine what my stupid fingers are like on it. Someone in Mercedes ergonomic high command – and elsewhere in the world of cars – clearly thinks this is the way to go, but it’s just too sensitive. The touchscreen thankfully remains a more robust fallback, if a bit more of a stretch.
The E53 suffers other sensitivities, its various sensors and cameras becoming hyperactive in urban situations. As with some of its rivals, if the car thinks you’re about to reverse into something it slams the brakes on with almost comical force. If it spots an object in its field of vision – a parked car on a grass verge by a hairpin, for example – it’ll issue a warning chime of starkly disproportionate volume.
Look, it’s clever stuff, and it’s also legislatively mandated as we head towards autonomy. Maybe one day I’ll be grateful it’s there. But right now it’s simply too intrusive.
Other things remain hit and miss. The Hey Mercedes voice activation is pretty much state of the art but it still doesn’t have a 100 per cent hit rate. And if it doesn’t work all the time, what’s the point? Then there’s the Apple Airplay connectivity: playing tunes off Spotify means the volume needs to be cranked up to somewhere beyond the two-thirds mark. I have no idea why.
Also hit and miss is the E53’s gearbox. Dubbed Speedshift, in Mercedes’s six-cylinder engines it retains a torque converter (unlike the MCT in the V8s), and offers a double declutching function in ‘Sport’ or ‘Sport+’ mode.
It works beautifully in this set up and makes a great noise as it does so (if not quite as full-throated as ye olde AMGs of yore) but it can be hesitant in normal use, hanging onto a gear when you want it to change up.
Fortunately, the rest of the time the Mercedes is very good at doing what Mercedes has always been good at: being a useful, well engineered car.