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Mercedes throws down the EV gauntlet to long-time rival


For decades they have been the best of enemies – powerful and pushing each other to the limit in their quest to rule the world. Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, perhaps?.

No, the world leaders in this case are two cars. German cars, no less.

Mercedes-Benz’s E-Class and its BMW arch-rival, the 5 Series, have all but divvied up the lucrative business/executive market between them for decades.

But suddenly these two mighty marques are heading in distinctly different directions. And it’s the world’s sudden infatuation with electric vehicles that’s driving them apart.

Where the two models – and their makers – have been in lock-step in terms of technology, design and engineering, they now appear to have chosen very different paths as they move toward an electric future.

BMW has just revealed its eighth-generation 5-series – with an all-electric i5 sedan at the top of the tree. At the same time, Mercedes has tasked the company’s performance arm, AMG, to design its 5-Series rival – the AMG EQE 53 – which has just arrived Down Under.

It’s the first time these models haven’t gone eye-to-eye since the first 5-Series arrived in 1971 – so by splitting its petrol and electric models into two distinctly different models, Mercedes has really thrown down the gauntlet.

BMW, long considered the more youthful and athletic of the two brands, suddenly looks cautious and a little conservative as it gradually blends electric-only models into its conventional fleet. Think 5-Series, the new 7-Series limousine (tested recently) or its SUV-styled iX.

Mercedes’ tactics are clear. It will offer custom-built, ground-up electric models with unique designs, engineering and driving dynamics, which sit separately from the conventional E-Class range.

So, having tested the flagship EQS53 flagship some months ago, this week the EQE53 (the electric equivalent of Benz’s E-Class) was put through its paces.

Like its larger sibling, it makes a big impression.

While the conventional E-Class will remain, the EQE will debut with three models – the entry-level EQE300 – a single-motor affair with an asking price of $134,900. Step up to the EQE350 and you’ll get a second motor with more power, more features and a bigger price tag.

And lastly is the tested car, the EQE53 AMG, which is, quite frankly, a brute.

With a price-tag of $214,900, plus some compelling options, it is Benz’s declaration of what a “pure” EV should be and how it should drive. It makes a convincing case.

The EQE 53 adopts the ethereal, gracefully slippery lines of its bigger sibling, the EQS53 but is quicker, sportier and almost as luxurious as its counterpart.

The EQE challenges you the moment you step into the plush, space-age cockpit that feels as if someone has driven around an electronics shop grabbing every gizmo they saw.

Futuristic doesn’t do it justice.

Its centrepiece, and main talking point, is the superb “Hyperscreen” which at almost two metres wide, takes up the entire dashboard with its dazzling array of information, icons and functionality.

The cabin is quite beautiful – detailed yet sleek, plush yet efficient and incredibly upmarket, with a real “prototype” feel and appearance about it.

You expect George Jetson to whiz past any moment. Not that George’s bubble car could hold a candle to the EQE.

With electric motors powering the front and rear axles, it offers 450kW and 950Nm, capable of reaching the 100km/h dash in a dazzling 3.6 seconds – or 3.3 if you spend an additional $6000 on an AMG Dynamic Plus package. Just think about all that time you’ll save.

With a 90.56kW battery it will maintain that stunning performance for more than 425km before a recharge. That’s not by any means class-leading but few will drive more than 400km in a day.

Equally, not everybody is going to love this Benz’s new design.

It’s certainly eye-catching and the AMG pedigree is there for all to see. But the endless curve of its silhouette and the way the wheels have been pushed out to each corner of the car looks a little ungainly from some angles. Merc might not appreciate us suggesting it looks very similar to the Hyundai Ionic6. Gulp.

The car’s design also creates one other problem. The extended wheelbase and low centre of gravity makes it prone to bottoming out when it goes over sharply pitched driveways or even speed humps. Fortunately, Benz have installed a function that lifts its ground clearance with a push of an icon.

The Hyperscreen incorporates the instrument panel (complemented by a brilliant head-up display) and a panel primarily devoted to climate-control and occupant comfort. And there’s plenty of that.

It’s a special place to be and one, dare we say, that would become more intuitive, and more accessible, after a week or two at the wheel.

At first blush it’s a blur of options, chimes and tweets. The steering wheel is where most of your driver functions are controlled with the hyperscreen running the rest.

The list of inclusions on this car is long and generous – a Burmester premium 3D sound system; digital LED headlights with adaptive high-beam; panoramic sliding sunroof, 360-degree camera (plus auto park function).

Next task: Drive the new 5-Series. But don’t be too surprised if it doesn’t quite measure up.

MERCEDES-BENZ AMG EQE53

HOW BIG?

It’s the equivalent of Benz’s conventionally-powered E-Class and without the transmission tunnel taking up space, the interior it is very roomy. It’s also incredibly comfortable.

HOW FAST?

Technically, it can reach the speed limit in 3.6 seconds.

HOW THIRSTY?

Official range for this car is 435km.

HOW MUCH?

The AMG EQE53 has a price tag of $214,900 plus onroad costs. The test machine added the hyperscreen ($11,999); ceramic brakes ($6999) and AMG carbon fibre trim ($1614) which will put you on the road at $251, 962.

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