Saturday, 5 July 2008

Road Test: Mercedes-Benz E280 AMG Sports

The Mercedes-Benz E-Class has long been a benchmark luxury executive saloon from the heydays of the 1970s W123, 1980s W124 (almost built like a tank!) and the W210 of the 1990s. There is no denying that the E is popular for its solid built, comfort and classy image of prestige. The current E-Class, codenamed W211, made its debut in 2003 and had undergone a mid-cycle facelift in 2007 in what is known as ‘New Generation’ in Mercedes lingo.

The top-of-the-line locally-assembled (CKD) E-Class in Malaysia is the E280 with a 3.0 litre all-aluminium V6. For 2008 model year, Mercedes-Benz Malaysia (MBM) has added AMG goodies to this variant: 18-inch 5-spoke AMG alloy wheels (Style III) in titanium grey, AMG bumpers with sportier front and rear aprons, twin AMG exhaust mufflers, sports-tuned suspension, AMG Sports steering wheel with paddles gear shifter, brushed stainless steel foot pedals/footrest with rubber studs, and 7G-Tronic sport automatic transmission. Sounds delicious in theory and on paper, yes?

In all their effort to make it sportier, somehow the sill plates are still standard M-B items. There is also none of the distinctive AMG badges or emblems to say that this is an official E280 AMG Sports from MBM. Well, perhaps just those AMG acronyms stitched on the carpet mats and embossed on the 18” alloys. Unlike BMW Malaysia’s 5-series wearing numerous M-labelled items adorning its M-Sport variants, the E280 AMG Sports is subtle in aggressive aesthetics enhancements, so much so a dental ‘colleague’ thought it was just my regular E200 Kompressor with upsized alloys! Not much good for a car asking for RM438,888, was our initial impression. Strangely, Mercedes’ famed ‘Keyless Go’ entry and access system is also missing here.

Much like the M-division of BMW, AMG is the high-performance arm of Mercedes-Benz. AMG was founded as an independent company in 1967 by Hans-Werner Aufrecht (A) and Erhard Melcher (M) in the town of Großaspach (G) near Stuttgart. Specialising in high performance enhancements and engine tuning for Mercedes-Benz, it was entirely bought over by then DaimlerChrysler AG in 1998.

Despite being AMG-spec, the E280 engine (M272 E30) is very much stock standard with 231hp at 6000rpm while maximum torque is 300Nm from 2500 - 5000rpm. For motoring enthusiasts who are fascinated by tech acronym like VVT (variable valve timing) the E30 powerplant doesn’t disappoint with continuous VVT on both inlet and exhaust sides, Variable Length Intake Manifold and a balancer shaft in between the cylinder banks to deal with vibrations in the 90º V6 design. That said, idling vibrations still plague our tester on the steering wheel and door trim…just that wee bit.

Despite being a normally aspirated, we found the E280 to be very tractable in city traffic; with meaningful shove from a low 2000rpm onwards should you want to speed up. Upon closer scrutiny, we discovered a couple of significant technical upgrades on the new E280 AMG, namely the sports suspension tuning and probably with the ‘New Generation’ facelift exercise, a newly-developed spring link bearings to handle lateral forces more effectively around bends and enhance more neutral (read: less roll) cornering characteristics. Of course, aiding this road holding forte are those lovely – and highly premium - ContiSportContact 3 in 245/40 ZR18 (front) and 265/35 ZR18 (rear). As tested over the few days the ‘local’ AMG paired with its sharper and accurate steering, took corners in flat poise and tracks very confidently and faithfully around bends.

The E280 AMG Sports has indeed made remarkable progress in terms of handling dynamics, something which contrasted affably with E200K, the previous E240 and even the fully-imported Brabus K4. Amazingly in the E280 AMG Sports this is achieved without compromising the supple and gliding ride comfort, which is a consistent hallmark of the E-Class. In all fairness, it must be said though that the AMG’s ultra-low profile rubbers do not tolerate those yellow speed breaker strips on highway well, with much studded and lumpy feedback!

It took slightly over 7 seconds for the E280 AMG to reach 100km/h from standstill and the 7G-Tronic slush box was smooth and imperceptible when left on its own devices. However, it is vague when you up-shift manually while the lag upon downshifting is a little disconcerting should you want to rush things. Probably the gearbox is tuned more for wafting finesse than outright lightning quick manual shifts. For Benz fans who fancy the aesthetics of the bluish-hue windscreens and windows on Avantgarde Mercs, it would be interesting to know that these glasses don’t work much better than the regular green tint (in Elegance and Classic spec) in blocking out heat. The A/C on our tester has to be turned up to 20ºC for effective cooling on hot afternoons.

The Adaptive Brake system taken from the latest Mercedes-Benz S-Class (W221) is also very commendable. It is progressive, comfortable even on rapid deceleration and yet powerfully fade-free. On more than one occasion when the right foot was taken off the accelerator and shifted quickly over to the brake pedal, we found the brake pedal travel to be lesser, therefore cutting down braking response time while the system applied more powerful brake servo assistance. With the E-Class facelift exercise, the standard xenon HID items are no longer spotty and halogen-mimicking in intensity and throw. Even in the darkest of nights, we see just bright lit, clear and farther view ahead. The upper third of the main headlamps now gets illuminated as well, negating the droopy-eye look of the pre-facelift model. Refreshing indeed.

The E280’s COMAND APS incorporating GPS Navigation is quite easy to use, with pin-pointing of junctions and landmarks accurate. Maps are not that up-to-date though for PJ, Seremban, Hulu Langat, Titi, Kuala Klawang and Port Dickson, to name a few places, with one-way streets not updated while some small or new streets were non-existent. Having sampled a popular 3rd party local GPS system we think that the RM2000 system can outdo any original OE Sat-Nav out there, more so with a touch-screen interface that is more intuitive and easy to use.

All in all, the E280 AMG Sports still does well to represent the top-end of officially available, locally-assembled E-Class in Malaysia. Like most, if not all of modern Mercedes-Benzes, it is the facelift model that has effectively ironed out all the design and initial manufacturing bugs of that vehicle range. For those in the market for such D-segment luxury sedan, and perhaps wanting some sporting intentions without sacrificing long-distance comfort and luxury, the E280 with AMG Sports pack is certainly worth to be on that shortlist. You may still want to shop for that after-market “////AMG” emblem for the rear boot lid though.


Anonymous said...

Despite the fact that this car is loaded with a couple of AMG goodies, putting an AMG emblem on the bootlid will only make it look like a wannabe. This is not a full-fledged AMG-built car.

drlong said...

Let's face it, MBM does call this W211 model: E280 AMG Sports. What's wrong with a little badge at the back? I think MBM's being somewhat stingy with this!

Or perhaps Daimler's AMG division is being rigid and strict on this matter? :)

For said...

Well, the E280 AMG Sports is already an AMG wannabe of sorts - an official one from Mercedes-Benz Malaysia at that!

So why not go all the way...and top it off with an "////AMG" emblem at the boot lip? ;)