Last week’s review of the Mercedes-AMG C43 and its electrically turbocharged four-cylinder raised a few hackles in the comments, although more due to the car’s upsized price tag than its downsized powerplant. A week later and we’re talking about a much more radical AMG variant, one motivated by a pair of electric motors.
We already know that electrification is inevitable in almost every part of the market, so the existence of the EQE 53+ doesn’t feel like a shock. But nor does the idea of zero-emission performance seem like a natural fit with AMG, Merc’s in-house tuning division being associated with loud, brawny engines as much as any supercar maker. So while a four-cylinder C-Class feels like a change, a no-cylinder EQE is more of a revolution.
Not that the EQE is AMG’s first EV. Back in 2014 the division launched the SLS Electric Drive, which combined a 738hp peak output with a claimed range of 120 miles – which was pretty respectable for any EV at that time. It also cost a colossal €416,500 – which translated to around £355,000 back then – and although production was officially limited to no more than 100 examples, insiders admit only a small fraction of that total were actually built.
The EQE 53+ shows how quickly things have developed. Its peak output of 617hp isn’t too far off the SLS’s, with the optional extra-cost Dynamic Plus package increasing that to 677hp (briefly) when using its Race Start launch control function. Smart all-wheel drive means the EQE is considerably quicker off the line than its rear-driven predecessor, knocking off 0-60mph in just 3.2 seconds with Race Start and 3.4 seconds without it. It also has the extra practicality of four seats, the same multitude of high-tech toys as lesser versions of the EQE and – on the official WLTP test cycle – a range of between 275 miles and 321 miles. Pricing hasn’t been confirmed yet, but at an indicated £115,000 kick-off it will be less than a third of the price of the ‘leccy SLS.
Yet, beyond the 53’s AMG branding, visual distinction over the 350+ that sits below it in the hierarchy is limited. It gets some pretend radiator-like strakes on the panel beneath the bonnet (calling it a radiator grille would be inaccurate), plus more black trim, unique wheels and a dinky little spoiler at the top of the tailgate. The interior gets AMG branded sports seats, sportier materials, unique graphics for the abundance of digital displays (these stretching pretty much wall-to-wall with the optional Hyperscreen package) plus a new AMG shortcut control that brings up the dynamic option menu.
But pressing the Start/ Stop button makes the difference very obvious. Silence is hardly unexpected in an EV, but it definitely not in an AMG, and beyond the sort of muscular musical sting you might expect from firing up a PC there is no noise or vibration to indicate that this one is ready for action.
At this point we reach a divergence in the narrative, because the EQE 53+ does have a noise symposer, the grandly named AMG Sound Experience. Having this switched on does indeed alter the character of the car significantly, although not in a way I suspect is going to find many fans among those used to more traditional AMGs. So let’s come back to that one later and start with the acoustically unenhanced 53+.
As a piece of engineering, it’s bloody impressive. It would take a direct comparison with a Taycan Turbo and a Tesla Model S Dual Motor to work out exactly where the AMG sits in the hierarchy of performance EVs, but it is definitely towards the sharp end. Thrust is both huge and instant, the EQE able to deliver brutal levels of longitudinal acceleration and to do this without any of the hesitation that comes when you press the throttle of even the most potent combustion car. The peak power output of the twin motors is limited in the less aggressive dynamic modes, to 308hp in ‘Slippery’, 493hp in ‘Comfort’ and 555hp in ‘Sport’; only ‘Sport+’ brings the full 617hp.
Even in Sport the forces quickly became uncomfortable, and in Sport+ the AMG EQE is one of the small number of cars where - even when conditions are entirely safe and appropriate to call on full urge - you choose not to in order to stop internal organs from trying to trade places with each other. It seems ludicrous, but the ‘53’ branding clearly implies that AMG is planning an even more potent version beyond this. Some parts of the world will also get a slightly gentler EQE 43, but this won’t be coming to the UK.
Nor does the 53+ feel dull or inert when pushed hard. On AMG’s numbers it weighs a sizeable 2,600kg, but much of that mass is in the sizeable 90.6kWh battery pack that sits beneath the floor meaning that the centre of gravity is very low. The EQE is impressively keen to change direction at higher speeds, with little discernible roll despite the absence of any active anti-lean systems. The standard air springing keeping the car’s mass under tight control over bumpy roads, regardless of which dynamic mode the car is in. Cruising refinement in Comfort isn’t quite up to the freakish silence of the regular EQE, which feels a little like a sensory deprivation chamber under gentle use, but it is still impressively quiet. Conversely even selecting Sport+ didn’t turn it too harsh on twisty and frequently lumpy French mountain roads.
Grip is keen and well balanced between both ends. The EQE’s weight does become obvious in the really tight stuff, but the stability control has a more permissive Sport mode which gives rearward bias to the e-AWD system’s torque delivery - enough to give an amusing level of throttle adjustability without turning the car snappy or wayward. The option of carbon ceramic brakes might also seem over-spec on an EV capable of harvesting a huge 260kW of regenerative braking, but the huge speed the 53+ can summon in minimal distances made their huge, tireless retardation reassuring, and the blending between electrical and friction braking is close to imperceptible.
In short, in terms of driving experience it feels pretty much exactly as you’d expect an EV engineered by AMG to. Which brings us to the thornier issue of what’s missing. The issue is the sound symposer system which plays a manufactured sound both inside and outside the car, with volume and pitch varying in a similar way to that you’d expect from different speeds and loadings with a combustion engine. The test car had two different versions to choose between - Authentic (its name proving the existence of the German sense of irony) and Performance. With the system on in the punchier dynamic modes there’s even a digital idle when the car is still.
AMG hasn’t tried to simply copy the noise of a V8, although this would undoubtedly have been possible. The synthesised soundscape is more science fiction-ish, containing hints of jet engines and even what briefly sounded like the hum and zing of a lightsabre. All this is interesting, but never convincing, and while I enjoyed the novelty when experiencing it from the passenger seat, it was deeply distracting when driving. It seems the human brain will gladly accept the noise of a combustion engine even when this is digitally tweaked and enhanced. But an obviously fake soundtrack creates a yawning credibility gap.
But switching the sound generator off turns the 53+ into a faster and firmer version of the EQE, one that could equally well carry 550+ branding instead of an AMG badge. Perversely it can’t have helped that the basic car is so incredibly quiet, fighting NVH with details like acoustically damped motor subframes and its ultra-snug cabin insulation. It’s not like there’s a much capacity to add noise or dynamic grit to the base car, hence importance of the symposer.
In terms of performance, the EQE 53+ certainly delivers. It is genuinely hard to imagine a situation where a car this quick wouldn’t feel fast enough, and the rest of the driving experience is similarly engaging for something this size and weight. What’s missing is the other stuff that normally comes as standard with any AMG: the visceral excitement of noise and vibration, the deliberate excess of too much engine. It feels like a very fast electric Mercedes, but it is genuinely hard to nominate a single area, silly soundtrack aside, where it feels like an AMG.
Specification | Mercedes-AMG EQE 53+
Engine: Dual electric motors
Transmission: Single-speed reduction, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 617 (continuous), 677 (Race Start with Dynamic Plus package)
Torque (lb ft): 701 (continuous) 738 (Race Start with Dynamic Plus package)
0-60mph: 3.4-sec, 3.2-sec (Race Start with Dynamic Plus package)
Top speed: 137mph (limited) (149mph (limited) with Dynamic Plus package
Range: 321 miles (WLTP)
Price: TBC but c. £115,000
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