53 is the new 43, but it's closer to 63 in more than just numbers.
In case you’re wondering, yes, this new Mercedes-AMG E53 is the replacement for the E43 AMG gone by. If you happen to own one of those, it’s now a collectible of some kind… Sort of. Since the numbers at the end of AMG models seem to have no actual correlation to anything comprehensible, given there was a time when 55 meant a 5.5-litre engine or 63 meant an (almost) 6.3-litre engine, we may as well embrace the 53 nomenclature now.
What exactly is a Mercedes-AMG E53? Firstly, the full name is Mercedes-AMG E53 4Matic+, which is then available as either a sedan, coupe or cabriolet. Much like the E43, the idea of a lesser 63 is to offer an AMG badge and AMG-like performance, but without going all the way to the top. It’s rather clever, really, because the other German brands haven’t been game enough to use the full power of their performance badge in the same manner.
So, while we have a BMW M5 and M6, there is no BMW M4.3 – rather, it's called an M540i. Audi simply removes the R from its not fully loaded RS cars, which in this case would be an RS6 or RS7 turning into an S6 or S7. That doesn’t sound nearly as good as E53, and in that regard it's Mercedes-Benz doing some marketing genius. Because while it's not the full-spec blown E63, when viewed from the outside with all the glorious AMG badging, no-one is going to think it's a poor man's AMG.
That’s also because it’s not – by any measure – cheap. The E53 AMG range starts at $167,129 for the sedan, $172,729 for the coupe, and a whopping $181,329 for the convertible. That sounds expensive, but it’s still a good $43K less than the entry-model E63 and more than $70K less than the full-spec E63 S. And frankly, unless you’re the kind of person that must have the absolute best, the E53 makes a hell of a lot more sense than its significantly more expensive and powerful cousin, so let's explain why.
Firstly, the E53’s engine is something of an engineering masterpiece. It’s a 3.0-litre six-cylinder twin turbo, with one traditionally exhaust-driven turbocharger and another electric one, which is aided by a mild electric hybrid system that delivers a heap of torque independently to the internal-combustion engine. That 3.0-litre is good for 320kW and 520Nm, but add in the 16kW and 250Nm you get from the 48V electric power system and it makes for a compelling power package.
You can’t really add those two sets of power figures up for comparable measurement’s sake, but it’s interesting to note that for a car that weighs between 1900–2000kg (kerb weight without driver, coupe being the lightest at 1895kg, convertible being the heaviest at 1980kg, and the sedan in the middle at 1945kg), 0–100km/h is a stupidly fast 4.4 seconds (4.5 for sedan and convertible).
That’s partially to do with the all-wheel-drive system coupled to the updated nine-speed transmission, but also because of the lag-free experience you get from an electric turbocharger that is basically anti-lag without the noise. For the engineering geeks out there, the electric turbocharger can spool up to 70,000rpm in just 300ms.
There are also some other benefits to the 48V electric system, such as the Mercedes's computer being able to shut down the internal-combustion engine much earlier while coasting, when it can compute that you are about to come to a full stop (using the front radar and LIDAR). You won’t even realise when it’s happening, because there is no loss of power to the steering or brakes. All these little things add up to a roughly 10 per cent fuel saving (about 9L/100km).
For our review, we got behind the wheel of the coupe and convertible versions of the E53, but all three body types are already available to order. From the outside, it’s easy to tell the E53 apart from its previous and lesser 43 sibling. It looks more aggressive front and rear, and we especially love the quad-exhaust system in the new diffuser. It looks properly tough, and you wouldn’t ever regret picking it over the 63 on looks alone.
But its main benefit is obvious when you jump inside and go for a drive around town. It’s comfortable. You can actually drive this thing daily everywhere you go. It has a much better separation of sport and comfort because it leans more to the latter. Yes, it lacks that menacing character of the E63, and it doesn’t want to bite your head off each time you go for the right pedal, but that’s what makes it so pleasurable to drive.
On the other side, you can make an argument here why the other two Germans don’t use their full performance-brand credentials for lesser models. Because this isn’t a hardcore AMG. It doesn’t have the same dynamic ability as the E63, and it doesn’t ever pretend to. So, you’re kind of getting 95 per cent of the badge credibility for a lot less money and far more daily usability. It’s almost – almost – the better car if you consider that we live in a nanny state and 4.4 seconds is quick enough for what is, ultimately, a grand tourer.
We took it through some winding and twisty roads, but found ourselves not willing or wanting to push it hard into bends. Sure, it has the capacity, but it also floats a fair bit. Even in the hardest of suspension settings in Sport+, it’s still a little on the soft side and the steering isn’t as in tune as we would’ve probably loved. But it never made a bit of difference, because on the open country roads on those long sweepers, it was a delight. It has so much pulling power that it feels sensational to drive.
Most importantly, perhaps, for the target market at least, it feels at home stuck in traffic going over poorly surfaced roads and manoeuvring over potholes. It’s not as jarring as the E63, which in this author’s opinion is just that little bit too hardcore for what an E-Class should ultimately be: a super-luxury saloon/coupe or convertible.
On the inside, the E-Class continues to impress with its insanely large dual-screen set-up. The allure of the mega screens has waned a bit in recent times considering you can now get that – standard – even in the base-model A-Class. On the plus side, the cabin is a very pleasant place to be (even if some might say every Mercedes is starting to look identical on the inside), and we felt right at home in the front and rear seats of the coupe and convertible.
It has the latest version of Mercedes-Benz’s COMAND infotainment system that supports CarPlay et cetera. It also has wireless phone charging, which was a bit buggy as it kept calling up our iPhone XS Max’s NFC Apple Pay service instead of just charging the phone itself. It also didn’t fit the phone properly in its cradle. Something to consider if you’re after an E-Class and choosing a new phone.
We found it hard to tell the difference in performance between the coupe and convertible, as both did a fairly excellent job of delivering all the adrenaline required. The sound of the E53 isn’t nearly as pop-and-crackle as the 63, but it’s loud and aggressive enough to differentiate it from non-AMG models.
Speaking of which, if you’re considering stepping up from the E450 to the E53 and need justification, apart from the performance upgrade, that extra $22–23K or so price difference will get you the Air-Balance and Comfort Package, Nappa leather upholstery, AMG performance exhaust, 20-inch wheels and AMG Night Package. Seems well and truly worthwhile – so much so that it almost makes the E450 superfluous.
In fairness, and especially if you’re thinking of buying a coupe or convertible E53, we think this is best driven against the updated and incoming C63 range, because it's similar coin while offering two different characters with the same badge and brand heritage. It makes sense why you’d pick the E-Class: it’s larger, better inside, and far more practical if you need to make regular use of the rear seats – even in coupe or convertible shapes.
But if you want to have the performance to boot, and don’t want to spend $250K+ to get there, go back in the alphabet by two letters and you might end up happier. Either way, you won’t be disappointed.