Everything old is new again, and in the case of the Mercedes-AMG E53, the inline six-cylinder engine makes a triumphant return as the supporting act to the brand’s V8 superstars.
The full Mercedes-AMG range is getting ever more complex as the brand attempts to fill every niche ensuring no market segment misses out on some Affalterbach-tweaked madness.
Take the E53 4Matic+, for instance. It’s a new addition to the range in Australia, combining a high output version of Mercedes-Benz’s recently introduced inline six-cylinder engine (similar to the CLS450) and a 48-volt ‘mild hybrid’ system with an AMG-fettled all-paw system.
The powertrain itself is available across sedan, coupe and convertible body styles, however the plot thickens considering the more powerful V8-engined E63 crowns the sedan range, the coupe and convertible models are eight-less, leaving the 53 as the halo two-door – despite being able to buy a smaller, cheaper but more powerful and V8-shod C63 coupe.
Not everyone wants a manic, sinister, tyre-shredding Euro hot-rod though. Some of us (who, me? Okay, some of you) enjoy the finer things in life. You may well still desire power, presence and prestige without the fetishistic freneticism of a 63.
Welcome then, to the AMG E53.
The visual package is tamer for one thing. The E-Class’s classic coupe proportions are unchanged: there are no pumped fenders, the bumpers are a little deeper and the grille wears a two-bar insert; the restraint is obvious.
Trainspotters will clock the quad circular exhaust tips and two-tone 19-inch alloy wheels but there's not exactly a wealth of visual cues to the E53’s potential. Subtle though it may be from the outside, there’s no avoiding the starting price of $172,729 before on-road costs. Hardly subtle at all.
Similarly unsubtle is the performance. There’s 320kW available at 6100 rpm and 520Nm over a wide rev range from 1800 to 5800 rpm. The 3.0-litre straight six is turbocharged (a traditional exhaust driven turbine) and backed up by an electric auxiliary compressor ensuring optimum response even from just above idle where a gas turbine might still we waiting to spool up.
EQ Boost electric assistance sees an integrated starter-generator contribute 16kW and 250Nm, and also enables almost eerily instant, silent, and vibration-free restarting via the engine stop-start system.
Drive is sent from the engine to the wheels via Mercedes’s in-house nine-speed torque converter automatic, as opposed the multi-clutch auto of E63 cars – the result a more refined drive that still cuts the mustard as a performance transmission.
Everything combined and running at its peak will allow a 4.4-second 0-100 km/h sprint. At a more relaxed pace, Mercedes-AMG claims the E53 coupe will sip fuel at a rate as low as 8.8L/100km, though after a week with us (and lots of wide open throttle) the big Merc coupe swallowed 11.2L/100km.
The exhaust isn’t your regular raucous AMG affair. It’s bimodal, so you can turn up the volume when you like, and the new inline six lets out a thoroughly enjoyable roar, but it's also more socially acceptable than either V8-equipped 63-engined cars, or the smaller, brattier four-cylinder 45 range.
Unusually, the exhaust sounds best in its louder Powerful setting with the rest of the car’s adjustable parameters set to Comfort. Toggling to Sport sharpens the drive, but the slower-revving Comfort throttle response draws out the very best aural experience from the pipes.
Good thing there’s a dedicated, easy to engage button on the console just for the soundtrack.
Suspension follows a less-is-more approach, too. The air suspension setup beneath the E53 is more forgiving than you’d find under the C63 coupe (or E63 sedan) giving the 53 a more relaxed, long-legged touring vibe.
There’s still excellent control in demanding conditions, and unlike some air systems which can struggle to smooth out jittery tarmac, the AMG makes short work of sharp little bumps, making it a consummate touring car.
Steering isn’t quite as sharp as some might like. There’s just a moment of lag and a feeling of artificiality to dampen your enthusiasm, though it’s certainly light and predictable enough to make urban work no chore at all.
The brakes may take some getting used to as well. There’s an inconsistency to pedal feel (anyone familiar with the unflattering servotronic brake control system of older E- and SL-Class cars will know it all too well) and without a linear pedal stroke it’s all too easy to stop short and ungracefully in low-speed situations.
With 320kW and 520Nm to get to the ground, the standard inclusion of 4Matic+ permanent all-wheel drive makes sense. It’s a shame then that the system comes with a few quirks of its own.
At speed there’s no cause for concern, but around town the system displayed an annoying habit of causing the front wheels to skip, usually moving off from a standstill with a few degrees of lock applied to the steering.
That means getting in and out of tight car spaces, trying to enter driveways, or moving off from intersections would result in a grinding shudder from the front wheels. It’s a phenomenon absent from the more powerful E63, but we’ve come across it before in other ‘low-powered’ Benz vehicles, like the GLC SUV.
Elsewhere the E53 delights with a typically tech-fest Benz interior. Traditionalists are sure to scoff at features like 64-colour LED ambient lighting with animated ‘scenes’ to constantly vary the lighting hue, and a perfume diffuser to keep the air fragranced at all time.
Mercedes tends to sell E-Class owners a little short though as the light show doesn’t extend to the rear of the cabin like it would in an S-Class. Maybe it’s just me, but I could live without the Air Balance Control fragrance system too, which even on its lowest output leaves the air thick with sickly scents.
Otherwise the interior impresses. The updated E-Class doesn’t yet run Mercedes’s latest MBUX infotainment system, sticking with the older Comand system, but it’s still relatively easy to use with a variety of input methods although the menu structure could do with a touch less complexity.
Instead of traditional dials the driver faces a digital instrument cluster with a variety of display options. Tech heads are sure to love the dual-screen layout, but again more mature buyers may not warm to the idea.
The AMG sports seats are wrapped in Nappa leather trim, a 13-speaker Burmester audio system delivers your entertainment, and a panoramic sunroof offers a hint of open air to the fixed-roof coupe.
If practicality matters, there’s 425-litres of space in the boot, a stack of large storage in the cabin (thanks in part to the column-mounted gear selector) and rear seats that are adult sized, although the tapered rear roof impacts headroom.
On the safety front, standard kit covers the usual multiple airbags (nine, if you’re counting) and stability control, and Driver Assistance Package Plus, Benz-speak for a network of systems like active lane keeping, traffic-sign monitoring, radar cruise control and more, for a hint of convincingly accurate semi-autonomous capability in certain situations.
Ownership details include a three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty, meaning most mainstream brand warranties outlast prestige players, but amongst its peers the E-Class fits right in. Capped price servicing will be available at 12 month/25,000km intervals for three years however Mercedes-Benz Australia is still putting the finishing touches on pricing and didn’t have it available at the time of this review.
If you’re after performance without punishment, the plusher approach of the E53 sneaks into the gap between the hardcore C63 range and the ultra-luxe S63. No less style-driven than other AMG products, but with a low-key sophistication that befits its executive express position.
Race tracks aren’t the E53’s turf, though there’s no doubt the powerful coupe would make short work of one, but effortless big-distance touring with huge reserves of torque and a few cheeky driving thrills stamp the authority of this new addition to the ever-expanding AMG family.