VERDICT: The hybrid-assisted straight-six in the E53 is a welcome addition to the E-class coupe and cabriolet range
With no plans to produce an E63 variant of the E-class Coupe and E-class Cabriolet, the new E53 models are the closest you’ll get to a full-bore performance model in their respective ranges.
What they lack in tyre-smoking appeal and sledgehammer performance they should make up in sophistication, and as the latest recipients of the firm’s hybrid-assisted inline-six powerplant, there’s certainly the potential for thrills.
Engine, transmission and 0-100km/h time
The Mercedes-AMG E53 Coupe uses AMG’s recently-introduced 3-litre inline-six with hybrid EQ Boost technology. Essentially, the 2999cc unit is joined by a 48-volt electrical system, managing a 15kW starter-alternator mounted between engine and gearbox, and an electric compressor designed to boost low-end response. Combined, they’re good for 319kW at 6100rpm, and there’s a 4000rpm, 520Nm torque plateau beginning at just 1800rpm.
The standard transmission is a nine-speed AMG Speedshift automatic, and a 4Matic+ all-wheel drive system, with fully variable torque distribution between the two axles.
Top speed is limited to 250km/h, while the 0-100km/h sprint is seen off in 4.4 seconds in the coupe and 4.5sec in the cabriolet. Similarly, the coupe is slightly more efficient, recording 7.2L/100km on the combined economy cycle to the cabrio’s 7.3L/100km. CO2 is around the 200g/km mark.
In addition to the EQ Boost setup, all E53s feature Ride Control+ multi-chamber air suspension, with springs and dampers tweaked compared to standard air-suspended Mercedes models to account for the higher performance application. The driver can control the behaviour further with the usual Dynamic Select switch, which has five standard drive modes, Eco, Comfort, Sport, Sport+ and Individual.
Cabriolets get a multi-layer roof whose opening and closing operations take 20 seconds, at speeds of up to 50km/h.
What’s it like to drive?
A not insignificant proportion of the satisfaction of driving an E-class coupe or cabriolet comes from knowing you’re in what must be one of Mercedes’ most visually attractive current models.
That’s even more the case in the E53, which gains a set of 19-inch alloy wheels and a wider track – 61mm at the front and 50mm at the rear – as well as quad tailpipes and a subtle spoiler. It’s more menacing as a result, but not overtly so, and the overall shape remains as well-proportioned as ever – though it’s perhaps at its best in pillarless coupe form, rather than on the cabriolet we test here. It’s a similar story inside, with an attractive cabin and high-quality materials, enhanced by the addition of an AMG three-spoke steering wheel and figure-hugging seats.
The inline-six fires to a quiet idle, with just the hint of a rasp to each blip of the throttle. The hybrid EQ boost system shuts the car down each time you pull to a halt, but unlike some conventional stop-start systems it neither feels intrusive nor out of place here. And when the engine is spinning, it’s silky smooth and strident all the way to the red line, the nine-speed auto shifting swiftly (whether left to its own devices or actuated with the paddles) and that quad exhaust bubbling and crackling off-throttle.
It doesn’t feel significantly better endowed than the old V6-powered 43 it effectively replaces, however. Performance might be described as “purposeful”, and enjoyment comes more from the strident engine note and crisp throttle response than it does from pure speed. It’s certainly less likely to trouble your driving licence than AMG’s V8 models, and the 53 definitely feels more like a particularly healthy blue-blooded Benz than a proper Affalterbach hot-rod.
That impression carries over to the ride and handling, which is set a few notches back from something like the E63 saloon. Harsh bumps will send a thump through the shell (though the Cabriolet remains admirably free from shimmy) but otherwise it’s nicely judged – firm, but pliant over most surfaces. Body roll is kept to a minimum too, and Mercedes still gives you better steering than BMW or Audi – responsive, accurate and well-weighted, with just enough feedback to satisfy your fingertips.
Grip and traction both feel endless on dry, smooth roads, and while that does mean the E53 feels less playful than AMG’s heavy-hitters, the extra security suits the slick-feeling drivetrain and restrained exterior styling. Like the 43s found elsewhere in AMG’s range, it’s a car you’ll learn to appreciate day-to-day, rather than a single-hit adrenaline rush of the kind AMGs are typically known for. ANTONY INGRAM