When you think of an AMG E-Class, the superhot E63 likely comes to mind -- especially the wagon. But AMG isn't all about ridiculous power these days, and this E53 sedan shows the softer side of Mercedes' performance arm.
It definitely looks the part, at least, especially with the Selenite Grey Magno paint of my test car. It looks matte in photos, but there's just enough sparkle to catch the sun. It's a $3,950 upcharge but damn, does it look good. Big, 20-inch wheels and quad exhaust tips drive home the performance nature, too.
The E53 uses AMG's 3.0-liter turbo I6 engine, which on its own makes 429 horsepower and 384 pound-feet of torque. But this engine also uses 48-volt mild-hybrid tech, which can add an extra 21 hp and 184 lb-ft into the mix for initial acceleration, and it means the car's stop/start system is a lot smoother. A nine-speed automatic transmission sends power to the ground through Mercedes' 4Matic all-wheel-drive system.
Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of the AMG E53 is its smooth power delivery. It's not just smooth as silk, it's smooth as mulberry silk in a charmeuse weave. On the highway the nine-speed automatic does its thing in the background, and if you select Eco mode, the EQ Boost mild-hybrid system allows "sailing," as Mercedes-Benz calls it, where the engine can turn off.
The mild-hybrid's supplemental performance is nice, but it also helps with fuel economy. Mercedes-Benz says the AMG E53 sedan should return 21 miles per gallon city, 28 mpg highway and 24 mpg combined.
Commuters will dig the driver-assistance tech offered in the E53. It all costs an extra $2,250, though, which is kind of crazy considering this sedan starts at $74,795 including $995 for destination. The adaptive cruise control with hands-on steering assist is great, keeping the E53 in the center of the lane with a minimum of pingponging from side to side. The lane-change assist is a little much (do people really have a hard time doing this?), but still works nicely. A route-based speed adaptation feature reduces the speed if I cross into a slower zone and will also adjust for upcoming curves in the road. It all works great.
The E53 also shines on winding roads. In Sport mode the transmission is pretty lively, but it won't downshift on braking, leaving me waiting for more power when I come out of a turn. Selecting Sport Plus doesn't really remedy this situation, either. The transmissions in both the AMG CLA35 and the gargantuan AMG GLS63 I recently tested could read my mind, so I guess I expect more from this E53. The good news is that there are paddle shifters, so I can override the transmission's actions whenever I want.
There are all kinds of ways to dial in the car thanks to the AMG steering wheel controls. Not only can I easily switch to manual shifting, I can also set my suspension to Comfort, Sport or Sport Plus separately from the selected drive mode. So if I want the steering feel of Sport Plus, but a bit of a softer ride, I can do that. Heck, I can even make the exhaust a bit louder. You can also set an Individual mode, but essentially every mode can be an individual mode with all these different parameters at my fingertips. The E53's 14.6-inch front and 14.2-inch rear brakes slow the car confidently, and the well-sorted chassis and all-wheel-drive grip don't get upset over whoopy, uneven pavement.
The current E53's in-dash tech is a bit dated, but there's a new version on the horizon, so I'm not too worried. For 2020, the E-Class rocks Mercedes' old COMAND infotainment, which is fine, but does not compare to the latest MBUX system that is slowly being implemented across the company's lineup. Housed on a 12.3-inch screen, COMAND is littered with menus and submenus and is just overall not very comfortable to use. I can control the system by voice, the touchpad on the center console or the thumbpads on the steering wheel, but unlike MBUX, this screen doesn't respond to touch. There are also shortcut buttons on the center stack for navigation, radio, media and phone. The system works fine, but the learning curve is steep.
I am a firm subscriber to the Mercedes interior aesthetic and the story doesn't change in the E53. My tester has optional black Nappa leather interior contrasting red stitching and seat belts for a nice pop of color. I am very here for the round air vents as well as the suede steering wheel with a top dead-center marking. It's an all-around very attractive package.
The trunk has 13.1 cubic feet space, much smaller than the 18.7 cubes in the BMW 5 Series and just under the 13.7 cubes in the Audi A6. There's also plenty of storage space inside the car, including a slot for your phone in front of the two cup holders, though it's a little hard to fit if you have a beverage in there, too.
With the driver's seat set for my 5-foot, 9-inch height, I still have at least 3 inches of knee room in the back seat, and there is plenty of headroom, even with my puffy pandemic haircut. However, there are no USB ports for rear-seat passengers. Just a 12-volt outlet and a traditional 115-volt socket.
My test car is loaded up to $97,730 including destination, but go easy on the options and you can get a nicely equipped E53 in the low-to-mid-$80,000 range. The Audi S6 is the Mercedes' closest competitor in terms of power and price, though you could also snag a V8-powered Genesis G80 for about $13,00 less (before the new one arrives, anyway). Neither of those offers electric assist, however.
The E53 is a luxurious sedan that dips its toes in the performance pool rather than diving into the deep end. And since Mercedes-Benz isn't planning to shake up that formula too much in the future, my suggestion is to wait for the updated 2021 model to arrive, since it'll pack the same performance with even better in-car tech.