2021 Mercedes-AMG E53 Cabriolet review: High-tech and handsome
Normally, I'd shy away from a Mercedes-AMG convertible. AMGs are usually a little too hard-edged and maniacal for my tastes, and not really in the spirit of what I'd want in a luxury convertible. The AMG E53 is different, though. In fact, it's one of my favorite cars I've driven so far this year.
The heart of the E53 is its AMG-tuned 3.0-liter turbocharged I6 engine with mild-hybrid assist. It lacks the guttural heavy-metal ogre growl of AMG's 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8, sure, but makes up for it with amazing smoothness and a surprisingly pleasing yowl in its upper rev range. The E53 is the most powerful E-Class convertible you can get, by the way; there's no E63 available.
The I6 engine makes a healthy 429 horsepower and 384 pound-feet of torque with little to no perceptible delay in power, largely thanks to the EQ-Boost mild-hybrid system. EQ-Boost not only smooths out the start-stop operation, but its electric motors offer enough supplemental boost -- 21 hp and 184 lb-ft -- to get the E53 moving until the turbochargers are on full boil. Accelerating to 60 mph takes a scant 4.4 seconds, which is pretty good for a 4,566-pound convertible.
The E53's engine is paired with a nine-speed automatic transmission. It functions invisibly when left to its own devices and offers crisp upshifts and downshifts when called upon via the steering wheel-mounted paddles.
An added benefit of this smaller-displacement, electrically assisted engine is fuel economy. The EPA rates the 2021 Mercedes-AMG E53 Cabriolet at 21 miles per gallon in the city, 27 mpg highway and 23 mpg combined, which I have no trouble matching in regular driving.
Being a heavy, midsize convertible, the E53 isn't exactly sports-car sharp, but that's not a bad thing. The E53's suspension does an excellent job of smoothing out rough roads, even in its most aggressive Sport Plus mode, and there is a noticeable difference in ride quality between the convertible's Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus suspension settings. The steering is accurate and well-weighted, though in Sport Plus mode, it feels needlessly heavy. The big, multipiston brakes are easy to modulate and feature plenty of stopping power in most situations, though they're prone to fading after a spirited drive.
The updated E-Class' interior is one of the best in the business, and that carries over to the Cabriolet. The fit and finish and material choices are all top-notch and befitting of a car in the E53's price range (more on that later). The sporty AMG seats are very comfortable and feature plenty of adjustability, so even someone of my size -- 6 feet, 4 inches -- can get cozy without much trial and error.
The massive digital instrument panel and infotainment screen look brilliant, offering up all the information you could want in a way that's clear and sensible. Both screens utterly define the look and feel of the E53's interior, and that's a good thing. The tiny screens on the steering-wheel mounted controls are also a cool touch, allowing you to adjust frequently used items like the transmission's manual mode or the sport exhaust on/off switch. This all makes the E53 feel tech-forward and modern.
The cornerstone of the E53's tech is its MBUX infotainment system, which offers powerful natural-speech recognition for many of the cabin controls (like heat and stereo volume) as well as must-haves like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Combined with its colorful, crisp imagery, MBUX is among my favorite infotainment systems available today.
I also can't talk about the E53 Cabriolet's interior without talking about Air Scarf. For those who have never experienced this feature, it's basically a tiny space heater that lives in each front headrest, blowing hot air on your neck. It makes cool-weather, top-down motoring a breeze (pun intended). It's fantastic, and I find myself using it all the time.
Unfortunately, all of this goodness doesn't come cheap. The 2021 Mercedes-AMG E53 Cabriolet starts at $83,845 including a $995 destination fee, and my extremely well-equipped tester comes in just a hair under $105,000. Let's face it, that's a lot of money. Mercedes' convertibles have always carried a hefty premium, and the E53 is no different.
As for the competitive set, the E53 is sort of in a class of its own. The Audi S5 Convertible is smaller, less powerful and less expensive -- really, it competes with Merc's own AMG C43 Cabriolet. The Lexus LC Convertible starts at $101,000 and has a brilliant, naturally aspirated V8, but it lacks a lot of the Merc's tech. The BMW 8 Series is a lot bigger. And honestly, I'd take the E53 over all of these.
The 2021 Mercedes-AMG E53 Cabriolet is a fantastic luxury convertible that offers good looks, great tech and excellent road manners, but it's expensive. Then again, if you're shopping for a car in this segment, you probably aren't looking for a great value. Price tag aside, there's very little to dislike about the lovely AMG E53.