Tested: Mercedes-AMG E53 is impressive, but is it too polite?
Johannesburg - Officially, the AMG acronym is derived from the performance division’s two founders Aufrecht and Melcher as well as the town where all the fun started, Grossaspach. Yet unofficially the badge has almost always stood for automotive sledgehammer, in some other language, of course, where the letters actually match up.
But in recent times, things have started changing, and we’re now seeing a more civilised breed of Mercedes-AMG models joining the ranks. Sure, the outfit still builds V8 hooligans with ‘63’ badges, and even a ‘45’ hyper hatch, but now we’re seeing numbers like ‘53’ and ‘35’ on the boot lids of various models in the Mercedes range. They’re cheaper and less extreme than the big guns, but still a lot more potent than the ordinary Benzes.
But can they still headbang to Rammstein?
It was with this question in mind that we road tested the new Mercedes-AMG E53 Coupe recently. But the big point of interest here is that, along with the CLS 53, it ushers in the brand’s first straight-six engine in more than two decades. What’s really cool about this new 3-litre engine, besides the fact that its cylinder layout naturally makes it sound better than a V6, is that it comes with some cutting-edge hardware. In addition to a conventional turbocharger, the engine is also assisted by an electric compressor that provides extra boost a lower rpm, making it even quicker off the mark. It’s also got a mild-hybrid system that can assist the engine with an additional 16kW and 250Nm in short spurts.
Although it’s not an automotive sledgehammer like the 450kW E63, the E53 produces a very decent 320kW and 520Nm, and that’s still enough to whisk it from 0-100km/h in 4.4 seconds, according to claims.
Let’s put it this way, if the E63 is Extra Hot Peri Peri, then the E53 is the ‘Hot’ flavour. But while its undeniably potent performance might warrant putting some toilet paper in the fridge, it’s not going to blow you through the roof like its bigger brother. Power is delivered in a civilised manner, via a smooth-shifting nine-speed automatic gearbox, and until you dial the Dynamic Select system into ‘Sport’ or ‘Sport+’ modes, you’re hardly even going to hear the engine. The latter mode does at least give you a bit of snap-crackle-pop though, but overall it just doesn’t feel or sound as dramatic as its bigger brothers.
As for economy, the E53 can be surprisingly frugal if you drive it the way it’s not meant to be driven. Pilot it with any enthusiasm on city streets and the readout will quickly push past the 15 l/100km mark, but after resetting the trip for a ‘disciplined’ journey home from the office, I managed to coax it down to 10.5 l/100km. But I was truly impressed by its highway consumption on a 100km round trip to the airport, where it averaged 8.0 l/100km.
Incidentally, the E53 is the most potent E-Class coupe model that you can buy as currently the E63 is only available in sedan format. You can, however, have an E53 sedan if you want, or even a cabriolet if you’re not a fan of good hair days.
The E53’s lack of hooligan vibes is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s still sporty enough to provide huge satisfaction to keen drivers, but it’s also comfortable, civilised and even a little understated on the road. While this vehicle is agile for its size, thanks to an AMG-fettled 4Matic all-wheel-drive system with fully variable torque distribution between the front and rear axle, the E53 also rides very comfortably. That’s largely thanks to the AMG Ride Control+ air suspension system with continuously adjustable damping.
Yet what really elevates this car’s status as a premium vehicle is the cabin, and we’re not just talking classy finishes here - the mood lighting system actually is quite ‘moody’. Even the turbine-like air vents can be lit up in a vast range of evocative colours, and it creates a rather captivating atmosphere at night.
Furthermore, if you opt for the Widescreen Cockpit (an extra R16 746), you also get a fully digital instrument cluster, allowing you to choose between three different display styles - each of which can be configured in multiple ways to display the information that you want.
The E53’s interior styling package is on the subtle side, but there are a few unique AMG design garnishes in the form of a redesigned ‘A-wing’ front apron, twin-blade grille, AMG-specific side sill panels, rear apron with diffuser and 19-inch alloy wheels - although customers can opt for larger 20-inch rims.
The E53’s base price is R1 322 200, but a lot of the cool stuff is on the options list, so be prepared to part with more than that.
AMG is going more mainstream with ‘deputy’ models like the 53 series, which is not necessarily a bad thing, given that you’re still getting borderline extreme performance at a lower price and without all the hooligan antics. Yes, I feel the E53 could do with a bit more beast in its belly, but it’s still an impressive blend of sportiness, comfort and elegance. But if it's a beast that you're after first and foremost, it might be worth trying out a C63.