Review: 2019 Mercedes-AMG E 53 Coupe
One of the most engrossing and rewarding drives in the mid-size luxury coupe/sedan game
THE PROS & CONS
- What’s Good: Awesome engine that is techy in all the right ways, exterior styling
- What’s Bad: Annoying infotainment, too much piano black inside
Oh, what a difference the number 10 makes in the case of the Mercedes-AMG E53. It replaces last year’s 43, and more than just adding 10 whatevers of displacement (which it doesn’t; Mercedes’ model numbers haven’t had anything to do with engine size for years), it adds a big new technical addition in the form of an electric supercharger.
Usually, these take horsepowers and fuel to run, but now an EV motor does the work, reducing both fuel intake and any lag in power delivery since the engine is also – yes, also, as in “in addition to” – turbocharged. Typically, with turbochargers comes lag but not here, as we’ll see in just a minute. What I will say for now, though, is that this engine will quickly make you drop your “one man, one engine” bias even though it isn’t technically built from the ground-up at Mercedes’ AMG skunkworks division.
Before all that, though: The E 53 comes to us in 2019 looking pretty much the same as last year – the refresh doesn’t extend far past the new powertrain additions. Which is OK because the E Coupé was already a handsome, modern car in its own right, looking much like the big daddy S-Class Coupé just on a smaller, dare I say “tauter” scale. The detailing is on-point, too; my tester’s 20-inch two-tone wheels get spokes that – if you look closely – you can see are actually aligned in a slight “spiral” effect, to help give the impression that the vehicle is moving even while standing still. It’s a subtle effect, but one that works well on the periphery of the styling package. The silver “AMG”-emblazoned brake calipers peeking through are a nice touch, functioning as the icing on top (well, in behind, anyway).
Inside, eagle-eyed Benz fans will spot the all-new steering wheel sprouting from just below the customizable all-digital gauge cluster. It’s a nice, chunky affair whose chromed spokes match with other well-placed chrome bits found throughout the cockpit. Other materials include carbon fibre as well as contrasting white stitching. Other than an overabundance of glary, dust-attracting and smudgy piano black material on the infotainment controls and centre console, it’s a fantastic place in which to just sit and absorb your surroundings. Comfortable, too, with plenty of room and a great driver’s seating position even for taller drivers like myself.
The back seats are a bit of a different story in that they’re quite snug (but can be fit with a child’s seat!) but being a two-door sports coupe, that’s to be expected. Plus, they’re roomier than what you’ll find in a Mustang or Porsche 911, that’s for darn sure, and the bucket-style seats are classy. Plenty of room for golf clubs. Which would likely also fit in the trunk, as the opening is a generous one and there’s 281L of space in there.
How you feel about the all-digital gauge cluster – looks like two screens, is actually one divided in two – will likely depend on your general penchant for digital instead of analogue. Unless you really dislike digital screens, this should be fine as it is almost glare-free, the graphics are nice and crisp and since the alignments are customizable, you can choose a more traditional look if you like.
I’m less enamoured with the infotainment system, which remains as hit-and-miss hs it’s been for a number of years now over at Mercedes. I’ve driven plenty of these, and I still find myself guessing and testing when it comes to which menu is chosen, and which is the best way to get there – touchpad or scroll wheel? Home button or scroll wheel? Why is there a “skip forward” button on the touchpad, but no “skip backward”? Why do I have to surf through menus for 20 minutes just to find an equalizer screen? I’m sure there are reasons for all this, but nevertheless, I wish it were a little more intuitive and simple. It’s almost as if there are so many interaction options, we’re spoiled for choice. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, though, which is nice though a little weird to navigate with a wheel. These are interfaces that were built to work as touchscreens and the lack of that ability means they’re not quite as functional as they look.
So what’d I do? Well, I set my favorite Google Play Music playlist on “shuffle” and proceeded to forget about all that and focus on the driving.
Which isn’t a hard thing to do, because as soon as you let the E 53 and its trick powertrain loose, there’s very little time to concern yourself with how many times you have to spin your infotainment wheel.
Mercedes can wax on and on about their new forced-induction tech, but as is often the case with new tech, you’re always wondering if it’s more bark, less bite. Left wondering, that is, until you first plant your right foot and feel just what the E 53 and its 429 hp, 384 lb-ft inline-6 lump is capable of. What it’s capable of, as it happens, is searing acceleration that remains linear and focused all the way through the rev band and the auto ‘box’s nine speeds. The electric supercharger works to not only boost the power rating, but to help smooth the gap between shifts as the turbo works to get on-song. That means a smoother, more refined power delivery.
The acceleration is such that although the powertrain is a complex one, I found myself almost being able to picture just what was going on ahead of me and below; there’s no guesswork here, just a car that responds to your inputs without asking questions, without ever making you second-guess which gear you’re in, or how much of the throttle’s travel you’re using. It just flows with you, the computers melding with your brain, feet and hands to keep you flowing with the road ahead. It’s almost an eerie experience, how something so techy can feel so natural.
The powertrain is not the only aspect that’s seen upgrades, either; air suspension is now standard as is AWD, both systems working with the drive modes – eco, comfort, sport, sport + — to deliver as engrossing a ride as possible. Indeed, you can always give a car more power (however you decide to do it), but the goal should be to make sure the chassis can handle all that power and get it to the road in as confidence-inspiring a manner as possible. Thanks to the tweaking Mercedes has done to the E 53’s chassis, the tires are pushed nicely onto the surface below you, offering maximum-sized contact patches and grip for maximum-sized forward progress. When pushed, safe to say the E 53 quickly stops being a performance coupe, and can readily act like a proper sports car.
That, for me, is the real takeway. Sure; we can discuss the E 53’s clever level-two autonomous tech that watches everything around you to ensure your cruise control is as un-invasive as possible, and how brainy (yet somewhat annoying) the on-board computers are. However: just when I thought Mercedes had teched themselves into the Ready Player One universe and the interaction between man, machine and tarmac no longer mattered, they come with this: one of the most engrossing and rewarding drives in the mid-size luxury coupe/sedan game on one hand, and a properly refined and relaxing one on the other.
2019 Mercedes-AMG E 53 4MATIC+ Coupé
Body style: 4-seat coupe
Drive method: Front-engine, all-wheel-drive
Engine: 3.0L inline-6, 429 hp @ 6,100 rpm; Torque: 384 lb-ft @ 1,800-5,800 rpm
Cargo capacity: 595L
Fuel Economy: 12.3/8.5/10.6 L/100 km city/highway/combined
Observed fuel economy: 12.4L/100 km
Price: $86.000 (base), as tested $98,300
Website: Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupe