Mercedes-Benz has added an E53 into its E-class line up, as a less brutal high-performance model that slots under the V8-engined E63.
It’s available in cabriolet and coupé derivatives, with the latter on test here. At their heart is a new electrified 3.0l straight-six cylinder engine with outputs of 320kW and 520Nm that takes a step into a hybridised future for Mercedes.
It not only has more power than the older-generation 295kW/ 520Nm turbo V6 used by the previous Mercedes E43, but also spreads it more evenly. The electrified twin-turbo system features a regular turbocharger driven by exhaust gases, as well as an electric auxiliary compressor that delivers torque from just above idling speed and optimises engine response across the entire rev range.
There’s also an integrated starter-alternator which momentarily provides an additional 16kW and 250Nm boost, and also feeds the 48V on-board electrical system.
That’s a lot of technology happening under the bonnet, but from the driver’s point of view, it all happens seamlessly and all you feel is a pleasingly spontaneous throttle response. There’s strong thrust throughout the rev range, with lag almost non-existent, while the AMG Speedshift nine-speed transmission plays its part with its brisk shift times.
The E53 is good for a 0-100km/h sprint in a lively 4.4 seconds, providing gutsy performance without the barking fury of a V8-engined AMG 63 with its 450kW and 850Nm.
The numbers are backed by a hearty soundtrack that, while not as jurassically vocal as the AMG 63, is still entertainingly hoarse. The rock concert is further enhanced in the Sport+ modes, with the exhaust crackling when you lift off the throttle or shift gears.
For all the horizon-chasing performance on offer, the 11l per 100km achieved by the test car represents decent frugality.
Harnessing the power is 4Matic+ all-wheel drive with fully variable torque distribution, mated to air suspension with a continuously adjustable damping system.
It all gels together to give the E53 agility that belies its size and weight. The heavy 1.9-ton coupe carves fast bends with an impressively sporty demeanour as it seems to shrink around you.
The variable all-wheel drive is able to divert 100% of the power to the rear wheels depending on how the car is being driven. Translated, this means neutral poise and a car that doesn’t run into frustrating understeer like with all-wheel-drive systems of yore.
The E53 is a schizophrenic car — in a good way — in that in an instant, it switches twixt being a corner-carver and a comfortable tourer, depending on which personality mode is chosen. In the sports settings, the air suspension stiffens, the throttle response and steering input are quickened, and it growls louder; but switch to comfort mode and it adopts a more luxuriously gliding character.
The E53 visually proclaims its AMG status with power domes in the bonnet, twin-blade radiator grille, a front apron with gaping air scoops, and a quartet of tailpipes. The high-gloss trim elements of the AMG night package underscore the sporty character.
Inside, the car gets an AMG Performance steering wheel in nappa leather, AMG-specific upholstery and trim elements, and sports seats. The cabin presents a high-tech sense of occasion mixed in with traditional Benz luxury, in a digitised setting with ambient lighting and high-resolution displays.
The digital displays under a shared glass cover blend into a widescreen cockpit that feels like the helm of a spaceship, and drivers can personalise it to three different display styles.
The infotaiment system’s reasonably user-friendly but it takes some time to get used to the cornucopia of functions. Using voice control helps shortcut some of the processes, and Merc’s system is one of the best in the game right now, but it’s still somewhat hit and miss. There were a number of features I could operate by voicing them, but at other times the car couldn’t decipher what I said.
Buyers of a two-door coupé most likely won’t have practicality at the top of their wishlists, but the E53 can be used as a four-seater if needed. There’s good legroom all around, though the slope of the roof makes things a little claustrophobic in the back for taller passengers.
At R1,322,200, the E53 4Matic+ Coupé represents a signficant price saving over the range-topping Mercedes-AMG E63 at R2,051,413, and it’s also much lighter on fuel.
It’s a less brash machine, for people with more economical habits who are seeking a more subtle high-performance luxury coupé. It retains sufficient AMG spirit in both performance and sound to deserve the coveted badge, though.
Since the recent demise of the BMW 6 Series, the E53 has no competition in the two-door class.
Type: Six-cylinder electrified petrol turbo
Capacity: 2,996 cc
Type: 9-speed automatic
Type: All wheel drive
Top speed: 250km/h (governed)
0-100km/h: 4.4 seconds
Fuel Consumption: 8.7l/100km (claimed); 11.0l/100km (as tested)
Emissions: 200 g/kg
Heated front seats, Artico man-made leather seats, ambient lighting, dual-zone climate control, infotainment system with Bluetooth and navigation, parking package with 360 degree camera, electric windows, electric mirrors, active lane-keeping assist, active braking assist, LED headlamps with adaptive high-beam assist, cruise control, multifunction steering wheel, electronic stability control, front and side airbags, ABS brakes
Warranty: 2 years/unlimited distance
Service plan: Five years/120,000km
Lease* :R28,187 a month
* at 10% interest over 60 months, no deposit
Mercedes-AMG E53 4Matic+ Coupe
Performance, style, dual character
Imperfect voice control system
AMG performance without the brashness
MOTOR NEWS star rating
****Value For Money
Jaguar XF S, 280kW/450Nm — R1,371,067
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