The Mercedes-AMG E53 Isn’t An AMG in the Traditional Sense

Brian Silvestro
Photo credit: Jonathan Harper / @JBH1126

From Road & Track

Mercedes-Benz has capitalized on its AMG sub-brand by expanding the model range in recent years. In addition to the normal string of full-on AMG cars, the company has added a handful of AMG 43 and 53 variants designed to act as stop gaps for buyers who want to upgrade from the base model, but don’t have the need for the top of the lineup. The Mercedes-AMG E53 is one of those cars.

We associate AMG with blunt-instrument performance. Whether it's the AMG Hammers of the ‘80s, the 6.2-liter V-8-powered cars of the 2000s, or the twin-turbo beasts of today’s AMG lineup, the common theme is brutish, unyielding capability. The E53 isn’t that. With 429 horsepower from a new turbocharged straight-six paired with a 48-volt mild-hybrid system, it's not slow. It delivers a 0-60 time of four seconds flat, but for an E-Class with an AMG badge on the back, it’s not earth-shattering. The 602-horsepower E63 dwarfs those numbers. An electronically limited top speed of 131 mph further widens the chasm of capability between the two.

Photo credit: Jonathan Harper / @JBH1126

Stop thinking about the E53 as an AMG and you start understand its place in the lineup. More so than the E63, it folds its performance into its everyday usability. I spent most of my time behind the wheel of the E53 toddling through Los Angeles traffic with several passengers. It was able to fit everyone comfortably and swallowed our luggage with ease. The cabin was an exceptional place to spend time, with comfortable, supportive seats and two big screens on the dash: one for the customized digital gauge cluster and the other for the intuitive infotainment system.

The ride is perfectly acceptable, offering plenty of compliance without too much body roll. It’s not S-Class nice, but it’s softer than your average AMG, which is a welcome change.

The torque-heavy powertrain is another nice touch, employing clever tech that increases efficiency without disrupting your commute. The start-stop system kills the engine a few feet before you come to a stop, which threw me off at first. Once I got used to it, I forgot it was there, which is the best thing you can say about a start-stop system. There’s a trick electrical compressor attached to the engine that can act as a supercharger or spin the twin-scroll turbocharger. It spools to 70,000 rpm instantly, providing ample torque whenever you need it.

While the E53 feels right at home driving from A to B, it feels distinctly out of place when you start to push it on your favorite back road. The engine doesn’t like to rev, and the nine-speed automatic is slow to respond to paddle shifts. Throttle response in the mid-range is solid, especially in Sport+ mode, but the steering doesn't exude feel regardless the setting. With a curb weight north of 4500 pounds, tighter corners make it feel lethargic, and the brakes fade quickly. Entering on-ramps and going for gaps in traffic is what this car does best. Ask it for too much at once and you’ll just be waiting on it to catch up.

Aesthetically, it’s an E-Class with slightly different trim and unique wheels. It blends in nicely, which is great if you don’t want to stand out. I do like the four round exhaust pipes. Unlike the E63's rectangular tips, which blend into the bumper, these stand out and look more purposeful. Funny, considering this is the less powerful car.

Photo credit: Jonathan Harper / @JBH1126

This E53 came in at over $97,000, which is an absurd amount of money. For context, the S-Class starts at $91,250. Even without the $15,000 in options, a Mercedes-AMG C63 is cheaper. But people interested in the E53 aren’t looking for all-out performance—they want a well-rounded package that provides the right combination of power, comfort, and new technology. The E53 delivers.

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