Driven - Mar 2021

We Drive the New Mercedes-AMG E53

Is it worthy of the the AMG badge? Alex Shahini reports from the launch at Zwartkops Raceway

Mercedes-Benz recently launched the updated version of their top-selling, 5th generation E-Class line-up in early March. Coming in multiple variations including 6 models and 9 derivatives, there is sure to be a style and powertrain for every consumer’s taste and preference wanting to combine luxury and sporty into a single package. While the more refined and comfortable cruisers may dominate the sales figures of the E-Class line-up, the stalwarts of the range will remain to be the AMG powered hooligans.

The trend of internal combustion engine downsizing is fully underway with most automotive manufacturers reducing cylinders and displacement in favour of more efficient alternatives. Mercedes-Benz has in some way kept true to their bewildering AMG roots and retained the iconic V8 in their range (albeit for now). Their additional incorporation of a 3-litre, in-line 6-cylinder turbocharged motor falls under their umbrella too featuring in models bearing the E53 nameplate. The motor is a compromise featuring the best of both worlds, but is it a true AMG?

Testing the E63 brute on the same day can provide an underwhelming feeling when getting behind the wheel of the E53. While it must be understood that they are not internal competitors, the E53 functions more as a stop gap for buyers wanting to step-up from the base model but without the need for the ludicrous nature of its 450kW bigger sibling. It has sufficient power rated at 320kW and comfortably delivers it through a 9 speed automatic gearbox into the standard 4Matic all-wheel drive system while mild hybrid tech assists in the form of a 48-volt battery. Despite this, the engine lacks punch at the top end and the gearbox feels slightly more lethargic when shifting. While the 520Nm that propels it to 100km/h in over 4 seconds makes it no slouch, the experience of it all feels underwhelming and dumbed down. It simply lacks that expectation of something adorned with the AMG badge.

This theme is continued when it comes to the suspension and overall handling characteristics, it feels a lot looser when cornering but as a result, more comfortable and negotiable. While it may not be as rigid as the E63, the pliant nature suits it well for comfortable use as a daily driver that can still traverse pothole-littered roads and undulating surfaces. And with combined efficiency rated below 9l/100km when driven sensibly, it won’t require a private oil refinery either.

The E53 remains a comfortable model in the line-up, ideally suited to urban cruising and trundling around in style but it lacks the raw, unadulterated character synonymous with larger AMG models. This is not to say it is bad at its intended function, but rather that the rapport of all AMG models that have come before it instil such an expectation to those that get behind the wheel that anything less can feel underwhelming. 

While it is well priced at R1 618 000 between the base E-Class model and the significantly more expensive R2 423 000 E63S 4Matic+ sedan, the E53 4Matic+ coupe should still comfortably fill a gap in the Mercedes-Benz sales catalogue.

It is expected that as we stray further from 6.2l V8 behemoths of yesteryear and gravitate closer to smaller displacements, Mercedes-Benz is likely to continue capitalising on the Affalterbach-based AMG division by branding models that can induce a sporty appeal to the consumer. The verdict is that the E53 is a good car, just perhaps without trying so hard to be something that it is not: a large AMG brute.

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