AMG's Electrified Future Looks Bright

2019 Mercedes-AMG E53 / CLS53 First Drive Review: Smooth and Sporty, All At Once


May 10, 2019 Cars By
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The Mercedes-AMG E53 and CLS53 are the first of a new line of performance vehicles from the German carmaker, slotting between the V-8-powered “AMG 63” models and the Benz-badged “450” vehicles. Each car uses a 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-six with a mild hybrid system that generates 429 horsepower and 384 pound-feet of torque, paired with a nine-speed AMG-tuned automatic transmission and all-wheel-drive. Currently, there are three AMG E53 styles—sedan, convertible, and coupe—and an AMG CLS53 four-door coupe. A Mercedes-AMG GT53 four-door sports car is en route.

The Good: The new inline-sixes deliver fluid power, with the torque peak arriving at conveniently low engine speeds. The handling is unflappable, the steering precise, and the shifts smooth and quick. The cabin materials are every bit as luxurious as you’d expect for a Mercedes.

Who They Are For: Luxury car buyers who want a more upscale, sportier, and more aggressively-styled vehicle than the average Mercedes, but have no plans to shred tires or dust Porsche 911s on the way to work.

Watch Out For:  The infotainment system can be moderately annoying. Also, if you really want to quibble, the driving dynamics might be too good for this sort of sports-luxury car.

Alternatives: BMW M550i xDrive ($74,450)Audi S7 ($81,200), Porsche Panamera ($86,300).

Review: Driving a Mercedes, one could argue. should feel like driving the future. Even after years on the road, it should still feel like a modern car; the engineering ought to be a step or three ahead of other manufacturers. If you accept that’s what a car with the three-pointed star should be, then the carmaker nailed it with the E53 and CLS53, which serve as a peek into the company’s vision of an electrified future.

Mercedes-AMG’s mantra for the 53-series cars is “intelligence replaces displacement.” A 3.0-liter turbocharged straight-six engine pairs with a 48-volt mild hybrid system, producing a total of 429 hp and 384 lb-ft. The upshot for the driver: immediate, on-demand torque. 53-series cars hit peak torque at just 1800 rpm. As the carmaker pointed out to journalists, the cars are more powerful and quicker than the famous AMG Hammer of the Eighties, with an engine packing half the displacement.

Performance cars can often feel like grappling with a bear: Keeping them in line is a skill one must master, and not doing so can lead to adverse consequences. The 53s, in contrast, feel like floating around a ballroom with a gifted dance partner. These cars love hard driving. The power comes on instantly. They corner with precision. They stay glued to the road, even on borderline-flooded mountain tarmac. The nine-speed AMG Speedshift transmission is crisp and intuitive. Lag is nonexistent; there are no telltale signs you’re driving a turbo or a hybrid.

With five available driving modes (including a customizable one you can tune to your fancy), you can turn the aggression up or down a notch as needed. The car can just be your refined, sober cruiser with a quiet exhaust note. But the driving modes are all well balanced; Comfort is still capable, and Sport Plus won’t send you limping to the massage table.

Those hankering for a fire-breathing performance beast will leave disappointed with the 53 Series, but the power output is right in the Goldilocks spot for fun on real-world roads. Indeed, just about the only critique with the 53-series driving experience is, it may be too perfect. The experience isn’t particularly visceral; the bear comes pre-tamed.  And as with people and pets, it’s often a car’s flaws, failings, and imperfections that provide character and make it memorable.

The design of the E53 and CLS53 projects power, but in a subtle way; they don’t exactly resemble the Batmobile. They fit with current luxury car trends, with decisive lines and rakish roofs designed to show off how potent and aerodynamic the car is. Distinctive features include a twin-blade grille, a so-called A-wing bumper, black mirrors on the doors, a body-color spoiler lip, dual round exhaust tips, and an option for 20-inch “53” aerodynamic wheels. Interestingly enough, the E53 has twin “power domes” on the hood; the CLS53, quite similar-looking otherwise, does not.

Inside, the main features are the dual 12.3-inch displays for the infotainment and instrument panel, and the round, turbine-esque air vents. The materials are appropriately nice, as you’d expect; With an array of woods, brushed metals, and carbon fiber trim options, several different types of leather, multiple steering wheel choices, and an option for colorful seatbelts, Mercedes-AMG lets the buyer choose their own adventure when speccing out the car.

I did have a few minor troubles. The gauge display behind the wheel could be hard to read while driving from certain angles, and the touchpad for the Comand infotainment system felt less natural than a touchscreen to my fingers. Presumably, time and experience would diminish those issues) And when I attempted to use Apple CarPlay, the Mercedes informed me I needed to stop the car to set it up; upon pulling over, though, the car still didn’t see my device as an iPhone, despite multiple attempts to connect it.

As with any modern German luxury car, the E53 and CLS53 can quickly get pricey if you go nuts on the options. The E53 sedan I tested had a base price of $72,550; as tested, however, it cost $98,310. Fortunately, much of the markup came from frivolous inessentials. If you can do without features like Nappa leather with red stitching ($2990) or the Designo black microsuede headliner ($1660), it’s easier to keep the cost in check.

Verdict:

The Mercedes-AMG E53 and CLS53 are all about quality. Sure, you can find more raw performance in this price range; what you won’t find is this combination of precision, refinement, and power that make it so good for everyday driving. They’re potent, unflappable, and exude quality. There are few nits to pick, and those that are there are trifling; the 53s are about as close to a perfect daily driver as you can get. If these cars herald tomorrow, Mercedes-AMG’s “electrified future” looks bright.

Models:
2019 Mercedes-AMG E53 Sedan: $72,550 (base MSRP), $98,310 (as tested)
2019 Mercedes-AMG E53 Coupe: $73,700 (base MSRP), $97,645 (as tested)
2019 Mercedes-AMG E53 Cabriolet: $80,350 (base MSRP)
2019 Mercedes-AMG CLS53 Coupe: $79,900 (base MSRP), $86,275 (as tested)

Mercedes-AMG E53 / CLS53 Specs:
Powertrain: 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-six with electric motor and electric auxiliary compressor, nine-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel-drive
Horsepower: 429 hp
Torque: 384 lb-ft
0-60 MPH: 4.3 sec (E53 Coupe)
Top Speed: 130mph

Mercedes-Benz provided this product for review.

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