Mercedes-AMG E53 a pleasant shock… with the roof down

Roof deserves to be stored in its dedicated storage cubby for much longer.

When Mercedes-Benz launched what was to become one of its most revered models of all time, the 300 SL in 1954, it introduced a number of innovations the automotive world had not seen before.

For starters, the SL came with a direct fuel injection 3.0-litre straight-six engine at a time when carburettors dominated. It had aluminium in its body structure which backed-up its name that stood for sport licht or sport light, and it could hit 235 km/h and reach 100 km/h from standstill in 7.4 seconds; all in 1954.

While more power was added during its nine-year production run and although the coupe with is evocative gull-wing doors instantly became part of automotive folklore, it was in fact the cabriolet that replaced it in 1957 which sold in greater numbers.

Fast forward to 2019 and Benz has once again gone against the grain with its AMG fe­ttled 53 models. In essence, the 53 models represent the entry-point into the realms of AMG ownership, but with six cylinders and not the monstrous V8 bangers found in the 63 derivatives.

Like the SL, power for the 53 comes from a 3.0-litre inline-six engine, albeit turbocharged and with a 48-volt mild-hybrid system made-up of a starter/alternator that is teamed to an electric motor and charged by an electric compressor in an attempt to improve acceleration from the get-go. Known in Mercedes-AMG speak as EQ Boost, the system deploys an additional 16kW/250Nm for short burst, in addition to being more efficient than a normal six-cylinder.

The high-tech powertrain therefore seemed like an odd pairing for the E53 Cabriolet that arrived for the seven-day stay at our offices, especially as the drop top version of the E-Class is more about posing and cruising with the top down than a full-on blast.

There is however a distinct elegance to the latest E-Class that previous iterations have struggled to match. In its sombre champagne hue, the E53 is about as understated as an AMG can be with the only giveaway being the AMG brake calipers and alloy wheels, the 4Matic+ and Turbo badges on the front fenders and the AMG badge on the bootlid.

In the case of our test model, the dark brown cloth roof, which can open and close in 20 seconds at up to 50km/h looks classy enough, though it has to be said, it deserves to be stored in its dedicated storage cubby for much longer as the E53 simply looks beautiful with its top down.

The interior is a different story in that it tries to blend traditional Mercedes-Benz luxury virtues with modern gadgetry. In this regard, the dual 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and infotainment system feels somewhat out of place against the beige leather upholstery and maroon trimmed dash, though the graphics are clear and well laid out.

Unfortunately, and despite Benz having pulled the minimalist design for the centre console off well, the use of cheap feeling materials, especially the tacky woodgrain trim, comes as somewhat of a disappointment. In addition, the infotainment system still uses the old Comand interface which, despite being a massive improvement over previous generations, is nowhere as slick as Benz’s new MBUX and still not the easiest to navigate through.

What remains high though is comfort which, in typical Mercedes-Benz fashion, comes courtesy of the comfortable electric, heated/cooled sport seats with the Airscarf vents integrated into the front headrests and the fact that the E53 is a proper four-seater with surprisingly good levels of rear head and legroom, plus a boot of up to 385-litres.

Although it might say AMG on the back, the E53 is not exactly the bahnstormer many would expect it to be. In fact, the M 256 engine and its electric aid go about their workings in such an undramatic fashion, that it risks spoiling the hype surrounding the setup for future models.

Stamp on the accelerator though, the straight-six changes by serving up a strong surge of its 320kW/520Nm, accompanied by a melodic exhaust note that satisfies from an aural perspective, especially with the roof down and with the Dynamic Select system in Sport mode.

A further sweet spot of the drivetrain is the nine-speed TCT gearbox which is smooth and unnoticed for everyday use, but quick and precise when you grab the E53 by the scruff of its neck and use the paddle shifters behind the steering wheel.

Fi­tted with the three-chamber Air Body Control suspension, the E53 rides comfortably when you are in Comfort mode, but becomes firmer if not overly hard when you switch to Sport or Sport+. Of course, the addition of the sports-optimised 4Matic+ system adds to the planted feel, while the steering is on point if not as razor sharp as that of the ‘63’.

As the more staid version of the AMG family, the 53 at R1 441 266 provides the ideal balance between power and comfort, which, in the case of the E53 Cabriolet, leans slightly more to the la­tter, even though it can play ball when asked.

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