If the measure of art is how it is appreciated over time, then the 2020 Mercedes-Benz AMG E 53 coupe might be a masterpiece. Each time I sat in the driver’s seat of a recent test car, a new element made me appreciate the thoughtful attention to design. And right before they came to take it away, I had to take one last quick spin in the kind of drizzle the moviemakers use to project grief.
Better to have loved and lost.
It’s not perfect, no loves are, but this successor to the E 43 proves you don’t need to go all out with an AMG E 63 to get equal parts performance thrills and luxury frills.
Hit: EQ boosted inline-6 engine
From a stop, the AMG E 53 chirps tires and spits rock as if it’s offended by mere pavement. The 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-6 makes 429 horsepower and 384 pound-feet of torque, which is good enough to drop the stomach and peel back the smile. Mercedes-AMG quotes a 60 mph mark of 4.3 seconds, and the lack of turbo lag affirms it.
AMG uses a mild hybrid called EQ Boost system that combines a starter and alternator wedged between the transmission and engine. The motor supplies a jolt of torque as the turbocharger spools up from the engine exhaust, adding 21 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. Along with the 48-volt battery, the mild hybrid is more powerful and more efficient than its E 43 predecessor. It gets 21 mpg city, 28 highway, 23 combined with standard all-wheel drive, compared to 19/21/25 mpg in the 2018 E 43. This, along with the soft cruising ride supplied by the standard air suspension, makes the E 53 a great touring coupe with oodles of performance-inducing grins.
Miss: 9-speed automatic transmission
The only way performance falters is via the 9-speed automatic transmission. It shifts more quickly than any manual, but it overrides any flirtations with the red line, even in Sport mode. Downshifting from 8th to 6th for highway passing requires a couple quick flicks from the paddles, at which point the transmission hesitates. Waiting for the transmission to downshift itself takes even longer. It is a minor quibble and applies only at the extremes of the performance side of things. In normal driving, it’s buttery smooth, seamless, and quiet. 2020 Mercedes-Benz AMG E 53 Coupe
Hit: Coupe style
Mercedes wraps the E 53’s sumptuous touring and eager performance in an unassuming but elegant coupe package. I didn’t test the sedan or the cabriolet, but the coupe’s sophisticated yet reserved styling would be easy for passersby to dismiss. Subtle cues signal what lies beneath from Mercedes’ performance division, such as a twin blade-like grille bisecting the nose, side air intakes trimmed in chrome, and quad exhaust pipes. It’s sleek in the way of any coupe, but it doesn’t necessarily stand out until you get inside.
2020 Mercedes-Benz AMG E 53 Coupe
Hit: Cabin design
My AMG E 53 tester was conservative on the outside but flashy on the inside: The combination could be a hit or a miss, depending on your personality type. Any passenger will know you’re operating on another level as soon as they get inside. The cabin makes you feel special, and it is nearly impossible to not run your fingertips over the contrasting textures, from the nappa-leather-wrapped AMG performance steering wheel in all its chunky goodness to the dimpled aluminum dash trim surrounding the turbine-shaped vents. The black-on-white AMG sport seats looked like a tuxedo but fit like sweatpants, with enough adjustments (including a thigh extender) to get just the right comfort level for the type of driving. The power-sliding front seats open up a wide enough berth for adult passengers to hop in back, though rear seat passengers don’t have access to control their own windows.
To be clear, the coupe fits four reasonably-sized people, not so much your 6-foot-plus overgrown orangutans. Cupholders between the rear seats add a level of civilization.
Some of my colleagues are less than impressed with all the smudge-friendly piano black plastic that dominates the wide center console. Another point of departure from my colleagues is my appreciation for the controller dial for the 12.3-inch display screen instead of a touchscreen. With all the options offered by Mercedes, the infotainment system has a lot of menus and submenus, but once you learn the design logic and the various functions within the controller, it’s pretty easy to uncover what you need without ever having to move from that position of comfort. The rotary controller hangs on in the E 53 for the time being, though Mercedes is switching its lineup to touchscreens.
Miss: $20,000 in options
Boy, are there options to play with inside that screen, from heated armrests with rapid heated seat functionality ($1,050) to massaging seats ($950) and a driver assistance package ($2,250) so intelligent the adaptive cruise control will automatically slow down to reductions in posted speed-limit signs. Some might say that the upgraded Burmester 3D surround sound system is $4,550 of overkill over the standard Burmester system, but when getting the Led (Zeppelin) out, there is no question which system is your overlord.
Crank the sound, mash the pedal, and a work of art never felt so visceral.
2020 Mercedes-Benz AMG E 53 Coupe
Base price: $75,955 (including $995 destination)
Price as tested: $96,645
Drivetrain: 429-hp 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-6 with 9-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive
EPA fuel economy: 21/28/23 mpg
The hits: Engine, coupe style, cabin design.
The misses: Transmission, extensive expensive options.