REVIEW: Mercedes AMG E53 makes the most out of every drop of fuel

Every last drop. As the world moves towards hybridization and electrification of automobiles, spurred on by regulations if not outright demand, manufacturers are finding new ways to extract every bit of motive power from every litre of fuel in your tank.

Asked to define thermal efficiency in car-form, you’re probably picturing some pod-like Japanese hatchback. A Prius or something. Not anything pretty.

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But just take a look at this big, handsome German coupe. Not only is it not an eco-pod commuter, but it’s also an AMG, the sub-brand Mercedes-Benz uses as shorthand for its quicker options.

Yet beneath its authoritative looking sheet metal is a host of technology all aimed at squeezing every joule from the liquid dinos. It’s not necessarily about the economy, either, but the performance. Let’s take a look at how Mercedes is making the most of every drop of fuel.

Design

Of the big three German luxury automakers – BMW, Audi, and Mercedes – it’s Stuttgart that seems to have done the best job of coming up with a cohesive design language. Instead of busy designs that rely on sporty looking details applied by shotgun blast, the E53 presents a smooth profile.

Yes, the badge is big enough to serve as a hubcap on any early Mercedes product, but next to the gawping grilles from BMW and Audi, the E53’s front end borders on reserved.

The same is true for the rest of the car, its flanks uncluttered by vents, its rear finished off with quad exhaust pipes and slim LED taillights. Sitting curbside, the E53 is very much a Mercedes-Benz of the old school, reserved rather than shouty.

Environment

Inside, however, Mercedes’ current interior styling is much less conservative. Broad, high-definition screens catch the eye, along with purple accent lines and a curving dash.

Mercedes
While the E53’s exterior is understated, the interior features elements that are much more brash. photo supplied Mercedes

If anything, the E53’s insides resemble some high-end European nightclub, the kind that plays pulsing techno while serving brightly coloured vodka drinks. It’s modern and tech-forward, rather than spartan.

Happily, old-world Mercedes charms like comfort are very much at the forefront here too. The E53 might be an AMG-tuned product, but only AMG’s top-of-the-range vehicles make compromises of comfort for performance.

This is a stately coupe, with large, pillarless window openings. The ride is impeccable, the seats are like little German clouds, and the overall experience is one of being surrounded by luxury.

With one notable exception. The E53 doesn’t have the latest Mercedes infotainment system yet, and the current one is a bit of a maze to navigate. There’s a sharp learning curve here, and the sheer amount of menus and submenus is a bit fussy. It stands in contrast to how generally easy-going the rest of the car is.

Performance

One of the advantages of having a long-hooded coupe is additional space for engine packaging. At the heart of the E53 is the newest Mercedes motor, which again blends old-school Mercedes characteristics with new-school tech.

M-B fans will cheer to hear the E53’s engine burst to life in a smooth hum characteristic of a straight six. Inline-six engines are inherently balanced thanks to their configuration (one reason why doubling them to make a V-12 is still automotive aristocracy after all these years), and the E53’s engine also has a more pleasing sound than any V-6.

That’s not the only change. Coupled to the 3.0-litre inline-six is an electrically driven supercharger, a turbocharger, and a mild-hybrid drive sandwiched between the engine and the transmission. Electric torque gets things going, supercharging provides extra grunt in the low range, and the turbocharger gets the boost up for passing moves when you’re higher up the rev range.

It must have been extremely complex to get all three assist systems working seamlessly, but from the driver’s seat, neither you nor your passengers will feel the complexity. Mercedes engineers have been hard at work disguising their efforts.

Combined with standard all-wheel drive to apportion grip, the result is the sort of unflappable thrust you want from a sporting Mercedes. Steering feel is relatively numb, and there’s a great sense of weight, but these too are attributes you’d want in a big, isolating grand tourer.

Total power from the E53’s complicated powerplant is 429 horsepower and 384 foot-pounds of torque. With a nine-speed automatic always making sure you’ve got the best leverage against the curb weight, the E53 will scoot to 100 kilometres per hour in about 4.5 seconds. That’s quick.

However, this car is at its best behaved when it’s just cruising along, sipping fuel with ample power in reserve. The ride is excellent, thanks to air suspension, and the stiff coupe body resists shudders and shakes. It’s also very quiet on the road.

Features

By the time you’ve stepped up to the AMG variant of the E-Class coupe, you’ve already shelled out $86,000, about a $10K premium over the E450. It’s worth it for the increased power and prestige of that AMG badge.

Like any German brand, options cause the price to spike sharply. Adding the driver’s package and high-end stereo options push the total price tag for this week’s tester to close to $100,000. Yes, this is a lot of car, but that’s a lot of money.

Still, all that tech does result in efficiency. Fuel economy figures are 12.3 litres/100 kilometres in the city and 8.5 l/100 km on the highway. For a 400+ h.p. coupe, that highway mileage is particularly good.

Green light

Genteel looks; luxurious interior; complex, but well-polished drivetrain.

Stop sign

Previous-generation infotainment; as usual, options drive up the price.

The checkered flag

A masterpiece of hidden technology, working away to combine efficiency and power. If Mercedes can just iron out the infotainment quibbles, the E53 will be even more seamless.

Competition

BMW 8 Series ($123,500): More a competitor for the S-Class than the E-Class coupe, the 8 Series is nevertheless the E53’s only real competition. Obviously it’s a great deal more expensive, and a brand new design to boot.

Thing is, unless you’re willing to move up to the full-speed-ahead M8, I’m not so sure the big Bimmer offers much over the Mercedes. The E53’s styling looks likely to age better, and it has plenty of presence on the road.

Yes, the Mercedes is an expensive machine. Compare it to some of its fellow luxury rivals, and it starts looking like a bargain. Almost.

mcaleeronwheels@gmail.com

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