It’s an accomplished Mercedes cruiser and a loud and explosive AMG – both at the same time.
Published on Jan 26, 2023 11:00:00 AM
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The Mercedes-AMG E 53 4Matic+ Cabriolet is a car that exerts huge appeal. Attractive looks, the promise of top down motoring and sledgehammer-like AMG performance, are all bundled together into a beautifully crafted package. The E 53, however, is a performance-oriented Cabriolet and that in our market, at best, is a niche within a niche. Up against a veritable buffet table of more ‘suitable’ luxury cars that come in all shapes, sizes and forms, and at roughly the same price (it has no direct rivals), it clearly has its work cut out. But relative appeal and duality of purpose apart, just how well does the E 53 AMG work on our roads and can you fully exploit its potential in our conditions? These and other interesting details about the E 53 Cabriolet coming up in our first drive.
First up the looks. There’s little doubt that the E 53’s design works extremely well. It isn’t flashy or loud, but on the flip side, it has plenty of interesting details and grabs your attention all the same. The minimalist lines, of course, are here to allow the design to age well, this is a car you will want to hang onto for a long time. And then what adds purpose and character are the short overhangs and muscular flanks. The snub nose and the uptight AMG Panamericana grille look particularly attractive, and follow the bonnet line back, and the ‘fast’ or steeply raked windscreen and the stubby boot sync in nicely with the rest of the car. While there are four exhausts at the rear, some of the chrome pipes are only for show.
The E-cabrio even looks great with the tight-fitting roof up and the lines flowing nicely. What’s interesting is that you can also spec the soft-top in four different shades. For safety, there are pop-up roll bars under the rear headrests. They deploy in one third of a second if an impending rollover is detected. And you can drop the three-layer hood in 20 seconds, even if you are doing 50kph. You even get a spoiler to pop out on the windscreen. Called Aircap, it helps deliver a draft-free experience by moving the airflow higher. Boot space at 371 litres, however, is very limited, and there’s a big spare wheel which takes up a lot of room, so space available is very poor. Though you can flip the rear seats down for more luggage space.
What’s difficult to fathom is that this car shares its platform with the E-Class. The proportions of the E-cabriolet, in fact, are so different from a regular E-Class, especially the long wheelbase one sold here, the E 53 seems to be built on the C-Class platform like the earlier-gen E-Class cabrio was.
While this isn’t a full-fat AMG, the E 53 is powered by an in-line six-cylinder engine that gets a boost via a turbo and an e-motor. Total power is 435hp and it gets an e-boost of 22hp. Torque is a very healthy 520Nm. The electric auxiliary compressor delivers boost first for lag-free acceleration with the large exhaust gas turbocharger chiming in later. Power is then sent predominantly to the rear wheels. The E 53, however, uses 4Matic+ and that means some amount of power is sent to the front wheels as well. It also uses air suspension and adaptive dampers, but there’s no lift system to help you clamber over speed breakers.
Out on our roads, the lack of a lift system for the suspension means you sometimes need to crawl carefully over large speed breakers. And this is especially true when the car is loaded.
The E 53 even manages to ride comfortably on its air springs and that's despite the 20-inch wheels. In ‘Comfort’ mode with the dampers set on soft and the air springs at their most supple, ride quality is, in fact, very good. There is no thudding over poor sections of roads and then even when you ride over some larger bumps, it swallows them up without the car moving around too much. There is a fair bit of tyre noise with the roof down and over bad roads a bit of shimmy and shake. This is a convertible, after all, and so it isn’t as stiff as a car with a roof, and you do get a bit of what's called scuttle shake. Pay attention and you can see the A-pillar shimming over some bad bumps and you can feel some vibrations, but that's only to be expected.
Probably the most impressive bit is the straight-six engine. It works well both as a smooth Mercedes unit and an over-the-top AMG one. In Comfort, the straight six pulls you forward in a long, smooth and seamless manner. You are met by a nice slug of e-boost as soon as you tap the throttle, the big turbo comes in soon after and then what carries you forward is a wave of torque and effortlessness. This makes this car a really good cruiser, a car that’s great for long distance journeys. The experience is also pretty immersive. With the roof down you can hear the turbo whistling, you can see the electric boost spike in via the blue bar on the instrument panel and then driving along on the right sort of road with the roof down is well just a little bit of magic.
The engine also really impresses when you put your foot down a bit harder. In Sport, the mid range feels even more muscular; this engine just loves to rev, and what’s particularly pleasing is just how elastic and catapult-like the performance feels. The straight six even pulls hard all the way to 6,500rpm and, in Sport+, not only does the motor have a delicious rumble, there are also pops and bangs on overrun. The E 53 is quick too; 0-100kph comes up in just 4.5sec and acceleration is so strong the E 53 at times feels even quicker.
The E 53 also feels agile and fun to drive around corners in Sport Plus. You can feel the car tighten up around you as you turn the mode selector knob on the steering wheel. The springs, the dampers, throttle responses, and even the amount of weight you have in the steering. And then despite it being a convertible that weighs in at around two tonnes, there's a lot of driving pleasure to be had. The four-wheel drive system gives it loads of grip, the air suspension and the adjustable dampers help it put the power down cleanly and the E 53 even has a nice cohesiveness about the manner in which it tackles corners at speed.
It isn't the sharpest tool in the box; it doesn't get a high-spec suspension and the rear-biased balance is missing. But combine all the power and grip on hand and add in a healthy dose of confidence you get from the chassis, and you have a car that allows you to really enjoy driving the fun bits.
Back in town, I put the roof up and am impressed with just how cool the aircon keeps the cabin. And while there's more road noise than a hardtop, the cabin feels pretty comfortable and not very compromised for a car with a cloth roof.
On the inside, you are greeted by the familiar E-Class twin-screen layout, four air vents and a wide centre console, basically to help fit the 9-speed automatic underneath. Quality levels are similar to any E-Class, but the trim is sportier. The Ash grey wood on the dash works well here and the large and nicely bolstered seats, finished in black and red, hit the spot. You also get AMG’s sporty flat-bottomed steering wheel. The capacitive touch buttons on the wheel, however, are fiddly and difficult to use in a consistent manner. The E 53 also gets AMG’s track-based apps pre-installed, and you can access driver modes and AMG Dynamics settings on the dials placed on the steering wheel. The sporty front seats also hold you in place nicely in corners without being too restricting and since they are heated and cooled, you can even be comfortable when the roof is open.
Access to the rear seats is difficult, especially with the roof up. Legroom is just about sufficient and the rear seat is set low. The real problem, however, is that the backrest at the rear is near vertical and not very comfortable over long periods. While the car is silent on the move and feels robustly put together, what you also must keep in mind is that our poor roads are likely to get the roof mechanism to rattle and shake as the car ages.
However, the E 53 is well-equipped. Kit on offer includes LED high-performance headlights, air suspension, adjustable dampers, heads up display, a three-layer acoustic soft top, cooled and heated front seats, Mercedes Me connected with remote start, 64-colour LED mood lighting, 590W Burmester audio system, pop-up anti-roll bars, seven airbags and Merc’s Active Parking Assistant.
The Mercedes E 53 convertible impresses because it is a car that does a lot of things very, very well. It is nicely proportioned and attractive looking to begin with. It is beautifully built and well-equipped on the inside, and then it even rides well and feels effortless to drive.
Flick the dial from Comfort to Sport Plus and it even transforms into an AMG. The engine has plenty of grunt, it has a lovely exhaust rumble, and get it out on a good road, and there’s loads of driving pleasure to be had.
The rear seats aren’t very comfortable, there will be those who are looking for a sportier drive, and boot space, with the hood down and the big spare, is very limited.
The E 53 Cabriolet, however, isn’t a car you buy with your head. It’s an indulgence and its only job is to make you smile. So all you have to do is look at the Rs 1.3 crore sticker price and say you really want one. And what’s likely to make the decision easier is that it has no real competition. Dare to dream; this is the car for you.
Mercedes-AMG E 53 4Matic+ Cabriolet video review
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