A corker of a mild-hybrid powertrain blends fireworks and refinement, but the E53's flat-footed AMG chassis should do more to entertain

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In the 23 years since AMG last turned its spanners to an E-Class coupé, the status and desirability of the big-boned W124-generation E36 has risen like a rocket.

Surprising, then, that it’s taken so long for Affalterbach to issue a direct replacement and give us a continent-smashing car with the potential to properly entertain.

This isn’t a full-blooded eight-cylinder kind of AMG, and anybody who expects that will be disappointed

Disclaimer: this is not an entirely faithful recreation. The new E53 4Matic+ and its 1990s forebear might share brutishly elegant cab-rear profiles, a straight-six engine configuration and pillarless window apertures, but the new car is a spectacularly modern device replete with four-wheel drive, self-levelling air suspension and mild hybridisation.

The headline figures are very healthy indeed: 429bhp and 384ft lb are supplemented with 21bhp and 184lb ft from a starter-alternator motor mounted between engine and nine-speed gearbox. The 48V system driving this motor also feeds an electric compressor that compensates for the lag from a large twin-scroll turbocharger. The torque spread is vast as a result, peaking between 1800rpm and 5800rpm.

Is the E53 a true AMG car?

On the road, the E53 feels Ferrari 550 Maranello rapid, in spite of the low-key sheet metal.

That’s partly to do with the throttle response, which is not just sharper because of electrical assistance, but meaningfully so. It’s often the case with performance hybrids that a slither of initial, motor-driven responsiveness fades before the power from a boosting engine enters the fray. That’s not the case here, and the E53 is ready to pummel down the road ahead at a moment’s notice.

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This isn’t a full-blooded eight-cylinder kind of AMG, though, and anybody who expects that will be disappointed. It’s rear-driven much of the time but the front driveshafts seem to engage early and often – and you cannot disengage them, like you can in the Mercedes-AMG E 63 saloon.

Along with some draconian ESP coding it means any adjustability is in short supply, the chassis doggedly fastening itself to the line prescribed by the steering unless provoked beyond any sensible degree. If you’re looking for a car that’ll almost imperceptibly tuck its nose in with a lift of the throttle, look elsewhere.

Direction changes are therefore more deliberate than delicate – it’s a 1900kg car, of which the driver is never left in any doubt – and the Speedshift gearbox can also flounder if asked to swap cogs in close proximity to the 6700rpm redline. When you have such a sonorous engine so willing to tear towards that point, that’s a frustration.

Perhaps the E53’s strengths lie elsewhere. That air suspension isn’t immune to sharper knocks but at speed it gently supports the body as if via a taut but supple sling. This being an AMG, you get a gamut of switchable driving modes via a Dynamic Select rocker mounted on the transmission tunnel, and firming up the dampers leaves the car largely impervious to body roll.

Engine-off coasting in Eco mode also makes for a touring economy approaching 40mpg, and the spacious cabin has all the accoutrements you could possibly need. Except, perhaps, the massage seats from the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. While you're decently isolated from wind noise, there's also a fair bit of tyre roar on coarser motorway surfaces. Sticking with the standard 19in wheels – instead of our test car's 20s – would help.

No matter, you could lazily drive this car from dusk ’til dawn and hardly feel it at the other end. In this sense, it’s a proper Mercedes-Benz E-Class.

Four seats and a 435-litre boot also give it more than adequate practicality, and the cabin is as luxuriously distinctive as it is for any W213 E-Class, even if AMG-isms are disappointingly thin on the ground. Beyond the steering wheel, which is flat-bottomed with a red ring at 12 o’clock, and some AMG-specific upholstery for the seats, there’s little to give the game away.

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Does the E53 stand out from other AMG models?

There is a gentle hostility to the E53 4 Matic+ and, along with such a broad spread of ability it gives the car tremendous everyday appeal. In the real world it’s also quick enough to hang with the supercars of not so long ago and there’s luxury to spare.

But the message is too confused for a wholehearted recommendation. For a straight-up luxury cruiser with a fabulous motor, the ride is on the firm side. Then again, neither does this chassis have the poise or panache you’d want of a great grand tourer.

If you merely want the fastest, fanciest E-Class coupé money can buy, it’ll do just fine. But if you want even more character, performance and a car with a real sense of purpose, save a few pennies and go for the brilliant new C63.

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Richard Lane

Richard Lane
Title: Deputy road test editor

Richard joined Autocar in 2017, arriving from Evo magazine, and is typically found either behind a keyboard or steering wheel.

As deputy road test editor he delivers in-depth road tests, performance benchmarking and supercar lap-times, plus feature-length comparison stories between rival cars. He can also be found on Autocar's YouTube channel

Mostly interested in how cars feel on the road – the sensations and emotions they can evoke – Richard drives around 150 newly launched makes and models every year, and focuses mainly on the more driver-orientated products, as is tradition at Autocar. His job is then to put the reader firmly in the driver's seat. 

Away from work, but remaining on the subject of cars, Richard owns an eight-valve Integrale, loves watching sportscar racing, and holds a post-grad in transport engineering. 

Mercedes-AMG E 53 First drives