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.
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 E63 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 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 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.