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First Drive

Mercedes-AMG E53 review: AMG’s plug-in hybrid E-Class comes over all sensible

£118,055 when new
Published: 18 Jun 2024


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  • Max Speed


I’m lost with AMG at the moment. What is an E53 these days?

Great question. To give it its full name, this is the Mercedes-AMG E53 Hybrid 4MATIC+ and it’s currently the most powerful E-Class you can buy. It gets a 3.0-litre straight-six and a nine-speed automatic gearbox with a permanently excited electric motor sandwiched in between.

There’s also a fairly sizeable 28.6kWh (21.22kWh usable so that some contingency is always left over for max performance) battery under the boot floor that provides up to 59 miles of all-electric range and can be recharged at 60kW, so it’s a very different plug-in hybrid setup to the four-cylinder C63. The E53’s numbers are impressive though, with a total of 577bhp (or a maximum of 604bhp if you spec the AMG Performance Package and engage the ‘Race Start’ launch control) and 553lb ft of torque.

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The nerdiest among us will remember the previous generation E63 S also made 604bhp. Progress.

And yet, that old E63 used AMG’s magical twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8. Merc boss Ola Källenius has gone on record to say that there won’t be a V8 of any sort in this generation of E-Class, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be a six-cylinder E63 with even more electrical assistance.

So, what else makes this an AMG?

Apart from the ludicrous power figure, the E53 gets a stiffer body shell thanks to extra strut braces and adaptive suspension with coil springs and two-valve adjustable dampers. There’s also rear-wheel steering on the saloon (you can’t have it if you want the estate), AMG-spec brakes and the aforementioned AMG Performance Package that ups the top speed to 168mph and adds even bigger brakes, a limited slip differential on the rear axle and dynamic engine mounts.

Let’s talk looks.

It’s every bit the modern AMG in the aesthetics department. The E53 gets aggressive front and rear bumpers, muscly arches, big wheels and a quad-exit exhaust. It also gets those rather tacky looking three-pointed star rear lights, light-up door handles and an illuminated front grille surround. Eugh.

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Mercedes-AMG E53

Given this is an AMG, is it still bonkers to drive?

It’s worth remembering that this is only an E53 rather than an E63, but after a European drive on Autobahns and twisty alpine passes, our first thoughts were that... it wasn’t all that exciting.

Of course, with 577bhp on tap and an electric motor to fill in the torque gaps, it’s hugely fast. The saloon will do 0-62mph in 3.8 seconds and the estate is only a tenth slower, but there isn’t a huge amount of drama as you accelerate with a slightly muted straight-six soundtrack and the power sent to all four wheels.

It’s completely competent and a technical tour de force. It’s remarkably quiet at a cruise. The brake pedal has more feel than in other Mercedes products and seems to blend regen with actual friction rather successfully. The steering is direct if a little too quick. The rear-wheel steer manages to mask some of the 2.4-tonne kerbweight (the saloon is 2,390kg and the estate 2,435kg) and the suspension setup deals with bumps in the road without being too firm or too floaty. The all-electric range is also useful and you can use the steering wheel paddles to control three levels of regen while in Electric mode. 

And yet…

We didn’t love it. The nine-speed auto gearbox goes about its job quickly and quietly in auto mode but try to change down using the paddles and you could hard boil an egg in the time it takes to provide a lower gear. Not particularly sporty. 

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The piped-in engine noise is also painfully over-the-top, particularly in all out Sport+ mode, and not including a limited slip diff as standard on a 600 horsepower saloon seems harsh. The four-wheel drive system can send almost 100 per cent of the power to the rear axle, so perhaps there would be some fun to be had on track, but in its standard road-going modes the E53 doesn’t provide a huge amount of excitement.

It feels a little like a very fast version of the E300e rather than a proper AMG sports saloon, and even that’s a car we’re not completely sold on.

Why’s that? Is it something to do with the interior?

Got it in one. The interior of this sixth-gen E-Class is hugely complex, chock full of tech and just a little bit cheap in its feel. The E53 gets a 14.4in central touchscreen and a 12.3in digital dial display as standard, and you can have an additional 12.3in display on the passenger side with the optional Superscreen. All screens are bright and responsive, but they’re also drowning in menus and submenus, while the haptic controls on the steering wheel are distracting to use while driving. The whole interior is also lit up like a German techno club, and you even get something called ‘active ambient lighting’ on higher trim levels.

What are the different trim levels?

Entry level is the Premium trim. That brings 20in wheels, a panoramic roof, a Burmester 4D surround sound system, an augmented reality navigation system, sports seats and ash wood trim with black nappa leather seats. Prices start at £90,860 for the saloon and £93,110 for the estate. 

Above that is the snappily named Night Edition Premium Plus trim. That still costs just under £100k and brings different 20in wheels, darkened exterior styling, massaging front seats, THERMOTRONIC four-zone climate control (great name) and plenty of carbon fibre interior trim. 

At the top of the tree there’s the Edition 1. That’ll set you back £115,860 for a saloon and £118,110 for a dog-carrier, but it does include the AMG Performance Package which is otherwise a £7,495 option. It also brings 21in wheels, a carbon fibre boot spoiler on the saloon, carbon exterior mirrors and an AMG sticker package. Inside it adds yellow seat belts and stitching, racier performance seats and the Superscreen display as standard. 

Should I buy one?

Consider this first. An Audi RS6 Avant Performance is currently £112,045, meaning it’s cheaper and yet still far more exciting than the top spec E53. A BMW M3 Touring starts at £87,945, meaning it’s a good chunk cheaper than the entry level E53 and also a much more engaging car. Oh, and despite historically being a size below the E-Class, if you compare E53 estate with M3 Touring, the M3 actually offers more boot space (500 litres in the BMW plays 460 litres in the plug-in Merc). Also worth noting that when we ran an xDrive M3 saloon for six months we averaged around 27mpg. On a long run in the PHEV E53 with 16 per cent of the journey done on all-electric power, will still only saw a total of 25.9mpg.

If you’re looking for a fast and comfortable cruiser that offers excellent tax breaks, decent EV range and a mind-boggling amount of tech then the E53 is an impressive bit of engineering, but it’s far from the most exciting product that AMG has ever turned out.

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