When you think of a hybrid car, chances are good that an image of a Toyota Prius pops into your head. Practical, efficient, affordable, and still a little bit weird after all of these years, a Prius is many things. Fast isn’t one of them.
Enter the 2019 Mercedes-AMG E 53. This hybrid car is definitely fast, able to rocket to 60 mph in a claimed 4.4 seconds. It’s also efficient by performance car standards, rated to return 24 mpg in combined driving. Since the E 53 sedan has a roomy back seat and decent-sized trunk, it is also practical. But a starting price of $73,475 means it is not affordable for the majority of people.
That’s not the point, though. This is: hybrids aren’t just for eco-conscious or cash-strapped consumers anymore. The technology is going mainstream, becoming standard on vehicles whether you want it or not.
Mild Hybrid, or Light Electrified, Performance Powertrain
EQ Boost mild hybrid technology is at the heart of the Mercedes-AMG E 53, which is available in coupe and convertible body styles in addition to the sedan I tested. In combination with a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine, it provides 429 horsepower at 6,100 rpm and 384 lb-ft of torque between 1,800 rpm and 5,800 rpm.
Basically, Mercedes sandwiches an integrated starter generator between the engine and transmission, and this electric motor adds to performance and improves efficiency. A 48-volt electrical system, an energy recuperation system to recharge a lithium-ion battery, and an electric auxiliary compressor are also along for the ride. You can learn more about EQ Boost in our separate story covering the subject.
A 9-speed AMG SpeedShift automatic transmission delivers the power to the E 53’s rear wheels. An AMG Performance 4Matic+ all-wheel-drive system is standard, but under normal driving conditions, the E 53’s rear wheels provide propulsion. Under abnormal driving conditions, or when you’re just ripping along a coastal California road for the fun of it, the AWD system varies power distribution to maximize traction and handling.
An AMG Ride Control adaptive damping air suspension and staggered width 19-inch aluminum wheels wrapped in 245/40 front and 275/35 rear all-season run-flat tires come standard. My test car had one of several optional 20-inch wheel designs, with 245/35 front and 275/30 rear summer performance tires.
Other hardware goodies include an AMG Sport Braking system with bigger vented and cross-drilled 14.6-inch front discs clamped by silver-painted, AMG-stamped 4-piston calipers. In back, 14.2-inch discs and single-piston calipers stand ready to serve.
Direct Steer variable ratio steering blends low-speed maneuverability with high-speed stability, while brake-induced Dynamic Cornering Assist helps to tuck the car tightly into corners. Upgrade from the standard AMG Sport Exhaust System to the AMG Performance Exhaust System, and it will prove subtle and quiet when you need it to be and deliciously raucous when you want it to be.
Drivers have control over many of these features through the standard AMG Dynamic Select system. Choose between Eco, Comfort, Sport, and Sport+ driving modes, or set up your own preferences using the Individual setting. These profiles adjust the car’s throttle response, shift characteristics, steering effort and feel, suspension stiffness, and exhaust tenor.
Naturally, an AMG-tuned E-Class can’t look like your garden-variety E300 lease special, so Mercedes gives it exclusive body styling, a chrome diamond-block grille pattern, unique wheel designs, gloss-black mirror caps, and a sensually bulging power-dome hood design.
From there, you can go with an optional Night Package for a blacked-out look, you can badge-delete for a stealth look, or you can add carbon fiber, chrome, and an illuminated grille star emblem for a “Hey, lookit me!” look.
Luxury Soothes, Technology Both Distracts and Protects
Inside the E 53, Mercedes-AMG replaces wood veneer with aluminum trim, wraps the AMG performance steering wheel in premium Nappa leather, adds galvanized metal shift paddles, and installs red seatbelts. Don’t worry. You can get black as an option, along with a variety of other interior improvements.
A midsize car, the E 53 sedan feels like a tailored fit, front and rear. My test car’s optional black Nappa leather with red stitching complemented the red seatbelts and red steering wheel centering line. Over the course of my 3.5-hour drive, the heated and ventilated driver’s seat proved comfortable and supportive, and the available automatic cabin fragrance system is simply wonderful.
The rear seat is roomy enough for two people, but there is precious little space for feet under the front seats. Trunk space is tight, too, at 13.5 cubic feet, but the cargo area is shaped for maximum fitment of standard luggage.
Loaded with technology, the E 53 presents the driver with two 12.3-inch display screens mounted side-by-side behind a single piece of glass. Mercedes accurately calls it a Widescreen Cockpit, and it is a complex beast.
If you buy this car, do yourself a favor. Sit in it while it idles in your driveway, have the owner’s manual out, start with tuning the excellent Burmester audio components to your liking, and then go through everything while you enjoy the audio experience, customizing the system to your preferences. This could take an hour or more, but it will be time well spent. However, know that even afterward you might find the Widescreen Cockpit to be a source of infinite distraction on the road, like I did.
Good thing, then, that Mercedes loads the AMG E 53 with advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS). To get them all, you’ll need to pay extra for the Driver Assistance Package and the Parking Assistance Package, but the combined $3,520 is money well spent.
Counted individually, these two packages install 17 different ADAS features. I’ll hit the highlights below:
Active Steering Assist – When using the adaptive cruise control, it centers the E 53 in its lane and can follow traffic ahead. This is not an autonomous steering system like Cadillac Super Cruise, but it sure does work well when the monolithic Widescreen Cockpit distracts you.
Active Brake Assist with Cross-Traffic Function – Ever driven down a residential street and arrived at an intersection where cross-traffic has to stop and you don’t? Sometimes cross-traffic doesn’t know this and drives right into your path. This system helps you to avoid a collision in such situations.
Active Emergency Stop Assist – This technology works when adaptive cruise control is engaged. If Active Steering Assist senses that you’ve let go of the steering wheel for an extended period of time, and you don’t respond to requests to take control, it will bring the E 53 to a staged stop in the lane of travel, activate the hazard flashers, and place an emergency assistance call.
Pre Safe Impulse Side – If sensors detect that your E 53 is about to get T-boned by another vehicle, this system inflates an air chamber inside of the seat on, the side closest to the door. This, in turn, shoves the occupant toward the middle of the car, helping to reduce injury.
There are many other ADAS systems aboard the E 53. Those listed above are the more unusual offerings.
What It’s Like to Drive the Mercedes-AMG E 53 Sedan
Departing California’s Napa Valley on the region’s traffic-clogged, rain-ravaged roads, my first impression of the E 53 – other than “Holy crap, this car is quick!” – was “Holy crap, this car is stiff! And loud!”
Indeed, the performance suspension and performance tires generated lots of road noise combined with impact harshness. And I had AMG Dynamic Select in Comfort mode at the time. While this was unexpected, it’s worth noting that three hours later, as I wound up and down the hilly streets of San Francisco, this impression subsided. In other words, you get used to it.
The turbocharged, EQ Boosted, SpeedShifted, 4Matic-ed drivetrain is an absolute delight. Effortless velocity is available everywhere across the engine’s rev range, the only stumble a flat-footed 9-speed automatic when I’d forgotten the car was in Eco mode as I climbed up a twisty road from the beach into a forest.
Switching to Sport+ mode, my test car’s optional AMG Performance Exhaust System burping and farting its way along the Panoramic Highway from Stinson Beach to Mill Valley, the E 53 did what all great cars do. It disappeared, becoming a figurative extension of its driver as I threaded the damp and winding blacktop, diving into corner after corner, the Mercedes taming the unfamiliar stretch of road as though I’d driven it countless times before.
Thereafter, the route took me across the Golden Gate Bridge and onto downtown San Francisco’s steep streets. Here, the automatic transmission acted up a bit, shifting harshly on occasion and hesitating at times. This wasn’t a big deal – San Francisco is notoriously hard on cars – but it was out of character with how the E 53 drove during the previous three hours.
Upon arrival at the hand-off point, the Mercedes-AMG E 53 had averaged 21.9 mpg, which is 2.1 mpg short of its EPA combined-driving rating. I’d used every driving mode except Individual, I’d racked up 16.8 bonus miles due to economical driving, and I’d had a blast ripping down coastal California’s gorgeous ribbons of blacktop.
In a Toyota Prius, I could have easily doubled that fuel economy number. But that wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun.