My introduction to the world of AMG variants of Mercedes Benz came from my late roommate, Henry. He owned a 1991 Mercedes Benz 560 SEC that had received a large dose of AMG modification by the first owner, a Chicago Bulls player. AMG was a separate tuning shop at the time, not yet part of Mercedes-Benz. Now here we are, nearly 30 years later, and while the 2020 Mercedes-AMG E53 Coupe is a very different car than Henry’s 126-chassis 560 SEC, the formula for an AMG remains nearly the same.
What Is It?
The 2020 Mercedes-AMG E53 Coupe is the two-door hardtop variant of Mercedes-Benz’s midsize sedan, the E-Class. The E-Class’ body styles run the gamut, from sedan to wagon to coupe to convertible, and the current design dates back to 2017.
In coupe form, this E53 AMG is the fastest variant offered. It’s powered by a new-last-year 3.0 liter inline six-cylinder with a twin-scroll turbocharger and “EQ Boost.” The M256 inline-six produces 429 horsepower and 384 lb-ft of torque. Horsepower peaks at 6,100 rpm and torque at 1,800. Though the M256 is direct-injected, Mercedes-AMG eschewed port injection in favor of a particulate filter to keep the engine’s intake free of carbon buildup.
The silky, revvy six-cylinder is paired to Mercedes’ 9G-Tronic nine-speed automatic, with an AMG software tune and paddle shifters that will hold a gear until the valves come out and dance on the hood. E53 AMG coupes drive all four wheels, using Mercedes’ rear-biased 4Matic+ all-wheel drive system. The “plus” in 4Matic+ denotes the ability to send 100% of available engine torque to the front or rear.
There’s standard four-corner air suspension that can stiffen or loosen based on drive mode selection, and raise up a bit to clear low driveways and curbs. The ride is great in both Sport and Comfort settings, but it’s hard to hide the bulk of the car as you hustle it through a corner. The E53 AMG coupe feels wide, no matter what.
The E53 AMG is the fastest version of the E-Class you can buy… in coupe form. It weighs about 4,400 lbs and can hustle to 60 mph in 4.3 seconds. Sedan and wagon buyers can step up one more rung for the turbocharged, hand-built V8 known as the E63.
And of course, being a Mercedes-Benz E-Class with nearly $20,000 in options, my E53 AMG coupe was pretty well-equipped. The heated, cooled, and massaging “multicontour” front seats were excellent, with enough adjustability to make anyone happy. Luxury cars have moved on to heating the armrests now, too. As gimmicky as that may sound (it is), it’s a nice touch on a brisk spring morning.
The E53 AMG’s standard Burmester sound system is one of the best I’ve heard in a car, period. Clarity, separation and tone were on a level most car audio just can’t achieve. Unfortunately, the Burmester setup is controlled through Mercedes’ COMAND infotainment system. While the dial-based system is easy enough to use, options are buried in a labyrinth of menus. The new MBUX system, which debuted in the A-Class and Sprinter, should be coming soon to other models and is far better.
E53 AMG’s EQ Boost Explained
EQ Boost, on the surface, is a 48 volt mild-hybrid system added to every “53” series Mercedes. While increased fuel economy is one goal of EQ Boost, it’s got some performance implications as well and makes the E53 AMG more interesting than the Iridium Silver paint job may imply.
The heart of EQ Boost is an integrated starter/generator, which is sandwiched between the engine and transmission, inside the transmission’s bellhousing. There’s no traditional starter motor on the E53 AMG, and the engine doesn’t have to crank much before firing when cold. EQ Boost will let the engine shut off as you come to a stop, and theoretically, in steady-state highway cruising. I couldn’t get the latter to work, as it requires a very precise set of conditions to activate.
Beyond the integrated starter/generator, EQ Boost features an electric air compressor. Yes, an electric turbocharger of sorts. The BorgWarner compressor can spin up to 70,000 rpm, producing up to 21 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. The power figures can’t simply be added to the output of the inline-six, though. The compressor operates in short bursts and is designed to make up for any turbo lag found in the gasoline drivetrain.
EQ Boost allows all engine accessories to operate electronically. The inline-six engine has no drive belts whatsoever, and each accessory can spit at optimal speed given demand.
Aside from a laggy Auto Start/Stop system, the combination of AMG-ified inline-six and the itty-bitty EQ Boost compressor filling in power gaps lead to rapid, linear acceleration all the way to redline. I wouldn’t call it “explosive” power, but the E53 AMG is (and feels like) a fast car.
Is the 2020 Mercedes-AMG E53 Coupe a ‘Real’ AMG?
Enthusiasts love to debate the purity of various “performance” branding, and the E53 will undoubtedly spark some debate. It’s badged as an AMG, yes, but the engine isn’t hand-built like the storied V8s of past and present. It’s the fastest E-Class coupe, but not the fastest E-Class of them all (that honor goes to the E63S sedan and wagon). Is it an AMG?
I’ve always found AMGs to be the make-it-your-own, brutish, straight-line Autobahn cars of the Euro-performance segment. In this case, the E53 AMG delivers. It feels eager yet planted at 70 mph; it’d happily sit in the left lane of the highway at 155 mph if we just had the room and the roads and the driver talent in the United States. It’s not the most athletic in tighter corners, but it’s happy with big sweepers. Again – Autobahn stormer over autocross champion.
For those who understand the true history of AMG, before Mercedes-Benz acquisition, some flair isn’t out of the ordinary. Owners purchased a new Mercedes-Benz and sent it to one of two AMG shops in the country for modifications, which were selected a la carte from a big book. Paint, upholstery, suspension, exhaust, and yes, hand-built V8 engines were all on the table. In theory, no two AMG cars were entirely alike.
We do have these pesky “economies of scale” to contend with now that AMG is part of the larger operation that is mass-Mercedes production. Regardless, buyers have a lot of options, both visually and mechanically, to make a modern Mercedes-AMG their own.
Looking back at Henry’s AMG-modified 560 SEC, I feel that this 2020 E53 AMG is built in similar spirit. No, this car doesn’t have the hand-built, super-special V8, but what’s under the hood is more than enough. Otherwise, the visual flair, suspension, exhaust, and wheels are all there, alongside plenty of luxury.
Speaking of the optional AMG Performance exhaust, it sounds excellent on the highway and, in “Powerful” mode, is absolutely stupid around town. I was that guy I can’t stand, winding out first gear after each red light just to hear the rapbapbapPAP of the exhaust as I pulled the upshift paddle and called for second. I giggled every time.
Hand-built V8 or not, the E53 AMG is certainly deserving of the badge.
It’s Not Right, But It’s Okay
The E53 AMG is deserving of its AMG badging. It’s a very good car that can be giggle-inducing and sporty enough, or with a few button pushes, settle down into something more comfortable.
My particular test car wasn’t built entirely to my taste. I’d put a different paint color on it to highlight the body lines – there are some excellent blues, reds, and even a deep metallic green to choose from. Iridium Silver may be “classic Mercedes-Benz,” but made the coupe appear slab-sided.
The red-accented seats and $2,850 of carbon fiber interior bits were pretty shouty; thankfully there are plenty of leather seat and dashboard color choices alongside a variety of wood and metal trim to choose from. Mercedes-AMG also offers seven wheel choices and again, I’d pick something else.
But my griping is all in the spirit of what an AMG car is. My test car is optioned perfectly, for someone else. And it’d be easy enough to build one to suit my taste, too. Colors aside, the E53 AMG is an excellent take on the fast, pillar-less coupe concept that’s been a staple of the Mercedes-Benz lineup for decades.