Mercedes offers the AMG-tuned E-class as a sedan, a cabriolet (for those in need of uninterrupted sun or vast rear quarter panels), or the coupe we tested here. We've always liked the E53's version of AMG performance. It's no cheapie, starting at $77,300, but it delivers elegance and power for the price. The E53 isn't as rowdy or violent as its V-8-powered brethren, but it packs an unexpected punch, and we all like a sleeper. It's slightly less a sleeper for 2021, thanks to updated front and rear fascias. The somewhat stodgy grille has been replaced with the Panamericana 12-strake shark's grin found on other AMG models. At the back, quad exhaust outlets flank the rear diffuser.
Take this thing out and people move over, even when you're just cruising. Nobody wants a grinning shark in their rearview mirror. If you do want to get on it a bit, the super- and turbocharged 3.0-liter straight-six is more than happy to help you make the pass. With 429 horsepower and 384 lb-ft of torque, the AMG E53 is more than capable of putting traffic behind you. Think 60 mph in four seconds flat and a quarter-mile pass in 12.5 seconds at 110 mph. It's still possible to catch the car off guard with a hasty bit of throttle application, but it's more a slow downshift from the nine-speed automatic transmission than it is reluctance on the part of the powerplant. Doesn't matter; it's momentary. And then the revs are climbing, the scenery is blurring, and the camper van that waved you by is far back in the distance.
The refreshed E53 gets the glitzy Mercedes MBUX infotainment system. A 12.3-inch center touchscreen merges with the digital dash in a wide sweep of glass that's impressive enough to elicit gasps from passengers who aren't used to such futuristic cockpits. It's controllable via touch, console touchpad, steering-wheel touch, and voice. The system is great—quick, clear, and compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto—but we'd happily trade the haptic steering-wheel pads for old-fashioned buttons. The digital dash offers seemingly endless info and layouts, and we saw them all in rotation, thanks to accidental thumb swipes across the touch sensor every five minutes. It's a case of too many options just because you can. Similarly flashy and of dubious usefulness is the center screen's habit of displaying the view from the front-facing camera at stoplights. Thanks, Mercedes, but there's a little thing called a windshield here—we can already see what's in front. Precious seconds were lost switching it back to the CarPlay screen to see the next turn. A few more seconds will be spent fumbling to find the tiny Park button on the wee shifter lever. We can only imagine that the interior-design team at AMG consists of one designer with hands the size of dinner plates—they did the thick tree branch of a steering wheel—and another who is an actual fairy, responsible for the miniscule steering-wheel buttons and the delicate shifter stalk buried behind the big wheel.
Shod with 20-inch run-flat Pirelli P Zero PZ4 Run Flat summer tires, our test car’s 0.87 g of skidpad grip couldn’t quite match the 0.91 g posted by a similar 2019 model we tested, and its so-so 172-foot stop from 70 mph was a few feet longer than that previous car's effort. More impressive is that the E53's performance is accompanied by a solid 32 mpg on our 75-highway test, a 4-mpg improvement over its EPA estimate.