My Car Quest

June 16, 2021

Driving Impression: 2021 Mercedes-AMG E53 Convertible

The Right Mix Of Luxury and Power

by Wallace Wyss –

Being a portraitist of classic cars, I don’t pay as much attention as I should to the newest of the new so I was bowled over when I found out there are several Mercedes priced new at over $100,000. I recently test-drove one, a 2021 E53 cabriolet bearing AMG badges. These are executive cars, something a CEO would drive or perhaps buy for his wife. If it’s shared with the wife, she might prize the luxury but he, if he is an enthusiast, may secretly prefer it because of its sporting potential compared to other luxury cars. It doesn’t mean you have to flog it hard, it’s just nice to know that it has the potential to be driven like a sports car even though it’s a four seater.

2021 Mercedes-AMG E53 Convertible

First let me define “cabriolet.” I use that phrase to mean a convertible with a lined insulated top. The regular American convertibles just have one layer of cloth. Below that in rank is the skimpy spyder roof, like the Porsche 550 of the ’50s. The 2021 E53 Cabriolet exists midway in the middle of the AMG ragtops, AMG being the “tuning” arm of Mercedes, once a private garage that modified Mercedes for private customers which was finally brought in house so Mercedes would be able to offer the equivalent of BMW’s “M” models.

2021 Mercedes-AMG E53 Convertible

2021 Mercedes-AMG E53 Convertible

Technically it’s a tour de force. The design was on the market last year only to be modified for 2021 with a grille reminiscent of the ‘early ’50s racing 300SLs. From the rear and side, it is conservative but it’s only when you see the blacked-out racing style grille, that you realize that this is a Mercedes that has a special purpose–to house the beast within.

One surprise under hood to me is an inline six–a configuration we thought had been dropped by most firms for the V6. But having all the cylinders in a row handily makes room for a turbocharger which greatly boost engine output when called upon (like afterburners in a jet engine). The engine has a single turbo instead of a twin turbo like the V8 in the next model up.

It is rated at 429 horsepower, and comes with an AMG Speedshift TCT nine-speed automatic transmission. Its chief competition is way beyond anything made in America–I’d say the Lexus LC500 convertible (which costs $90,000) and in European cars the BMW 8 series convertible.

The base price for the Mercedes is a heady $82,850 in the US, but our test car left the store at $105,000, loaded with almost every option available. Still, the base price is lower than the BMW rival.

The transmission is a 9 speed automatic. You can leave it in “D” for Drive and let it do all the shifting or you can use the paddle shifters, the one on the left side for down shifting and the one on the right for upshifting. There’s one button you can press where it will not upshift until you want it to.

2021 Mercedes-AMG E53 Convertible

2021 Mercedes-AMG E53 Convertible

Since AMG means this car has been “muscled up” they give the cognoscenti lots of clues that this is way beyond the usual Mercedes. This one had the optional 20″ AMG twin five-spoke wheels. Our car had the optional AMG Night Package that adds jet black accents to the front splitter, air-intake fins, side mirrors and rear valance. It also had the AMG exterior carbon fiber package. Size wise, it’s only 1.1 inches shorter than the BMW. Weight wise, it’s beefy at 4,566 pounds.

Our test car stood out with a non glare (ie. “flat”) paint job in blue. Two observers asked if “is it a wrap?” meaning is it some material bearing a color laid on an already-painted car but, no, this type of paint can be ordered from the factory. Brilliant Blue Magno is the name. It’s an acquired taste to have non-glossy paint. Like how do you polish it?

This car is not a hybrid but has an added electric air compressor and a combination starter/alternator that adds an additional 21 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. The purpose is to eliminate turbo lag and give the illusion it’s a larger naturally-aspirated engine, like a 5-liter V8. It delivers. The 0-60 time–4.4 seconds. Top speed (limited) is 155 mph.

ROBUST HANDLING

When goaded, it can handle like a sports car, despite convertibles being less rigid than coupes or sedans. A standard adaptive air suspension keeps the car level in the bends. One tester said it “claws itself out of corners at insane speeds.” We didn’t push it that hard but if you plan on testing it on a twisty road, it helps if you pull over first and choose the non-comfort suspension setting that changes the car’s reactions, such as “Sport.” I preferred “Comfort” most of the time. I also did the sportier stretches with the paddle shifter. And of course at such times I activated the button bearing a drawing of an exhaust pipe (Jaguar used to have a “LOUD” button, same thing) so you hear a stattaco BLAPP.

The brakes delivered positive feedback and a strong initial bite. Steering feedback is a bit lacking, but as soon as you dial in some steering input, you are rewarded with a precise changes in direction.

If driven conservatively there’s a promise of respectable gas mileage — 21/27/23 mpg city/highway/combined. Maximum range? 400 miles. I didn’t get anything near that mileage because of the desire to go through the gears manually at every opportunity. There actually is a larger Mercedes cabriolet, the S63, that uses even more gas, so consider yourself lucky that performs as well as it does.

I always identify a luxury car as one with a wood dash but this one, perhaps as part of the AMG package, had the lightweight carbon fiber. There is room in the car for four, though if the rear seat passengers are below 5’ in height they won’t see much. The seats do all kinds of things–give you a massage, or are heated in cold weather or can blow cold air on you if it’s hot.

In an open car you have to make some compromises. In this one, once you lower the top you lose about 3″ deep of luggage room in the trunk. Solution? Drive to your vacation spot with top up, unload the luggage at the hotel, then drive around with the top down.

The list of luxury features goes on and on– power sport front seats with four-way lumbar support, an Airscarf neck heating system, dual-zone automatic climate control, remote start, wireless phone charging, a 64-color LED ambient interior lighting system, heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, keyless-go, hands-free access, an illuminated entry system, a surround-view camera system, HomeLink, and driver assistance features such as blind-spot assist, active brake assist, attention assist, and crosswind assist. Optional extras include active steering assist, adaptive high beam assist, active speed limit assist, and ventilated front seats.

Of all those the ambient lighting system consisting of a color band that ran under the dash and along the inner door panels. It was amusing (you can even select the color) but I’ll trade that for a wood dash.

One feature to put in the “Really?” department is being able to put the top up and down at speeds up to 30 mph. I can’t believe people can’t pull over to the put the top up or down but I’m guessing when you’re in a hurry it’s a virtue. I used it myself half a dozen times during the test.

The Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) infotainment system works well and uses steering wheel controls, voice control, and a rotary touchpad to control system inputs. Standard with that is navigation with no-charge online map updates for three years, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration, Bluetooth streaming, multiple USB-C ports, HD Radio, a six-month SiriusXM trial, and a Burmester surround sound system with 13 high-quality speakers and a 590-watt, nine-channel digital amplifier which lets the whole town square know you’ve arrived.

2021 Mercedes-AMG E53 Convertible

The car is well protected by Mercedes with a four-year/50,000-mile warranty, including drivetrain protection. Convertibles are not as a safe as coupes but this car is one of the safest convertibles. The E-Class sedan on which the car is based scores a full five stars from the NHTSA, and the IIHS awarded the vehicle with a Top Safety Pick+ award in 2019. Standard safety features include nine airbags, with frontal, side-impact, and curtain airbags for front occupants, and driver assistance tech such as blind-spot assist, active brake assist, attention assist, crosswind assist, a surround-view camera system, rear cross-traffic alert, and car-to-x communication. Optional safety gear includes active steering assist, adaptive high beam assist, evasive steering assist, active blind-spot assist, lane-keep assist, lane-change assist, and congestion emergency braking.

2021 Mercedes-AMG E53 Convertible

In sum…I have not driven many of the latest versions of top of the line luxury cars prior to driving this car but I doubt that even Rolls Royce and Bentley will be able to match this car’s dual capabilities–luxury plus performance.

So in the end it comes down to: do you like the styling? I think the nose is a tad short, maybe by half a foot, and the grille with its AMG black grille “teeth” too dark–I’d rather have chrome like the non-AMG model. And that flat paint–I’d like to see the other “flat” colors offered–but probably would still go glossy.

As an enthusiast I am grateful that Mercedes saw the wisdom in buying AMG and setting it up as their in-house tuning shop, developing a performance model for almost every car model.

It wasn’t until I was put behind the wheel of this six figure luxury GT car that I realized there is such stiff competition between Bentley, Mercedes, Audi, BMW and Lexus in this narrow niche of full luxury (with hidden performance). It’s a category that’s got my attention now.

I can see this car as a righteous reward for an executive wanting to treat his family to a luxury car that will also deliver world class sophisticated performance. In my side job, selling thoroughbred horses, that’s my sales pitch–you might never race the horse but, in the end it’s still a thoroughbred.

So if you want to sample one, go to your Mercedes dealer and say “AMG”. That phrase might open the magic door to a performance kingdom, where you are the ruler of the road.

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Wallace Wyss

THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss, author of 18 car books, will also be reporting on this car on KPFK’s Autotalk show. As a fine artist Wyss will be welcoming visitors to his “Art & Books” booth at Concorso Italiano, which will feature his oils and prints.

 

 

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Photos by Wallace Wyss.
Summary
Driving Impression: 2021 Mercedes-AMG E53 Convertible
Article Name
Driving Impression: 2021 Mercedes-AMG E53 Convertible
Description
Since AMG means the 2021 Mercedes-AMG E53 has been “muscled up” they give the cognoscenti lots of clues that this is way beyond the usual Mercedes.
Author

Comments

  1. Glenn Krasner says

    Wallace, BMW still uses straight sixes for many of their models still, as well. Glenn in Brooklyn, NY.

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