Arguments among auto enthusiasts may come and go, but the contents of the “perfect” one car garage can always be counted upon to start enthusiastic discussion. The 2021 Mercedes-AMG E53 Coupe may be too politely-German to wade into that debate itself, but it’s not hard to imagine its blend of long-distance cruiser and 429 horsepower could see it boast some vocal devotees.
AMG takes the already-adept E Class two-door, and applies a now-familiar blend of subtle body tweaks and a chunk of power. The latter is courtesy of a 3.0-liter inline-6 turbo engine, good for 429 hp and 384 lb-ft of torque.
It’s an “AMG-Enhanced” engine, unlike the hand-crafted V8 in more potent cars from the tuning division, but it’s no consolation prize. Paired with a swift-shifting 9-speed transmission, AMG Performance 4MATIC+ all-wheel drive, and AMG Sport Suspension, the result is a coupe that’s legitimately fast. 0-60 mph arrives in 4.3 seconds.
While AMG doesn’t exactly shout about it with badging, the E53 Coupe is actually a hybrid, albeit only a mild one. Mercedes’ EQ Boost system borrows some of the power that would otherwise be wasted while the car is slowing, saves it in a battery, and then injects it back in when you need a jolt of speed. It helps the E53 feel properly quick from a standing start.
Despite that, the outside doesn’t exactly scream “performance” in the same way that some of AMG’s models do. Instead, the E53 opts for a more restrained interpretation of power, classy and bordering on low-key. If it turns heads it’s because a not-exactly-small Mercedes coupe still looks handsome and luxurious.
2021 saw a bolder Panamericana grille at the front and a quartet of tailpipes at the back; the $950 20-inch alloys pair beautifully. $750 adds the AMG Night Package, swapping most of the exterior chrome for gloss-black, while the AMG Exterior Carbon Fiber Package counts just side mirror covers and the diminutive trunk lid spoiler among its $1,750 contribution. Better, perhaps, to spend $1,250 on the AMG Performance Exhaust System and enjoy its burlier bellow.
What makes the E53 Coupe particularly appealing is its duality, the reason why its nomination to the “perfect” single car garage makes so much sense. In Comfort mode it drives like, well, an E-Class. A little firmer than the sedan, maybe, but the air suspension system can readily dial into plush to make this the road-trip car of choice. Mercedes’ cabin – here finished in $2,990 saddle brown and black leather, $2,850 carbon fiber trim, and $950 Multicontour massage seats with $450 heating and ventilation – isn’t quite so restrained as the exterior, with all its glossy trim, but it’s reassuringly solid and effortlessly comfortable.
Spin the drive mode dial on the AMG Performance steering wheel to Sport or Sport+, though, and fun times ensue. The engine sounds sublime, all gurgle and grunt, and though the E53 Coupe doesn’t disguise its 4,500+ pound curb weight you don’t feel like you’re fighting against it. Credit, again, the clever air suspension system for all that poise in the corners, the thick-rimmed wheel delivering just the right degree of weight and precision. The 4MATIC+ system can push all of the engine’s power to the rear wheels if required, or flip some to the front to help you muscle out of tricky situations.
Sport+ is definitely on the firm side, and poor quality roads will make themselves known in the cabin. Meanwhile, those relegated to the rear seats may find themselves wishing for shorter legs. Adults can go there, but you may need to crank up the excellent $4,550 Burmester High End audio system to distract them from the snug legroom.
Like most recent Mercedes, the cabin is a tech paradise, with an options list to match. Dual-zone climate control, keyless start, twin 12.3-inch displays with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, wireless phone charging, the regular Burmester Surround System, tilt/sliding panorama roof, and a decent active safety suite including blind spot assistance, Active Brake Assist and Active Parking Assist, and a 360-degree camera, are all standard.
The $1,700 Driver Assistance Package adds more safety and convenience features. That includes adaptive cruise control with lane-keeping and lane-change support, Active Brake Assist with Cross-Traffic, evasive steering assistance and active blind spot assistance, and rear-end collision protection. $800 adds heated front armrests and swifter front seat heating, while the head-up display is $1,100, and augmented video for navigation is $350. Another $350 gets you Mercedes’ HVAC fragrance system.
Altogether, it helps take a car with a $76,250 (plus $1,050 destination) starting price to a whopping $100,160 all-in for what you see here.
Price aside, frustrations are few and far between. I’m still not 100-percent convinced by Mercedes’ latest steering wheel, and struggle with its fiddly touch-sensitive controls, but generally the MBUX infotainment system is clean and easy to navigate. Even the 10 cu-ft trunk is decent in capacity for a coupe, and while the EPA rates the two-door E53 for 21 mpg in the city, 28 mpg on the highway, and 24 mpg combined, when I was showing a little more restraint I found it wasn’t too difficult to best those official numbers.
2021 Mercedes-AMG E53 Coupe Verdict
Designing a car for all seasons – and all drivers – is a tricky proposition, but Mercedes-AMG comes closer to success here than most. The 2021 E53 Coupe looks more subtly menacing than its shouty BMW counterpart, feels a little more special than Audi’s, and has the prestige and quality to hold more recent upstarts at bay. Its ability to flip from slush to sports and back again is top-notch, and its manners in either mode are difficult to criticize.
Yes, you pay handsomely for all that, and even more so if you go joyriding through Mercedes’ options list. As ever, restraint there pays dividends, though if this really is your one car to satisfy everything, maybe your wallet should be allowed a little extra leeway. After all, the 2021 AMG E53 Coupe looks, feels, and drives like a treat.