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First Drive: Mercedes-AMG’s New 53 Series Is a Mild Hybrid That Actually Lives Up to Its Buzz

We found the mild-hybrid CLS 53 and E 53 worthy of the buzz while on a test drive in Napa.

The new Mercedes-AMG CLS 53 and E 53 are on sale now. Photo: Courtesy of Mercedes-AMG.

American’s can’t seem to get enough of Mercedes-AMG. California alone accounts for about a quarter of the high-performance brand’s sales, so it’s no wonder the Germans are cranking out new models faster than you can say “Aufrecht Melcher Grossaspach.” The latest addition is the AMG 53 series, which—no surprise—sits above the AMG 43 lineup and just below the V8-powered AMG 63s.

The cars that currently get the AMG 53 treatment include the new CLS Coupe, the E-Class sedan and the E-Class coupe and convertible. You can tell an AMG 53 by the twin-blade radiator grille that stretches across a diamond-pattern mesh insert, black side mirror caps, rear lip spoiler and round twin tailpipes. Unique, 20-inch wheel designs, made especially for the model line, function to aid aerodynamics. Subtle twin power domes run the length of the E 53s hood, suggesting a copious corral of horses beneath.

The Mercedes-AMG E 53 4MATIC cabriolet.

The Mercedes-AMG E 53 4MATIC cabriolet.  Photo: Courtesy of Mercedes-AMG.

There are 429 of those horses in fact, courtesy of a new 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-6 that uses a 48-volt electric starter-generator—dubbed EQ Boost—to bolster output by another 21 hp. This mild hybrid system also helps to provide instant torque off the line, and when combined with the 53s auxiliary compressor (which helps the turbochargers spool up faster), the result is a quick and delightfully smooth takeoff.

The new 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-6 powering the Mercedes-AMG 53 Series.

The new 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-6 powering the Mercedes-AMG 53 Series.  Photo: Courtesy of Mercedes-AMG.

On a test drive through Northern California’s Napa Valley, it was easy to love this new power train, with quick shifts from the 9-speed automatic transmission and an extra 184 ft lbs of torque from the EQ boost at low engine speeds. The maximum torque is rated at 384 ft lbs. Mercedes-AMG says the E 53 Coupe can do the zero-to-60 mph dash in 4.3 seconds, with the other models lagging only a tenth-of-a-second behind. While that can’t match the blistering performance of the AMG 63s, it’s more than enough to draw the attention of grazing cows, or the ire of the local Highway Patrol. Helping (or hurting) the cause is the vehicle’s delicious, throaty exhaust note, especially when in Sport and Sport-Plus modes. When efficiency is a priority, an Eco drive mode shifts at lower revs and decouples the engine while coasting to save fuel. Through the regions wet and winding roads, the CLS 53 and E 53 Coupe stayed stable and in control with the 4MATIC variable all-wheel-drive system (which can vary torque from full rear-wheel drive to a 50/50 front-to-rear split) and sport air suspension.

The Mercedes-AMG 53 Series.

The Mercedes-AMG 53 Series.  Photo: Courtesy of Mercedes-AMG.

The cabin of the AMG 53 oozes sporty elegance, with body-hugging sport seats, a flat-bottomed steering wheel, and contrast stitching over soft leather. Dual widescreen displays, of which we have sung the praises on other Mercedes models, dominate the instrument panel, along with jet-turbine-inspired air vents, beset by ambient lighting that can be changed to an almost infinite variety of colors.

The interior of the Merdeces-AMG 53 Series.

The interior’s widescreen displays and jet-turbine-inspired air vents.  Photo: Courtesy of Mercedes-AMG.

The CLS 53 and E 53 are on sale now, and late next year the midsize GLE 53 will join the family, using the same inline-6 engine plus the all-terrain capabilities of the latest GLE-Class, including driving modes for trails and sand. It will also be the first AMG 53 model to use the new MBUX interface, with a digital voice-activated assistant that can find the nearest coffee shop, turn up the AC, or even remind you to call home when you’ve stayed out playing just a little too long.

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