Mercedes-Benz, India’s largest selling car is the E-Class, available here in its long-wheelbase form. The luxurious appointments, the near flagship level space, and the ability of the ‘E’ to deliver both comfort and performance are what buyers appreciate the most.
Earlier this year, MB India launched a car with an entirely different character altogether, though it wore the ‘E’ badge. The Mercedes-AMG E53 4MATIC+ cabriolet is a whole lot more than the E-Class LWB, though it is a lot lesser too in some other departments. This is a compact convertible that’ll let you go top-down in a pinch. And offer you the opportunity to discover the potential of a true-blue AMG — that legendary badge which comes preloaded with the promise of sporty performance. The two-door E53 Cabriolet is much smaller, is not very practical for everyday use or, frankly, even for a driving holiday, and at ₹1.3 crore it is not meant for everyone. Yet, however small the target audience, it is still an important addition to Merc’s AMG portfolio. Full credit to MB India for bringing more depth and diversity to its India garage. More choice always expands the market.
Building a cabriolet is not easy. Sawing off the roof at the A, B and C pillars is not how engineers go about creating a convertible from a coupe. In fact, in most cases during the development of a coupe and a convertible, the former comes later, and the primary vehicle engineering is the convertible. Structural integrity and passenger cell safety requirements are more complex in a cabriolet. The E53 4MATIC+ Cabriolet has a range of safety kit built in, including, for example, the ‘safety roll bar’ that stays tucked in, covered within an area behind the rear seats. In the absence of the B and C pillars, this roll bar deploys automatically if a rollover risk is detected. This is a convertible with a soft-top, and the frame and fabric roof fold and get neatly concealed into a dedicated section just ahead of the boot. The whole process of opening the roof or closing it takes just about 20 seconds and it can be done even as the E53 Cabriolet is being driven at speeds of upto 50 kmph.
One may be swayed into thinking this is a luxury showboat meant to impress the neighbours when the roof is folded down. But with the fabric roof on (specified here in a classic brown), this AMG looks taut, sporty, and ready for the track. The design of the E53 is understated and classy, a combination that works well given how convertibles unabashedly call attention to themselves. Even if one misses seeing the badging on the front grille and rear boot lid, there are several AMG specific design elements that point to the E53’s genetic background. The A-shaped Panamericana bonnet grille with its vertical slats, the power bulge on the long bonnet slab, and the 19-inch AMG alloy wheels are tell-tale signs of the E53 Cabriolet’s antecedents and point to the potential lurking within the engine bay. The AMG also gets high-performance LED headlamps, a large air dam in the front fender and special MANUFACTUR paint finishes, including the ‘opalite white magno’ that you see in these pictures.
The minimalist design principles of the E53 extend to the side, where the classic Cabriolet profile means a gradually arching waist and shoulder line, which emerge from the headlamps and end at the AMG spoiler on top of the boot lid. The compact cabin leads to a longish boot area that also includes the section where the fabric roof folds and gets stored into. The rear of the E53 features slim, wraparound LED tail-lamps, which are split by the narrow boot lid. The diffuser in the rear fender frames dual twin exhaust pipes delivering its image of performance even at the rear. The E53 Cabriolet is said to offer a 371-litre boot, though quite a bit of that is taken up by the spare wheel. A small suitcase and some soft bags could be stored in the boot, but without the spare and if the rear seats are folded, there should be enough space for a weekend worth of luggage.
The E53 AMG’s interior is a classic Mercedes-AMG cabin. It does feel a bit ‘cozy’ — compact but luxurious and special. The E-class style layout for the dash with the 12.3-inch infotainment screen and the digital instrument cluster being combined into one long floating display. The entire dashboard is a combination of stitched leather panels and beautifully finished ash wood trim IP that felt special with its open pore wood fascia (in my test mule). There is also the option of specifying this in carbon-fibre or Matt-aluminium.
Similarly, the cabin colour theme in my test mule was black and red, though it can also be chosen in an all-black or black-brown combination. The front seats themselves are beautifully crafted in nappa leather in an extremely sporty construction. The side bolsters offer excellent lateral support, and 10-way power adjustment means getting the perfect seating position is just a few pushes of the buttons away. The front seats are also heated and cooled, and it was one of the best feelings to let the perforated seat ventilation wick away the sweat off my back on a hot afternoon in Mumbai.
The rear seats aren’t anywhere near as comfy. Getting into the rear will take a bit of effort after shifting the front seats, even though it is electrically assisted. The bigger problem is the relatively lesser amount of leg, knee and head room at the rear. With the need for space to tuck away the folding fabric roof, the rear seat backrest can’t be reclined either. Cabriolets aren’t really meant for families; most will be quite uncomfortable to sit in at the rear, and that’ll be worse if the driver tries to have fun on a windy track. Dropping down and getting the fabric roof to fold back out is a simple exercise. In addition to this control on the centre console, there is also a dedicated button for raising and lowering a wind foil behind the rear seats that works in conjunction with an air flap right on top of the windscreen to keep the wind off the cabin while driving top-down.
Some of the other features in the cabin include the Merc signature turbine style aircon vents, a head-up display, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto connectivity for the infotainment system, ambient LED lights and a Burmester music system. The MBUX infotainment system also offers integrated voice command functions. The nappa leather clad, flat-bottomed AMG steering wheel also features a number of touch controls with haptic feedback. The steering mounted mode selector and individualisation control knobs stick out and since they are backlit, are easy to adjust without taking ones eyes off the road. I was a little worried about the E53’s cabin comfort, but was pleasantly surprised to find the aircon to be very effective. The noise levels in the cabin are a bit elevated compared to the average luxury sedan. But it is mostly only shrill road noises like car horns and construction noises that seep in.
The E53 4MATIC+ cabriolet features a 3-litre, turbocharged inline-6-cylinder petrol engine. The 2,999cc engine sports twin scroll turbos and also gets Merc’s EQ Boost assistance. So, in addition to the inline-six engine’s 435hp of peak power output, the battery electric hybrid motor also delivers an additional 22hp. Similarly, peak torque generated by the engine is 520Nm, and the EQ boost allows for an additional 250Nm of instant torque to be delivered to the wheels. The starter motor and alternator combo work a strong electric motor in delivering parallel assist hybrid functions. So, while it helps in pulling out of the garage quietly, the E53 can also sprint with electric assistance to 100kmph in just 4.5 seconds. The battery is charged using regenerative braking, but the system also allows for cruising (gliding mode) depending on the state of charge of the 1 kWh battery pack.
The engine is paired with the AMG Speedshift 9G TCT auto transmission. This is a sporty, quick-shifting, torque converter gearbox which is a good match for the petrol-electric power unit. The driver also has the option of manually choosing gears using the steering-mounted paddles. The exhaust gas turbocharger kicks in early and enables peak torque to be delivered starting from as low as 1,800rpm. Torque can also be delivered to all four wheels, thanks to the fully variable 4MATIC+ all-wheel drive system. Despite its two-tonne kerb weight, the E53 cabriolet is seriously quick and sprints so eagerly that it can surprise onlookers who may have been misled by its relatively minimalist, not-so-radical design. The exhaust note is an interesting, though not too loud, growl. With the top down, the exhaust growl is more appealing to listen to, even with the wind howling around my ears.
The vehicle settings can be tweaked for a more personalised driving experience, though there are also three preset drive modes to choose from — Comfort, Sport and Sport+. Apart from the obvious differences in throttle response and steering weight, the three modes also have differences in the behaviour of the air suspension. With its sport performance genes deciding the setting for its underpinnings, the air suspension is also firm. It is relatively pliant in comfort mode, though even that can send up quite a bit of feedback from really bad roads. Tackling broken tarmac and speed breakers will have to be done carefully at slow speeds. But the suspension’s real purpose comes alive while tackling corners. There is so much more balance and precision even from steering input. There is a lot of fun to be had in the E53 AMG even within the confines of legal speed limits. But this is an AMG that can truly be enjoyed at the limits (yours more likely than the car’s) only on a racetrack. To make it more convenient to monitor your performance, there is AMG Track Pace, that makes the E53’s systems a virtual track engineer. Information like lap, sector and acceleration times, and even live telemetry data can be generated to allow the driver to analyse and improve driving skills on closed tracks.
The E53 4MATIC+ AMG cabriolet is not meant for the average luxury car buyer. This is focused on buyers who know exactly what they are buying into. They are owner-drivers, they want the performance potential of a AMG, they know that this is not an all-weather mule and they don’t mind forking out the ₹1.3 crore-plus for this cabriolet. It will also probably be the second or third Merc in their garage. I was lucky to be driving around the E53 during an overcast day recently in Mumbai. But, even though right now may not be the kind of weather for a convertible, it could be the time to start planning for the upcoming winter months, when it’ll be perfect for top-down motoring.