|Positives: The right amount of visual aggressiveness, opulent and sporty interior, powerful acceleration, sublime steering and handling, tons of advanced safety features.|
|Negatives: Column shifter is wimpy and confusing, standard upholstery is synthetic leather.|
|Bottom Line: It's a capable sports sedan that's well built and fun to drive. While it's not as noticeable as the new Genesis G80 or as raucous as a BMW M5, it toes a nice line between sport and luxury. The tech and safety are great, while the passenger and cargo space and cabin controls could be improved.|
If ever there was a car that brilliant toed the line between sport and luxury, it's the E53. Dialing up more aggressive drive modes changes its character without making it harsh, while normal driving elicits pleasure and comfort.
Ride Quality: The E53 is a truly comfortable ride that also caters to the enthusiast. Change it to Dynamic mode, and the suspension, steering, and throttle change appropriately for a true sports sedan experience.
Acceleration: 0-60 comes in a quick 4.1 seconds, and firing off shifts with the steering column-mounted paddles is a pleasure.
Braking: The brakes are strong,a and pedal feel is excellent. We had no trouble making quick stops, and there was no noticeable nosedive under hard braking.
Steering: The E53 has great feedback and effort. Turn-in is quick, precise, and it's perfectly on center at highway speeds.
Handling: The E53 is well-balanced and possesses only minimal body roll. The standard adaptive suspension works well in all modes and delivers up what you need when you need it.
Mercedes has given their higher end cars the full beans in terms of in-car technology. There are two huge screen in one single display on the dash, and they encompass instrumentation and infotainment. Climate controls are mostly physical, which we're thankful for. The touchpad controls are less than desirable, reducing the overall score.
Infotainment System: The huge 12.3-inch touchscreen is standard here and visually beautiful. Every E53 also comes standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as wireless phone charging.
Controls: We got frustrated with the center console-mounted touchpad, which is difficult to operate (but not as bad as Lexus's version). We also hate the column-mounted shift knob, which looks like a turn signal on the wrong side. It's not intuitive, and it looks like it could break off if used too aggressively. And while the 6-spoke steering wheel looks great, its controls are hard to decipher.
There's no question the E53 is a handsome car with some of its styling cues pulled straight from the AMG GT halo car. We just wish it were a bit more distance from some angles. The interior is properly sporty, but there's just a little bit too much shiny black plastic for our tastes.
Front: The bit, toothy AMG GT -style grille looks great here, paired nicely with the bulges in the hood. The headlights are a little on the boring side and wouldn't look out of place on a Subaru.
Rear: The quad exhausts ports look great right underneath that silver valance. The taillights taper inwards nicely, but we'd like them to be more prominent. The addition of the small lip spoiler adds to its purposeful looks.
Profile: This is the most vanilla of the E53's views. It's well-proportioned from front to back but lacks the kind of styling that turns heads. Take one look at the new Genesis G80, and you'll see what dramatic looks like. It needs a front fender vent (we never thought we'd say that) sculpting in the door. Something. It just looks a bit too plain from the side view.
Cabin: The E53 has some beautiful touches like the perforated leather sport steering wheel, the round HVAC vents embedded in the matte wood dash, the optional red seat belts, and the ginormous screens, but we don't especially like the copious use of piano black plastic on the center console that picks up dust and smudges like a magnet.
The E53 is well-appointed inside with a solid amount of room and some very good seats. Ergonomics aren't the best in the segment (Audi and Genesis rule here), but everything looks great. If you want gobs of rear room, the E53 is not the one to get.
Front Seats: The front seats are aggressively bolstered and well-cushioned, too. We were very comfortable whether it was cruising or taking the turns hard. We're just disappointed that real leather isn't standard on an AMG car.
Rear Seats: The E53 has 36.2 inches of rear legroom, which is decent. But for a mid-sized luxury sedan, it's on the small side. The new G80 has 2.5 inches more, and the BMW is slightly larger than the E53 at 36.5 inches. At least all of the rear seating positions are comfortable.
NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): The E53 is built like a tank, and it's as solid as they come. We didn't hear anything intrusive in the cabin. The only real sound emitted is the growl of the turbo V6 engine, which we loved.
Visibility: visibility all around is very good, and the rear parcel shelf isn't overly tall, so sightlines out the back are good, too.
Climate: The E53's climate system is excellent. The large, round vents move tons of air, and the heated seats work well, too.
The fifth-generation E-Class is an excellent car when it comes to crash testing and safety tech. It has a slew of standard and optional features that should bring peace of mind to buyers and their families.
IIHS Rating: The E-Class earned a Top Safety Pick+ score in 2019 (it wasn't tested in 2020 or 2021, but it's the same vehicle). It attained "good" in all crash tests and "superior" in vehice-to-vehicle accident avoidance tech.
NHTSA Rating: The 2021 E-Class was tested and earned five stars from the federal government, the top rating.
Standard Tech: The E53 comes with Attention Assist, Pre-Safe Predictive Occupant-Protection System (reduces forces on occupants during accidents by up to 40%), Blind Spot Assist, Surround View System, and what's known as Pre-Safe Sound technology that predicts accidents and quickly emits a safe level of sound to send your hearing into a protective mode to limit its damage due to the excessively loud sound of an accident. That's crazy.
Optional Tech: The $1,950 Driver Assistance Package adds a huge set of features including Active Distance Distronic, Active Steering Assist, Active Lane Change Assist, Active Emergency Stop Assist, Active Speed Limit Assist, Active Brake Assist w/ Cross-Traffic function, Evasive Steering Assist, Active Lane Keeping Assist, Active Blind Spot Assist, Pre-Safe Plus rear-end collision protection, Pre-Safe Impulse Side (this feature pushes occupants away from the predicted impact site using inflation in the seat's side bolsters to push away from the impact), and Route-Based Speed Adaptation.
Both the in-car storage options and the trunk space are just okay. It's not a place to cram tons of gear or luggage, but it'll do most people just fine. At least the options have concealment to their advantage.
Storage Space: The armrest and the retractable binnacle (with cupholder and charging dock) are useful. Otherwise, the door pockets are about average. There really aren't any immediately accessible open spaces.
Cargo Room: Trunk space is a mere 13.1 cubes. While the opening is large, and the load floor is flat, it's the smallest trunk in the segment, tied with the new Genesis G80. The BMW 5-Series has 14 cubes and the Audi A6 has 13.7.
The E53 was meant to be driven, so our results were based mostly on sporting driving habits. We didn't approach the EPA estimates, and word is that the E53 falls a little bit short here, even when driven conservatively.
Observed: 18.1 mpg.
Distance Driven: 115 miles.
The stock system for the E53 is anything but bare bones. It's a premium Burmester system that's booming and crisp, at the same time. We love the fact that this performance sedan comes with such a great sound system for no extra cost.