2019 Mercedes-AMG E 53 Cabriolet First Test: $100K, 429 HP, Four Seats

One mischievous look, and my front passenger knew—time to hold on again. As I discovered on a trip to Northern California, no tunnel is too short to exploit the swift Mercedes-AMG E 53 Cabriolet’s snapping and crackling exhaust system. Although the 2019 E 53 Cabriolet lacks the performance credentials of a 603-hp E 63 S sedan or wagon, the E-Class drop-top intrigues with Mercedes’ new inline-six engine supplemented by an electric anti-lag compressor. Translated: The topless AMG-badged E-Class offers more than 400 hp of immediately felt and smoothly delivered power. Without a single direct competitor from another brand, the E 53 Cabriolet’s biggest competition actually exists within Mercedes itself.

Mercedes’ astounding array of convertibles stretches from four to 12 cylinders and from $50,000 to well over $250,000. Whether you want a soft- or hard-top convertible, the luxury brand has you covered. As the Goldilocks model for those seeking a four-seater, the E-Class Cabriolet is bigger inside than the C-Class but not as ostentatious or as difficult to park as the S-Class drop-top. In AMG E 53 form, the compelling convertible should satisfy weekend drivers a bit more than everyday commuters.

Owners using the E 53 as their main car may take issue over time with the car’s slightly stiff ride. That’s more acceptable on the E 53 coupe and four-door CLS 53 than on a convertible attracting buyers more likely to appreciate a slow cruise. Our tester’s attractive 20-inch wheels may have played a role in that picture; they come with shorter sidewalls than the standard E 53 rolling on 19s or the E 450 Cabriolet. The latter is a new model; the 2019 E 450 boasts 33 hp more than the 329-hp 2018 E 400 we’ve tested accelerating from 0 to 60 in 5.0 or 5.2 seconds (with rear- and all-wheel drive).

That doesn’t leave much breathing room for the E 53, but our convertible tester delivered by hitting 60 in only 4.2 seconds. The insane E 63 S sedan and wagon are quicker still, with Motor Trend-tested 0-60 times of 3.2 and 3.0 seconds, respectively. Both of those power-sliding monsters start north of $100,000, however, and aren’t available in convertible form.

In the $80,000-$110,000 range, Mercedes offers the C 63 S, E 53, and SL 450 convertibles.

On the track, road test editor Chris Walton complimented the smoothness of the engine and said the E 53 had a “better exhaust note than some BMW inline-six engines.” Braking distance from 60 to 0, at 115 feet, takes 3 feet longer than an all-wheel-drive E 400 coupe we’ve tested. Walton said that the E 53, which has a medium-firm brake pedal, was consistent and gave him nothing to complain about.

The all-wheel-drive E 53 Cabriolet carries a $81,345 base price and more visual presence than similarly priced smaller models, including the BMW M4 and Mercedes’ own C 63 S Cabriolet. That Mercedes provides an eight-cylinder soundtrack and keeps up with the E 53 in a straight line. We tested a 2015 C 63 S sedan reaching 60 in 4.0 seconds—add the convertible version to your short list if you want something sporty and don’t mind giving up the E 53’s standard all-wheel drive.

Or stick with the E for a surprisingly spacious back seat. The midsize drop-top lacks rear-seat headroom with the top up, but legroom isn’t bad, and there’s room for your feet under the front seats. Most important, the top can be opened or closed even if you’re traveling around 30 mph (say, on a residential street). That flexibility and the still-ingenious Airscarf, which blows hot air on the back of your neck at three levels of intensity, leaves you with fewer excuses not to drop the top. Then there’s Aircap. When activated with the top down, it can reduce wind buffeting inside, too, and rear-seat passengers can still join you for the ride. One drawback: We found the sound of air whooshing through the system at the top of the windshield to be a tad loud.

With the top up, the E 53 does an admirable job reducing noise except, of course, from the $1,250 AMG Performance Exhaust system—I wouldn’t buy an E 53 Cabriolet without it. The E 450 will lack the E 53’s engine sound and electric anti-lag compressor, but that 362-hp “base model” will have no problem accelerating to oh-my-goodness speeds before you know it. About that electric anti-lag compressor, you’ll barely notice the way it temporarily kicks in another 21 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque, but transitions to engine stop/start can be disconcerting, as our tester would occasionally roll backward ever so slightly before the tech would engage.

Inside, the E 53 Cabriolet earns its as-tested six-figure price tag. Once you experience heated armrests and Airscarf, you’ll wonder how you ever convertibled without them. And the available suedelike headliner adds a premium touch in a place you’d never think to look for one. Fans of automotive ambient lighting will also appreciate this Mercedes, whose beautiful circular air vents glow in blue or red when you change the temperature and, along with the rest of the interior, can change color while you drive down the highway. Functionally, the E 53’s interior gets a passing grade, though a simpler and quicker track-forward control would be appreciated. Even though Mercedes’ controller-operated infotainment system is easy to use, small, black touch-sensitive controls on the steering wheel can adjust settings on the enormous digital instrument cluster and center-stack infotainment screens. The thumb-swipeable controls help the driver keep their hands on the wheel after taking a few minutes to get used to them.

The exterior also impresses with extravagant details such as the crystal-look taillights and LED headlights that entertain before you drive off with spotlights sweeping from left to right and vice versa. Equally cool, the convertible’s EPA-projected 20/26 mpg city/highway fuel economy falls right on top of the less powerful E 450 convertible’s 19-20/26-27 mpg. Not bad for a quick convertible with an exhaust system that crackles in certain drive modes.

If a loud exhaust doesn’t thrill you, try the also-quick E 450, which incorporates many of the E 53 Cabriolet’s pluses. Or if sportiness is your aim, consider the smaller eight-cylinder C 63 S Cabriolet. Mercedes’ extensive selection of soft- and hard-top choices will reward those who know what they want in a convertible. As for the E 53, it builds on the E 450 with even quicker performance that’s not saddled with a mileage penalty. Still, the AMG’s firmer ride with available 20s isn’t for everyone.

We congratulate anyone lucky enough to be considering a $100,000 Mercedes convertible. But depending on what you want from a drop-top, know what your options are before you drive off in an E 53 and drop the top.

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