AUSTIN, Texas – While I was visiting the capital of the Lone Star State to sample the all-new Mercedes-AMG GT 63 S four-door coupe at Circuit of the Americas, I also had the opportunity to spend a morning behind the wheel—on public roads—of another new AMG hot rod: the soft-top 2019 Mercedes-AMG E53 Cabriolet. The bad news: Thanks to a heavy downpour, I never got to fold away the fabric roof. The good news: Even with the roof up and the rain coming down, the E53 Cabrio proved itself a formidable new entry in its class.
The big news is Benz’s all-new inline six engine, which marks the first time in some 20 years the automaker has made one available for its lineup. Like the entry-level four-door AMG GT 53, the two-door E53 Cabrio (the car is also available in fixed-roof coupe form) uses an AMG-massaged version of the new turbocharged 3.0-liter I-6, which is fortified by a 48-volt mild hybrid system that Mercedes dubs “EQ Boost.” Integrated between the engine and transmission, it’s a starter/generator system featuring an electric supercharger that can also deliver an almost instantaneous power boost (before the exhaust gas-driven turbocharger kicks in) of 21 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque for a short time. Total output is a studly 429 hp and 384 lb-ft, fed through a nine-speed AMG Speedshift transmission with wheel-mounted shift paddles. Mercedes claims a 0-to-60-mph time of 4.4 seconds, with a top end electronically limited to 130 mph. This is one feisty little ragtop.
AMG’s specially tuned 4Matic+ all-wheel-drive system is standard, the first time it’s been offered on an E-Class convertible. The transfer case continually apportions torque to the front axle as needed, but can also supply 100 percent of the torque to the rear axle. Also standard is AMG’s Ride Control+ adaptive air suspension. Five AMG Dynamic Select driving modes are available: Eco, Comfort, Sport, Sport+, and Individual. Wheels are 19 inches standard, with optional 20-inchers.
On the outside, the E53 sports a reworked front bumper, aggressive AMG side sills, and a twin-blade front grille borrowed from the E63. Optional cosmetic packages include Night (gloss-black trim) and Carbon Fiber. Also optional is an AMG performance exhaust system and AMG Track Pace, which can record such data as lap and sector times when driving on a race circuit so the driver can review his or her performance later.
The cabin is lovely, with rich leather, graceful curves, and a terrific new three-spoke performance steering wheel with Touch Control buttons that function like miniature touchscreens. Center stage on the dash is a new, 12.3-inch high-res color display for the COMAND infotainment system. Both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included as standard; wireless charging, a head-up display, and a second 12.3-inch display with digital instruments are among the available options.
Wrapped across the doors, the dash, an even into the turbine-like air vents is a standard, 64-color ambient lighting system. Reacting to its blue glow under the dark gray skies, my co-driver remarked, “I feel like I’m in a W Hotel.” (You’ll want to wear your best jeans when driving this rig.) Finally, yes, there are two seats in back, but you probably wouldn’t want to put anyone you actually like into them for very long.
A taut, lean package, the E53 feels light on its feet and eager to scoot. Shifting from the nine-speed automatic is super-quick in “M” (manual) mode, and it’s also possible to summon multiple downshifts simply by holding the left paddle. Fully automated shifting is also noticeably quick in Sport+ mode. Responsiveness from the speed-sensitive variable electromechanical steering is superb, with feedback seemingly unfiltered by the electrics and delivered straight to your fingertips.
Naturally, the 429-horse mill is a powerhouse, and thanks in part to EQ Boost, turbo lag is simply nonexistent. The potent 3.0-liter six responds like a naturally aspirated engine. And even in the rain, the chassis felt completely secure and predictable, without a hint of detectable wheel slip. Also noteworthy: The soft-topped cabin is remarkably quiet, even with raindrops pelting down. I look forward to an opportunity to sample the Cabrio properly, on a sunny Malibu afternoon, the air and sunshine streaming in.
Pricing for the E53 Cabriolet will start at $81,345—significantly undercutting the similarly muscular 2018 BMW 650i xDrive Convertible, which is also getting a tad long in the tooth. Audi’s 2018 S5 Cabriolet has all-wheel drive and starts for far less than the AMG (base price is $63,275), but it comes up well short on power (354 hp).
Which is to say, when it hits American dealerships later this year, AMG’s new alfresco E53 may well be the pick of its class. Stay tuned for a full road test—top down!—coming soon.
2019 Mercedes-AMG E53 Cabriolet Specifications
|ON SALE||Late 2018|
|ENGINE||3.0L turbocharged and supercharged DOHC 24-valve I-6/429 hp @ 6,100 rpm, 384 lb-ft @ 1,800 rpm|
|LAYOUT||2-door, 4-passenger, front-engine, AWD convertible|
|EPA MILEAGE||20/26 mpg (city/hwy) (est)|
|L x W x H||190.6 x 80.9 x 56.2 in|
|WEIGHT||4,300 lb (est)|
|0-60 MPH||4.4 sec|
|TOP SPEED||130 mph|