The serious business with this new E-Class cabrio lies under the hood, this being one of a new crop of junior AMGs to benefit from the uprated version of Mercedes' M256 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine. Given this is AMG's first foray into hybridization, you'd think they'd be making more of a fuss. But in this instance we're talking a mild hybrid, not the full plug-in option that's branded as "EQ Power+" on Lewis Hamilton's F1 steed and the forthcoming Project One hypercar.
This powertrain merits attention, though, because we'll be seeing it in various forms across the range. The E53's engine benefits from two turbochargers, one conventionally driven by the exhaust gases and the other by an electric motor supplied by a 48-volt system and a motor-generator mounted between the flywheel and nine-speed transmission. The motor-generator can also chip in with 21 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque for limited periods, so the combined system output of 429 horsepower and 383 pound-feet is genuinely impressive. This is transmitted to all four wheels via a nine-speed automatic transmission and fully variable all-wheel drive system that runs by default in rear-drive mode but can divert drive torque forwards when required.
Way too complicated for a man (not especially) fresh from an 11-hour economy flight to appreciate. But, thankfully, way simpler to grasp than multi-mode 'full' hybrids — simply nudge the column shifter to D, hit the gas, and you're good to go. Driven as crudely as this, the E53 demonstrates the benefits of instant, electrically-assisted boost and torque-filling hybrid power by thwacking your skull into the seat every time you step on the accelerator. It might not be kind to your passengers, but it's a useful skillset when you've got a standing start from an onramp stoplight into 80 mph traffic.
This E53 was lavished with nearly $20,000 in options, including such luxuries as massaging seats, mood lighting, and the $800 Energizing Comfort Package air purification system. All very L.A., though you'll need more than a puff of scent through the air vents to defeat rush-hour smog with the roof down. Bizarrely, this 4,500-pound luxury cabrio also comes with $250 worth of data logging thanks to the optional AMG Track Pace App, symbolic of the mixed messages it gives off. Because for all the impressive performance stats, AMG branding, quad tailpipes and carbon fiber interior trim, this is not an especially sporting machine.
This is brought home to me when my travels include a visit to the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center in Irvine, whose head guy just happens to be running a "regular" E450 Cabriolet with the older twin-turbo V6 motor. His pale leather and maple trim complements the character of the car rather better, the E-Class Cabriolet clearly more comfortable wafting than it is attacking the Angeles Crest Highway.
So, I'll give Angeles Crest a go anyways, to find out if there really is a canyon carver within.
Sure, it's fast. As in sub-5 seconds to 60 mph fast — a whole second quicker than the equivalent E450 4MATIC, in fact. And the various turbos and electric motors mean there are no flat spots in the power delivery, and the straight-six has an evocative snarl with the exhaust opened up. But when you crank up the AMG-tuned air suspension and variable dampers to their firmer settings, you simply induce wobble through the structure you don't get in the more comfort-oriented modes. A snatchy throttle and the transmission's unwillingness to skip any of its nine ratios also break the flow. No amount of contrived sportiness can hide the car's true character.
For all the AMG trimmings, the E-Class Cabriolet is happier cruising while dialed back into its more mellow settings. The motor purrs away with refined sophistication and easygoing torque. For all its complexity, it is a very easy powertrain to appreciate. The most impressive thing about AMG's adoption of hybrid power being how unobtrusively it's been incorporated.
It's a shame the more traditionally opulent E400 cabrio doesn't come with this engine, which would make it the perfect blend of refinement, power and luxury you'd associate with a traditional Mercedes cabrio. It's a mightily impressive powertrain, though, and one we'll be seeing a lot of across the Mercedes range in coming years. And if you didn't make the list for the Project One, that's good news indeed.