Why the 2021 Mercedes-Benz AMG E 53 steering wheel feels like an Xbox controller

The 2021 Mercedes-Benz AMG E 53 driving quickly down a city road using its unique steering wheel.
Credit: Mercedes-Benz

There’s a control knob on the 2021 Mercedes-Benz AMG E 53 that feels exactly like you are playing a video game. It’s located just above your right thumb on the steering wheel, placed in a position where you control the sports mode so easily you might as well have an Xbox controller in your hand. Also, it’s red so those of us who like to stay focused on the road can glance quickly to the red dial and adjust the acceleration and suspension with a quick turn.

I was blown away at how speedy this AMG E 53 really is, and had to check the specs a couple of times. In just 4.4-seconds you can speed up to 60 miles per hour, fast enough that you feel like the world becomes a bit of a blur (and so does anyone watching you).

I made copious use of S+ mode during my tests, but I even like flipping over to comfort driving when there are passengers along for the ride. Unlike the so-called “sports” mode in many low-end cars, S+ actually works. You can tell the difference. On many of my tests with lesser cars, including a few reputable brands I like, the sports mode is actually annoying. It means the car will stay in gear a bit longer but, if there’s no turbo, this tends to make driving less enjoyable. 

Imagine a golf cart that doesn’t shift as quickly into gear and you’ll get the idea. (Not that golf carts can shift, but just go with it anyway.) This is not even remotely the case in the E 53. I punched it many times and the “punch” is profound, pushing you back in your seat like a sail against the wind. It feels smooth, seamlessly shifting gears and propelling you forward.

I’ve always thought AMG had the smoothest and fastest acceleration of the major brands. Some sports cars are quick and nimble, but not as smooth. I remember a thrill ride once in a Cadillac CTS-V and loved every minute, but the main difference is that the AMG E 53 never lunges. That would be anathema to these German engineers. We don’t lunge, they might say.

I appreciate the value of a good muscle car just as much as anyone else. They growl like a lion and they leap forward like one as well. The AMG E 53 is more like a cheetah. Driving one never feels like you are going to scorch the pavement as you do in a muscle car. It means you are going to take the pavement, fold it up into a sleek European briefcase, pour some oil on it, and send it through a glass tube from one point to another. AMG cars don’t gobble up pavement, they glide over the road like it doesn’t even exist. You’re in an envelope of speed.

The steering column is a joy to use for many other reasons, and not just because you’re in an envelope. I was able to quickly find all of the music settings with a small movement of my thumbs. I flipped through podcast episodes once I had Apple CarPlay enabled, and the ease of adjusting the display in front of me was more like using a MacBook than anything else.

Will all cars learn from these innovations? I’m not sure. The settings are easy to find and useful, not confusing, and yet there are so many ways to control the E 53 beyond just a few simple volume and sports mode knobs. I liked how simple everything was to find and didn’t feel overwhelmed. The Xbox controller might have one advantage (namely, playing NBA 2K) but I’ll pick the steering column in the AMG E 53 over any recent luxury cars, thumbs up.