by Karl Furlong
What does the slinky 2021 Mercedes-AMG CLS 53 have in common with the comparatively primitive 1962 Rover P5 that you may never have heard of? Well, not much to be honest. But the Rover is recognized as the first coupe-style sedan with four doors; decades later, Mercedes popularized the term "four-door coupe" with the first-generation CLS. Unlike back in the 1960s, the concept hasn't vanished into the abyss this time around and the CLS is now joined by competitors like the BMW 8 Series Gran Coupe and the Audi S7 Sportback. In some ways, it's easy to see that Mercedes got a head start here - the latest CLS is absolutely gorgeous, even if it's essentially a less practical E-Class. In AMG 53 guise, it's also quick. A 3.0-liter turbocharged six-pot uses electric assistance and produces 429 horsepower, enough for the CLS 43 to reach 60 mph in just 4.3 seconds. There's also an upscale, beautifully-tailored interior to enjoy. The Brits may have gotten the four-door coupe ball rolling - albeit slowly - in 1962, but the Germans are now steaming ahead with the concept and the CLS 53 is proof of that.
This year, the CLS 53 receives the latest MBUX infotainment setup with the "Hey Mercedes" voice control system as standard. Customers can also order a dashcam, augmented video for the navigation system, and an MBUX interior assistant as optional extras. Adding more convenience to the cabin is the standard fitment of power rear sunshades and a surround-view camera system. Finally, Cirrus Silver and Mojave Silver are available as new colors for the exterior.
The 2021 Mercedes-AMG CLS 53 carries a starting MSRP in the USA of $81,550. That price excludes taxes, licensing, registration, and a destination charge of $1,050. At almost $10,000 more than the E53 Sedan with the same powertrain, it's not cheap. Then again, the Audi S7 begins at an even pricier $84,400 in its cheapest trim. The price of the Mercedes-Benz CLS 53 AMG will climb to over $114,000 when equipped with all the tempting options.
See trim levels and configurations:
|AMG CLS 53 4MATIC||
3.0L Turbo Inline-6 Gas
To ensure that the silky smooth powertrain is matched by a capable chassis, Mercedes has thrown nearly all of its tricks at the CLS 53. It comes standard with an AMG-tuned adaptive air suspension, an AMG performance braking system, and electromechanical power steering with direct-steer; the latter system adjusts the steering ratio based on how far the wheel is turned.
To drive, the CLS 53 is mostly pleasant and, although it's not an all-out sports car, it's more dynamically talented than you'd think. The starter-generator enables smooth operation of the stop-start system, and once underway at town speeds, the 53 impresses with its effortless yet direct steering. When speeds rise, the steering firms up and delivers decent feedback, while body roll is well-contained despite this being a fairly heavy luxury car. On smooth surfaces, the CLS 53 bowls along with the serene aura expected of a Mercedes-Benz, but its sporting pretensions see it coming undone over bumpier surfaces. Here, the ride loses its composure and becomes too unsettled. It's better in Comfort mode, but it isn't as isolating as an E-Class in this regard. Using the AMG Dynamic Select controller, drivers can improve throttle response and shift points by switching into Sport or Sport+ mode, where the CLS 53 becomes engaging to drive quickly. It's a solid effort, but the ride does let the AMG down to an extent. Then again, as an AMG, you shouldn't expect it so simply waft along.
Not everyone who buys a four- or five-seater vehicle intends to use those back seats all of the time. If this is you, and a two-seater simply isn't practical enough, then the Mercedes-AMG CLS 53 makes some amount of sense as a more desirable alternative to the E 53 Sedan. This powertrain strikes a wonderful balance between refined power and acceptable efficiency, and the CLS is a capable handler to put the powertrain to good use. Only the ride quality falls apart a bit when the road isn't perfectly smooth. The cabin is comfortable and beautifully finished, but again, those in the back don't have as much space to work with. Both the Audi S7 and the BMW 8 Series Gran Coupe are good enough to prevent the CLS 53 from walking away with an easy victory, but this classy four-door coupe has the potential to introduce new fans to the Mercedes-Benz family.
As there is only one trim on offer, the CLS 53 you drive off in can only be configured as far as the options list allows. Thankfully, there is plenty of room for customization. We'd equip ours with the sinister Selenite Grey Magno matte paint, the 20-inch AMG wheels with black accents, Nappa leather in Macchiato Beige/Grey Magma, the AMG head-up display, and the Driver Assistance Package. With those boxes ticked, the price for our Mercedes-AMG CLS 53 came to $92,290 excluding destination.
With its fastback profile, the Audi S7 is another emotive and powerful vehicle that exists for the customer in search of something different. It's slightly more expensive than the CLS 53 at base level, but instead of a mass of options only, Audi offers three trim levels. The Audi also uses a mild-hybrid system supporting a six-cylinder powerplant, and while it has more power and torque, the Mercedes is slightly quicker up to 60 mph. Both cars handle well and have capable AWD systems, but while the Audi is a bit more comfortable, the Merc feels like the more exciting of the two to drive. In terms of practicality, it's no contest: the Audi is more spacious for rear-seat occupants and its trunk is more than double the size of the Merc's. Both have vibrant screens that can be used to control most functions, although the AMG's interior feels warmer while the S7 comes across as more futuristic. The Audi is easier to live with, but as luxury vehicles with a sporty bent, we prefer the CLS 53.
Price-wise, the AMG CLS 53 goes up against the 840i Gran Coupe. Unlike the Merc, the base 840i is offered with RWD, but an 840i xDrive is also available. The BMW is way down on power with its specs of 335 hp and 368 lb-ft, but in xDrive guise, it's just three-tenths slower to 60 mph than the Merc. In a reverse of most BMW vs. Mercedes battles, the Bimmer is the one that actually rides with more composure, although as a sporting machine, it can feel too muted from behind the wheel. For rear-seat passengers, the BMW has more space as long as only two people are sitting back there, as well as a larger trunk. However, the CLS 53 has by far the more special-feeling interior design; although quality levels are similar between the two, the Merc looks more expensive at a glance. In this segment, that matters. As much as the 8 Series Gran Coupe is one of the more attractive BMWs on sale, the CLS 53 edges this one for its more powerful engine at a lower price allied with engaging handling, and effortless charm.
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