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.
See trim levels and configurations:
|AMG CLS 53 4MATIC||
3.0L Turbo Inline-6 Gas
Perhaps one of the main reasons to choose the CLS 53 over the E 53 is because the former looks so good. It's got a long, wide, and low stance. The lines are clean, devoid of unnecessary details, and elements like the wraparound LED headlights, a twin power-dome hood, and rounded quad-exit exhaust outlets are the very definition of subtle aggression. This is further emphasized by the subtleness of the AMG twin-blade grille instead of the modern Panamericana version. There are 19-inch AMG twin five-spoke alloy wheels and a power tilt/sliding sunroof is fitted as standard. Larger 20-inch wheels, a carbon fiber package, or a package that blacks out much of the exterior can all be optioned. If all four-door coupes looked as good as this, we have no issue with the body style sticking around for a long time to come.
The 2021 Mercedes-AMG CLS 53 is longer and lower than the E-Class sedan in its dimensions. It has a length of 199.1 inches, with the body concealing a 115.7-inch wheelbase. Including the wing mirrors, it is 81.5 inches wide, but the body width drops to 74.6 inches excluding the mirrors. At 56 inches in height, it sits exactly an inch shorter than the E53 sedan. In terms of curb weight, the CLS 53 has a rating of 4,456 pounds.
Mojave Silver and Cirrus Silver are two new metallics that have been added to the palette this year, each with a cost of $720. The other metallics sharing the same price are Obsidian Black, Graphite Grey, Lunar Blue, and Selenite Grey, making for a notably monochromatic color scheme. However, if you're willing to shell out $1,080, you can have the more vibrant designo Cardinal Red metallic. Designo Diamond White metallic costs $1,515 and designo Selenite Grey Magno in a matte finish is $3,950. The only two colors that are included by default are Black and Polar White. A range of 'designo manufaktur' paints will each cost a steep $4,900, but they add even more drama to the car's appearance - some of these more exotic colors include Arabian Grey, Deep Green, Midnight Blue, and Cashmere White Magno. If you want to stand out from other Mercedes CLS 53 four-door coupes on the road, we'd recommend going for the sinister Selenite Grey Magno with its matte finish.
It's not the fastest AMG you can buy, but the AMG CLS 53 will be quick enough for most. It can reach 60 mph in only 4.3 seconds before surging on to a limited top speed of 130 mph. With summer tires, the top speed increases to 155 mph. Like the Audi S7, the CLS 53 benefits from an all-wheel-drive system but the CLS 53 is marginally faster, as the S7 takes 4.5 seconds for the benchmark 0-60 sprint. This is despite the fact that the Mercedes is less powerful. With a 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine and EQ Boost, the CLS 53 generates 429 horsepower and 384 lb-ft of torque. It's not just a good on-paper showing, as the CLS 53 impresses with the effortlessness of its power delivery. This powertrain may lack the character of a burly V8, but for its combination of potent performance and efficiency, it's hard to beat.
Slotting in above the less powerful CLS 450, the 2021 AMG CLS 53 combines a 3.0-liter inline-six turbocharged engine with EQ Boost and an electric auxiliary compressor. This integrated electric motor system assists the gas engine for brief periods, providing up to 21 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. Peak outputs are 429 hp and 384 lb-ft of torque. Merc's Performance 4Matic+ all-wheel-drive system and an AMG Speedshift TCT nine-speed automatic transmission are standard.
At higher revs, the gas engine continues to spin smoothly and doesn't run out of power, while lower down, the mild-hybrid system endows the CLS 53 with an instant surge of torque. This large sedan makes quick getaways easy and passing slower traffic on the highway is an almost subconscious thought. The smooth-shifting transmission is equally adept, fading into the background when at a cruise but coming into its own when quick shifts are demanded under hard acceleration. It's a remarkably capable powertrain with no discernable flaws.
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.
The benefit of the EQ Boost system comes into play nicely here. Its EPA-rated gas mileage figures work out to 21/26/23 mpg city/highway/combined, not too far off the 25 mpg mixed mileage figure of the less powerful CLS 450 which we review separately. Overall, the CLS 53 bests the Audi S7, which returns 18/28/22 mpg. In the city, the Mercedes is notably more efficient. With its 21.1-gallon gas tank, expect the CLS 53 to return around 485 miles per tankful in mixed driving conditions.
At over $80,000 before you've added a single option, you want to get behind the wheel of your luxury German sedan and feel as though you've made it in life. In our AMG CLS 53 review, we found that this is precisely what the luxurious, high-tech, and feature-rich cabin accomplishes. Ahead of the driver are a pair of 12.3-inch screens displaying key information. Although leather upholstery isn't standard, the default MB-Tex and Dinamica do a wonderful job of getting close in feel to the real deal. The list of standard features includes dual-zone automatic climate control, power-adjustable front seats with memory settings, a dazzling 64-color LED ambient lighting system, and a power rear-window sunshade. If that's all not quite opulent enough, you can dig into the extensive options list and add Nappa leather, ventilated front seats, and a lot more.
Although it is officially billed as a five-seater, the CLS falls short of the E-Class when it comes to accommodations at the back. Compared with the E53 sedan, the CLS 53 has 1.2 inches less rear legroom and close to two inches less rear headroom. Shoulder space is also less at the back, so three occupants abreast won't be as comfortable. The driver and front-seat passenger won't be aware of these shortcomings as they have enough space and supreme comfort from the front seats. Additions like four-way power lumbar support in front and memory settings only make it an even better place to spend time.
Ingress and egress are hampered by the low roofline, an issue that is even more apparent for those climbing into the back seat. Another negative is rearward visibility, which is obscured by thick roof pillars. These are the concessions to style that customers interested in the CLS will have to take into account.
As standard, the CLS 53 comes with MB-Tex/Dinamica upholstery in black with red stitching. Upgrading to Nappa leather will add $2,990 to the bill but does also introduce more color choices like Macchiato Beige/Magma Grey and Magma Grey/Espresso Brown. At $4,900, even more luxurious designo Nappa leather can be specced in either Black/Titanium Grey Pearl or Macchiato Beige/Titian Red. Mercedes offers numerous wood inlays as standard such as Brown Ash wood and Natural Grain Light Brown Elm wood, but you can pay $1,300 extra for the sublime designo Black Piano Lacquer "Flowing Lines" wood, $600 for metal weave, or $2,850 for carbon fiber trim. The sporty red seat belts can be replaced with less garish black belts, and an AMG performance steering wheel in Dinamica, Nappa leather/Dinamica, or Nappa leather/Black Piano Lacquer can be specified.
All it takes is a wave of your foot under the rear bumper for the trunk lid to automatically pop up, but the party trick's excitement is short-lived once you find out that the CLS offers just 11.9 cubic feet of trunk space. This is a number that's bettered by numerous midsize sedans. A large suitcase, a smaller carry-on, and perhaps one or two soft bags will fit, but four occupants will have trouble cramming their luggage in for a weekend away. Fortunately, the rear seats can be folded in a 40/20/40 split to increase packing space if you aren't transporting rear-seat passengers.
In the cabin, smaller items like wallets, phones, and water bottles can be accommodated in the door pockets. There's also a center console storage area and cupholders front and rear.
A mix of convenience and safety features befitting of the CLS's price tag can be found in the cabin, and the options list awaits those who want more. As standard, you'll find dual-zone automatic climate control, power-adjustable front seats with heating and memory, and a driver's memory system that is linked to the side mirrors and steering column. If the outlandish design of the cabin doesn't thrill you enough, the 64-color LED ambient lighting system should do the trick; even the air vents are lit up. The Merc also boasts power-folding side mirrors, wireless device charging, a power sunroof, a power rear-window sunshade, hands-free access, remote start, and a garage door opener. For increased visibility and safety, the coupe gets a surround-view camera system, attention assist, crosswind assist, and blind-spot assist. An AMG head-up display is optionally available, as are ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, and a heated steering wheel.
To avoid a mass of buttons and switches scattered across the dashboard, the Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) system is standard. Information is split between the 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster and an adjacent 12.3-inch central touchscreen interface. A touchpad controller and steering-wheel touch control buttons, along with voice activation, allow for numerous methods of interacting with the system. Different drivers will have a preference for one of these methods over another. Connecting your device with the car isn't a problem thanks to Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Bluetooth, and numerous USB-C ports. Both SiriusXM satellite radio and HD Radio are standard, with the former including a six-month all-access trial. Navigation with a virtual co-pilot and free map updates for three years is standard. A powerful 13-speaker Burmester sound system is standard, but audiophiles can upgrade to a booming 23-speaker Burmester system that includes speakers mounted in the ceiling.
The 2021 Mercedes-AMG CLS 53 had not yet been recalled for any serious issues at the time of writing, although it was involved in two recalls last year. Both of these were related to the eCall system which could send out an inaccurate location following an accident. This could, of course, prove dangerous if first responders are delayed.
Mercedes' standard four-year/50,000-mile warranty applies and also covers the powertrain, while roadside assistance is provided for the same period/mileage.
Both the NHTSA and the IIHS have yet to evaluate the CLS lineup, so no crash rating exists for this model. However, the Mercedes-Benz E-Class attained only Good crashworthiness from the IIHS in 2020 and a Top Safety Pick+ award in 2019; being mechanically identical to the CLS, the E-Class serves as a good indication of how the CLS will perform in a crash test.
A suite of seven airbags offer nine-way protection in the unfortunate event of an accident. The suite includes a driver's knee airbag, the usual dual front airbags, and curtain airbags for all outboard seating positions. To avoid the chances of hitting anything in the first place, the Merc comes with electronic stability control, a surround-view camera system, driver attention assist, blind-spot assist, rear cross-traffic alert, and front/rear parking sensors. A dashcam is a newly added option this year, along with previously available extras like adaptive cruise control, evasive steering assist, adaptive high beams, active lane-keep assist, and active lane-change assist. Most of the optional safety features can be equipped as part of a single package.
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.
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.
Sold as a standalone trim in the US, the Mercedes-AMG CLS 53 can be upgraded with numerous options. As standard, this 4-door coupe comes with a 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-six engine with EQ Boost which delivers 429 horsepower and 384 lb-ft of torque. A nine-speed automatic transmission and 4Matic all-wheel drive are equipped, along with an adaptive air suspension.
Outside, the CLS 53 stands out from the crowd thanks to 19-inch alloy wheels, all-LED exterior lighting, a power sunroof, quad-exit exhaust outlets, and aggressive AMG body styling. Able to seat up to five occupants, the seats are upholstered in MB-Tex and Dinamica but can be finished in Nappa leather. Standard items include heated front seats with memory, dual-zone climate control, dual 12.3-inch screens, a 13-speaker Burmester sound system, attention assist, a surround-view camera system, and front/rear parking sensors.
The CLS can be upgraded with options like ventilated front seats, adaptive cruise control, an AMG head-up display, and a magnificent 23-speaker Burmester high-end surround sound system.
Other than tossing thousands of dollars into the ocean, another way to quickly empty your bank account is to approach the CLS 53's options list without caution. Outside, you can spend $1,750 on the AMG Exterior Carbon Fiber Package, which adds genuine carbon fiber to the mirror housings and a carbon fiber rear spoiler. For chilly mornings, the Warmth & Comfort Package equips rapid front-seat heating, heated front armrests, and a heated steering wheel for $1,050. Who has the time to wait for regular seat heaters to do their job, anyway?
The $1,950 Driver Assistance Package appears to be pretty good value as it adds no less than 14 driver-assistance technologies like adaptive cruise control, active lane-change assist, and evasive steering assist.
The standalone options that are worth looking at include an AMG head-up display ($1,100), three-zone climate control ($760), MBUX augmented video for navigation ($350), and heated rear seats ($580). The full Burmester High-End 3D Surround Sound system is a further $4,550.
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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