by Jared Rosenholtz
The four-door coupe thing is a conundrum to me, chopping off a pair of doors to call a car a coupe, then adding two more and still calling it a coupe. More than that, you lose the practicality of a sedan in the process. But sales have proven me to be the idiot, with Mercedes-Benz selling enough of these confused coupes since the original CLS debuted to justify the continuation of the moniker now entering its third generation. For 2019, the CLS lives on, but unlike before, if you want an AMG-badged variant, you won't find one with a V8 under the hood and a 63 badge on the trunk. Instead, Mercedes-AMG has turned to electrification, with the CLS joining the roster of '53' badged models. That means there's a new 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-six under the hood developing 429 horsepower and 384 lb-ft of torque, aided by the new EQ-Boost starter-generator providing an additional 21 hp and 184 lb-ft. All-wheel-drive is standard, as is a nine-speed automatic gearbox. In lieu of the Mercedes-AMG GT four-door taking over the high-performance four-door coupe mantle, is there even any real value to buying a CLS 53 over the more practical E53 and more performance-focused AMG GT 53, or are you better off looking at an Audi A7 instead?
The CLS-Class has been fully redesigned for 2019, marking the start of the third generation of the original four-door coupe. The '53' badged version represents the top of the line-up, taking the place of the CLS 63 of yesteryear. In the process, it also sees the return of the inline-six engine configuration for the Mercedes brand, aided by electrical augmentation in the form of a 48-volt electric system and an EQ-Boost electric motor. The new CLS also foreshadows future Mercedes designs, with sharper headlights design and round tailpipes signifying 'non-63' AMG status.
Completely redesigned for its third generation, the CLS 53 retains one key aspect from its forebears - the sloping roof coupe design. But up front, there's an all-new look with sharper features, all-LED headlights, and the twin-blade AMG grille that has been passed down from the old range-toppers to the new 'mid-level' AMG models. An integrated tailgate spoiler sets the CLS 53 apart from lesser CLS-Class models, as do the wider arches, custom front and rear bumpers, four round tailpipes, and standard 19-inch AMG twin five-spoke wheels which can be optioned to a range of 20-inch AMG designs. Also optional is the AMG Night Package, which decks out almost all the various chrome exterior elements in a blacked-out theme, including the tailpipes.
Sharing a platform with both the E-Class and the AMG GT four-door, the CLS 53 subsequently also shares similar proportions. Also set on a 115.7-inch wheelbase, like the E 53, it measures longer overall at 199.1 inches in length - 0.1 inches shorter than the GT 53. It's lower than both the E 53 and GT 53, and wider than the E-Class, too, standing 56 inches tall and 81.5 inches wide. The CLS 53 tips the scales at 4,447 lbs, just over 100 lbs heavier than the Audi A7. Compared to the second-generation CLS 63 the new 53 replaces, it's longer by 3.4 inches, shorter by 0.3 inches, and wider by 0.3 inches, while the CLS 53's wheelbase has grown by 2.6 inches over the old model.
There are eleven exterior color options available for the 2019 CLS 53. Black and Polar White can be optioned at no additional cost while metallics including Obsidian Black, Iridium Silver, Dakota Brown, Lunar Blue, Ruby Black, and Selenite Gray Metallic are all an additional $720. Designo Cardinal Red Metallic can be optioned for an additional $1,080, designo Diamond White Metallic for $1,515, or if you really feel like splashing out, designo Selenite Gray Magno with a matte finish can be had for $3,950. Fly under the radar with Lunar Blue, or if you really must stand out, opt for the Cardinal Red option, but avoid the matte finish hue, not just for the exorbitant price, but for the fact that even the slightest scratch will be a nightmare to cover up.
Electrification is the way forward, especially after Mercedes-Benz's recent announcement that they'd be halting further development of their combustion engines. The CLS 53 is one of a swath of new models to boast mild hybridization from the German brand, along with the return of the inline-six engine. With a turbocharged six-cylinder, electric augmentation, and permanent all-wheel-drive under the 4MATIC+ moniker - now the staple for performance sedans of this caliber - 0-60 mph takes just 4.4 seconds in the CLS 53, matching both the E 53 and GT 53, which should come as no surprise since they both share the E 53's entire powertrain. The 2019 Audi A7 manages the mark in a much slower 5.2 seconds - but there's still an S7 to come next year.
With the '63' badge dropped from the CLS-Class line-up, the CLS 53 now takes its place at the top of the CLS hierarchy. But despite AMG badges, the 3.0-liter inline-six under the hood defies tradition in not being hand-built under the one-man, one-engine philosophy employed on top-of-the-line AMG derivatives. However, the new straight-six boasts turbocharged power, delivering 429 hp and 384 lb-ft, augmented by an electric motor and a 48-volt electrical system dubbed 'EQ Boost', which adds an extra 21 hp and 184 lb-ft to the mix. The electrical system also powers an electric compressor that acts to minimize turbo-lag and get the engine up to speed when the turbo is outside of its boost threshold. It works superbly, and the responses from the six-pot are exceptional. There's more than ample surge from both a standstill and from a rolling start, ensuring that there's enough power to take off from a traffic light of effect a swift overtaking maneuver at highway speeds.
Power is dealt out to all four corners with an AMG Speedshift nine-speed automatic gearbox acting as the intermediary between powertrain and drivetrain. Acceleration is generally smooth, and gears are selected promptly and accurately. It lacks the snappiness of the eight-speed auto employed in BMW applications, but it'll hardly set a foot wrong, and when needed, paddles behind the steering wheel grant an extra layer of involvement and control.
The E-Class with which the CLS shares underpinnings is a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to ride and handling - smooth for the most part, but easily undone by larger bumps and sharp jolts. While the CLS might suffer in many ways compared to the E, ride quality is not one of those. It strikes an excellent balance between comfort and composure, with adaptive dampers doing the lion's share of the work to keep things composed.
Steering is sharp and well-weighted, but as you search for the limits of the CLS 53, communication isn't quite as vivid as we'd have liked to see. Turn-in is sharp though, especially for a vehicle of this size, and there's grip aplenty from the AMG-tuned suspension and all-wheel-drive systems. It runs out sooner than we'd like on the standard 19-inch wheels' all-season tires, and keener drivers would do well to opt for the summer rubber found on the 20-inch wheel options.
With these equipped, the CLS is sharp and agile, and the stability control systems cut in long before the CLS 53 actually reaches the limits of adhesion. Unfortunately, the 20-inch setup detriments the ride quality a little with less sidewall present to absorb the sharper bumps the suspension isn't able to soak up.
The ride is otherwise refined, supremely insulated, and smooth - everything a modern Mercedes should be. While the AMG badges might bring with them a level of performance, the CLS 53 is more of a grand tourer than a performance car; a demeanor that suits it perfectly.
The perks of electrification are generally focused on improved gas mileage and reduced emissions, with extra performance a recent afterthought that manufacturers have exploited. The CLS 53 is no exception to the fuel-saving trend, but the savings are only minimal. According to the EPA, the CLS 53 manages gas mileage estimates of 21/27/23 mpg city/highway/combined. Those figures are marginally poorer than the E 53, while the less-powerful Audi A7 proves more efficient with estimates of 22/29/25 mpg. With its 21.1-gallon gas tank full - the requirement is premium unleaded gasoline - the CLS 53 offers a total range of around 485 miles with mixed driving styles.
Mercedes-Benz builds interiors from the S-Class down, giving the range-topper all the luxury, refinement, and pleasantries one could desire, with each subsequent model losing a little of the luster in some way, shape, or form. But just one rung down from the S-Class, the CLS 53 loses little to the range-topping sedan. It's stylish, refined, and luxurious, and with AMG badges attached to the trunk, you also get an element of sportiness inside the CLS 53's cabin. Sports bucket seats are heated and multi-way power-adjustable, a newly developed steering wheel feels molded to your individual grip, and the latest twin 12.3-inch instrumentation infotainment displays give the classic class an element of technological prowess. But the coupe nature of the CLS paves the way for restricted levels of practicality, with ingress and egress hampered by its low stance, while the sloping roofline not only hinders access but also reduces the amount of space for adult occupants in the back seats.
The CLS 53 is listed as a five-seater four-door coupe, and shoulder-to-shoulder there's enough room in the back for three occupants. However, the middle of those three doesn't get much legroom, and neither of the three has an abundance of headroom, as the sloping roofline impedes the headroom needed for six-foot adults to enjoy the ride comfortably. Those up front don't suffer from the same problems, and aside from the low seating position hampering entry just a little, there's an abundance of both head and legroom. Multi-way power-adjustable seats boast memory functionality and heating as standard, with optional perches adding ventilation and massage functionality. The range of adjustment gives drivers of all sizes the ability to find an ideal posture, but no matter how much you adjust, the sloping roofline and narrow rear windscreen aperture limit rearward visibility immensely.
No fewer than eight upholstery choices are available for the CLS 53, with the default being black simulated leather and DINAMICA with red stitching, paired with red seatbelts, and a black leather steering wheel with a red 21 o'clock stripe. Choices thereafter range from Nappa leather with either red or gray stitching to warmer combinations of Macchiato Beige and Magma Gray Nappa leather with a beige suede headliner. More vivid options exist, too, such as Bengal Red and Black Nappa leather or one of three 'designo' themes including Macchiato Beige/Titan Red and Black/Titanium Gray Nappa leather. These upholstery options can be paired with a range of trim inserts - eight of them to be specific - including Brown Ash wood, Light Brown Sen wood, Light Aluminum, Metal Weave, or if you're committed to the AMG way, AMG carbon fiber for $2,850.
It's not just the interior that sacrifices practicality for the sake of a coupe roofline, as the CLS 53 sacrifices 1.2 cubic feet worth of cargo space compared to the E 53 sedan. At 11.9 cubic feet, there's enough space to accommodate a week's worth of groceries or the business briefcases of all five occupants, but if you're heading on a family vacation you best pack lightly. The space is expandable, however, with 40/20/40-split rear seats folding to expand the trunk, albeit at the expense of seating capacity. Standard hands-free access to the trunk is a boon but is nothing particularly extraordinary in the segment.
In-cabin storage solutions comprise suitably wide door side pockets on all four doors that fit bottles, a glovebox, a sunglasses holder, an adequately deep center armrest console behind a smaller console that opens up to reveal dual cupholders, a key slot, and small phone tray. Folding down the rear center backrest reveals a small storage console and dual cupholders.
The 2019 AMG CLS 53 is comprehensively outfitted with vehicle features aimed towards supreme comfort. These include an illuminated entry system, remote start via Mercedes me mobile app, power-folding side mirrors, Keyless-start and Keyless-Go, a power sunroof, and 64-color LED ambient lighting with illuminated vents. The front seats are multi-way power-adjustable with standard heating and memory, and optional ventilation and massage functionality, while the rear seats, steering wheel, and even the armrests can be heated. Dual-zone climate control keeps occupants cool which can be optioned to a tri-zone system with an air fragrancing system available, too. Other available luxuries include soft-close doors and power rear window sunshades.
But where Mercedes excels is in the levels of driver assistance found in the CLS 53. Standard assists include a rearview camera, blind-spot monitoring, driver attention warning, and automatic emergency braking. Optional assists include semi-autonomous adaptive cruise control capabilities, active steering assist with collision avoidance, lane-keep assist, lane change assist, a surround-view camera, and park assist.
Making up the infotainment and instrumentation suite are a pair of 12.3-inch high-resolution displays. Ahead of the driver is a fully customizable digital instrumentation screen, while centrally to the dash is the latest iteration of Mercedes-Benz's COMAND interface. The system boasts AM/FM/SiriusXM/HD Radio inputs as well as Bluetooth media and hands-free capabilities. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are standard, as is NFC wireless device charging and pairing. Three USB audio ports are present, as is an in-dash SD card reader, while audio is delivered through a standard 13-speaker Burmester surround sound system. In-car Wi-Fi, TuneIn Radio, pre-wiring for a rear-seat entertainment system, and a 1,450-watt 25-speaker Burmester surround sound system are all available on the options list.
No fewer than six recalls have been issued for the 2019 CLS-Class, with three of those being pertinent to the CLS 53. They range from incorrect headlight adjustment to active brake assist potentially failing, while one for the powertrain control unit could potentially see the inline-six stalling. The recalls are somewhat concerning; however, Mercedes' standard four-year/50,000-mile limited and powertrain warranty gives some peace of mind, with options available to extend this to up to 100,000 miles.
Neither the NHTSA nor the IIHS has crash-tested the 2019 Mercedes-AMG CLS 53, or the base CLS derivatives. However, the IIHS has evaluated the almost-identical E-Class sedan, awarding it top honors as an IIHS Top Safety Pick +. With much of the structure and safety tech shared between the E and CLS, we expect the four-door coupe to score similarly.
Just seven standard airbags are present on the CLS 53, but they do comprise dual front, front side, side curtain, and a driver's knee airbag. Additionally, the usual myriad systems such as ABS, EBD, stability control, and traction control are all present, while other standard items include driver attention warning, blind-spot monitoring, a rearview camera, and automatic emergency braking. The options list holds an abundance of ways to improve safety with adaptive cruise control, active steering assist, lane-keep assist, rear cross-traffic alert, park assist, and a surround-view camera, making the CLS 53 one of the most comprehensively equipped vehicles on sale in the U.S.
A car for every niche - it seems to be the way Mercedes-Benz builds their vehicle line-up, with the CLS 53 being just one of a number of cars designed for the select few rather than the masses. Taking up the mantle as the range-topper of the CLS-Class range, the 53 does a fine job of blending performance and luxury into one package, riding smoothly, handling adeptly, and providing a hint of electrifying performance in a vehicle that looks great and features some of the best tech available in the automotive world. But the CLS lacks the practicality of the E 53, sacrificing both rear-seat space and trunk space for a swooping roofline and sporty looks. Yet it isn't really any sportier, and it fails to match the levels of driver engagement found in its other sibling, the AMG GT 53. So it lives in limbo between the two, not really better than either of them at anything but looking good, and costing $6,000 more than the E-Class on which it's based. Sure it's good, but is it really worth paying more for all the compromise? To those who love it, none of that will matter - the CLS 53 is good enough to be bought and enjoyed by the select few whose attention it commands.
Sitting atop the CLS-Class tree, the Mercedes-AMG CLS 53 carries a starting price of $79,900 before tax, registration, licensing fees, and Mercedes' $995 destination and delivery charge. But rarely will a CLS 53 cost that little, as a quick glance at the options list quickly sees the price rise to north of $110,000. Be careful which options you select, as they quickly put the CLS 53 into AMG GT four-door territory.
The Mercedes-AMG CLS 53 is a standalone model within the CLS-Class lineup, slotting in as the only available AMG-badged CLS. Power comes from a 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-six and EQ-Boost electric augmentation paired to a nine-speed automatic gearbox and all-wheel-drive.
Standard on the CLS 53 you'll find 19-inch alloy wheels with all-season tires, full LED headlights, air suspension, a power tilt-and-slide sunroof, heated power front seats with memory, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry, push-button start, 64-color ambient lighting, hands-free access, a hands-free trunk, and a 12.3-inch COMAND infotainment interface with full Android Auto/Apple CarPlay integration, HD Radio, SiriusXM satellite radio, navigation, and a 13-speaker Burmester surround sound system.
|AMG CLS 53 S 4MATIC||
3.0-liter Turbo Inline-6 Gas
Although the CLS 53 is already extensively equipped, the range of options and packaged Mercedes avails it to allow for an almost endless amount of configurations.
Highlight packages include the $900 Exterior Lighting Package, which adds adaptive high-beam assist and ultra wide-beam headlights, the $1,050 Warmth & Comfort Package, which adds rapid heating for the front seats, heated front armrests, and a heated steering wheel, and the Driver Assistance Package, which equips a range of driving aids including active steering assist, speed limit assistance, blind-spot monitoring, and lane-keep assist. A $1,290 Parking Assist Package is also available with rear cross-traffic alert, a surround-view camera, and an active parking assistant.
Buyers can also opt for a range of cosmetic enhancements like the black-out themed AMG Night Package for $650 or the AMG Exterior Carbon Fiber Package at $1,750. Inside, ventilated front seats will cost you $450, tri-zone climate control a further $760, a head-up display $990, and soft-close doors $550. Massage function front seats are $1,320 while heated rear seats are a $620 option.
Lastly, the AMG Performance Exhaust System will set you back $1,250 for an enhanced auditory experience.
We're of the opinion you'd be financially prudent to buy an E 53 over the equivalent CLS, but if you must have the four-door coupe, then there are hundreds of potential ways you could spec it. We'd suggest keeping it simple - Lunar Blue Metallic paint, 20-inch multispoke AMG wheels, the AMG Night Package, and a black Nappa leather interior with red stitching and red seatbelts, as well as Gray Ash wood trim inserts. The AMG head-up display is a must-have, and if you'll be spending hours behind the wheel, then so are the massaging front seats and ventilation. We'd also opt for both the Parking Assist Package and the Driver Assistance package for a full suite of safety features, pushing the final asking price up to $93,360.
Little separates the CLS 53 from its E-Class sedan sibling, save for a $6,200 premium and a coupe-like roofline. Both share the same platform, same powertrain, and same drivetrain, and both have the same availability of class-leading safety and convenience features. But the E 53 is more practical, with more rear-seat space and a trunk measuring 1.2 cubic feet larger than the CLS 53's. For less money, the E 53 is definitely a better car. But - there's always a but - to those who prefer style over substance, the CLS 53 is just as good in every other metric but is arguably better looking, more exclusive, and ultimately gives of the more premium perception.
There isn't a current-generation Audi S7 on sale in the US just yet, so the standard A7 has to take up the fight against the AMG-fettled CLS 53. It does so with less performance courtesy of a weaker 3.0-liter V6 developing only 335 hp and 369 lb-ft, measuring a second slower to 60 mph. But it costs $10,000 less, and it consumes less gas. When it comes to tech, the Audi boasts a more intuitive infotainment system - even if it doesn't look as striking as the CLS's - but it loses out in terms of the wonderful assortment of tech Mercedes offers across almost their entire lineup of vehicles. Like the CLS, the A7 boasts a sloping roofline, but it offers up more rear-seat space, and the trunk lid is more of a hatchback, availing the A7 to 24.9 cubic feet of trunk space to the CLS's 11.9. Given its performance focus, the CLS 53 is a better luxury performance car, but at $10,000 cheaper, the A7 is a more practical, thoughtful option.