by Deiondre van der Merwe
Janis Joplin once sang "Oh Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes-Benz?" and if Janis can sing about it, we can certainly write about it, especially when the Mercedes-Benz in question is the third generation of Mercedes' swoopy four-door coupe, the CLS, in AMG 53 guise. The mid-size luxury coupe is truly something to behold: alluring design and raw power are at the heart of the Mercedes-AMG CLS 53 and, for all its brawn, it still boasts undeniable charm. Not for the penny-pincher, the CLS 53 has a starting MSRP of $81,200, though the price is certainly well worth it if you're after a well-rounded four-door performance coupe. Loaded with standard features from top to bottom, the ferocious machine offers 429 horsepower and 384 lb-ft of torque from a turbocharged straight-six with electric assistance. Still, with competitors including its more expensive sibling, the AMG GT 53 and the refined Audi S7 Sportback, it's bound to be a hard fight for the top spot.
The 2020 Mercedes-AMG CLS 53 stays similar to the 2019 model, but some features that were available as additional options before now come standard. These include Emotion Start (fancy Mercedes-Benz lingo for a louder growl when the AMG is started) and AMG illuminated door sills are now standard. A couple of new additional options are now available, too, including an AMG Matte Fiberglass Trim that encases the cockpit in sporty fiber accents and new 20-inch wheel options. Also, "slippery mode" is now available for rainy days with the AMG Dynamic Select package. Additionally, Graphite Grey joins the exterior paint palette.
See trim levels and configurations:
|AMG CLS 53 4MATIC||
3.0L Turbo Inline-6 Gas
The original four-door coupe has unmistakeable AMG styling and its sensual curves and contours make it increasingly difficult to spot a hard edge. Style and attitude come naturally to the CLS 53 and if you manage to find fault in the stunning, shapely exterior, we'd love to know where, because we were hard-pressed to find any. Adaptive LED lights grace the front as well as the rear, and the rear end is where it gets even more sassy with four large chrome tailpipes and a flattering rear spoiler. The look is finished off perfectly with 19-inch black-accented AMG wheels.
Perfectly designed and more than adequately proportioned, the AMG CLS 53 exceeds expectations in more ways than one. A sprawling wheelbase of 115.7 inches can be found in the coupe, longer than that of the Audi S7 Sportback by just over half an inch and just short of the AMG GT 53's measurement of 116.2 inches. The delightfully wide rear end measures in at 74.6 inches of pure beauty. All of that beauty comes with sacrifice though - the curb weight adds up to a leaden 4,447 lbs.
Not one for frugality, Mercedes-Benz offers only two standard paint options for the CLS 53 and if you want more choice than just Black or Polar White, you'll need to fork out some extra cash. Paint options available for an additional cost of $720 include Iridium Silver metallic, Lunar Blue metallic, and new for 2020, Graphite Grey metallic. For an extra $1,080 dollars, you have the choice of designo Cardinal Red metallic and if you're willing to pay an additional $1,515, you can opt for designo Diamond White metallic. If you are one to want nothing short of the most premium, a matte-finish designo Selenite Grey Magno paint option is available for an extra $3,950. It looks spectacular, but unless you're willing to stop and wipe off every bug by hand, it's likely to be a maintenance nightmare.
Intimidating, sultry and confident, the AMG CLS 53 wants not for many things in the performance realm. The four-door coupe is not just a hottie to look at, it's brawny too. This can be seen in its ability to get from 0-60 mph in tantivy 4.4 seconds with no tar left ungripped, thanks to the 4MATIC all-wheel drive's vast capability. This sprint beats the rival Audi S7 Sportback's 0-60 time of 4.5 seconds by a hair's breadth, while the AMG GT 53 accomplishes the same 4.4-second dash. The CLS 53 is impressive by many standards and reaches a maximum speed of 130 mph on all-season tires and 155 mph on summer tires, though we're sure it's capable of reaching more if not for the limiter put in place by Mercedes Benz for safety.
Mercedes-Benz has finally made the return to inline-six engines, with a 3.0-liter turbo-six under the hood of the CLS 53 developing 429 horsepower and 384 lb-ft of torque. It's supplemented by a mild-hybrid setup comprising a 48-volt system and an 'EQ Boost' electric motor that provides up to 21 hp extra when needed, while the electric system also helps power an electric compressor that acts as an 'electric supercharger'.
The well-oiled contraption directs its power through an AMG Speedshift nine-speed automatic transmission that deftly navigates between gears with no second thoughts. Acceleration is a dream and passing slower vehicles (we're willing to bet that there will be many) should be effortless. Changing over to Sport mode will welcome snappier acceleration, thanks to the CLS hanging onto gears a little longer, and changes in the programming for less slip, making the changes themselves a little quicker. Higher revs will also bring a pleasurable melody that's likely to be appreciated by the performance enthusiast.
Though the hybridization of the CLS 53 is subtle, it certainly makes a difference. Mercedes-Benz's integrated starter-generator spools the turbo with the assistance of the EQ Boost system, which also adds an extra 21 hp by storing little amounts of energy to dump down the driveline to assist with efficiency and power, but it primarily acts as a torque-fill down low rather than aiding top-end surge.
The CLS 53 hardly has any flaws, but if we're being honest, the ride and handling is a little temperamental with this one. The majority of your journey will be smooth in the four-door coupe all thanks to the standard air suspension and adaptive dampers showing a work ethic similar to Zuckerberg circa 2004, but the CLS is prone to lose its footing a bit on bumpy roads, and a particularly rough pavement will prove to be distressing for the AMG derivative.
Now that we've dealt with the negatives, let's touch on that EQ boost a little more. The starter-generator provides exceptionally seamless stop-start in traffic and is certainly a great point for the CLS 53. The steering is also delightfully direct and provides good feedback despite the electric assistance.
Nimble quick, and composed, the CLS 53 is generally a pleasure to string through bends and carve up canyons with, with impressive levels of body control and pliant absorption of mid-corner bumps. The AMG GT 53 may be more focused, but aside from the brittle ride on broken roads, the CLS 53 is generally impressive.
Fuel economy found in the AMG is quite admirable for a luxury performance coupe and the EPA estimates 21/ 27/23 city/highway/combined. The CLS 53 shares roughly the same combined MPG figures with the Audi S7 Sportback and, unsurprisingly, the CLS 53 is more economical than the AMG GT 53's 21 mpg combined figure.
The CLS 53 has a bigger fuel tank than both of its rivals, with a capacity of 21.1 gallons, and can reach up to about 480 miles of distance on a full tank of gas in comparison to the AMG GT 53's substantially smaller figure of 365 miles.
Mercedes manages to add state-of-the-art tech to each of the models that it releases without losing the signature, luxurious style that it's so notorious for. Endless standard features complement the cabin and comfort is clearly a priority for CLS 53. All of the vital displays are digital and, inside the sleek machine, the sports coupe feels more like a sedan - albeit less comfy in the rear where you could theoretically squeeze three people across - while quite a notable amount of space can be found in the front. No corners were cut in the interior of the CLS 53, with premium materials found from top to bottom - the cabin is the epitome of luxury and the interior found in this luxury sports coupe is hard for rivals to beat, except for its bigger, pricier sibling - the AMG GT 53 - which sees the same luxurious design.
On paper, the AMG CLS 53 can seat five people, but realistically, the only truly comfortable place to sit would be in the front. Trying to fit three people in the back of this coupe is akin to trying on a pair of jeans that are two sizes too small - the CLS loses nearly three inches of rear headroom and almost a full inch of legroom compared to the E-Class on which it's based. At a squeeze, you can manage the fit, but you won't be able to breathe very easily. Still, it has enough room in the front to work with, even if the back is nothing to write home about.
Multi-way adjustable, heated sport seats grace the CLS as a standard, though you'll have to pay an additional fee for optional seat ventilation. Entry into, and exit out of, the low-slung coupe might prove to be slightly uncomfortable for anyone prone to back issues, particularly if you're climbing into the rear seats, as the roofline slopes lower than The Rock's body fat percentage.
Premium luxury materials are part and parcel of the AMG experience, and as a relative of the E-Class, opulence is a given.
Black MB-Tex leatherette upholstery with Dinamica suede inserts comes standard with red stitching, while - if you're partial to the finer things - Nappa leather is available at an additional cost of $2,990. The Nappa leather range makes a host of different colors available with the most notable including Bengal Red and a Macchiato Beige and Magma Grey combination. If the usual Nappa leather selection still doesn't tickle your fancy, you can opt for the Black and Titanium grey combination, or the Macchiato Beige and Titan Red combination for an additional $4,900. Quilted stitching can be found with this selection for an ultra-luxurious feel. Standard wood trim options include Brown Ash Wood, Light Brown Sen, and Natural Grain Light Brown wood; a standard Aluminum trim option is also available. Among the most notable additional trim options is the Metal Weave trim for an additional $600 and the AMG Carbon Fiber trim at an extra $2,850. Even safety is customizable in the AMG with the option of red seat belts at no extra charge.
If you're sitting there thinking the CLS 53 is perfect in every way, you're close, but not quite right. As they say, you can't have your cake and eat it too and this rings true for the CLS 53's trunk. If you're feeling compelled to indulge in a long drive, make sure you don't plan on staying at your destination too long - with only 11.9 cubic feet of trunk space (down from 13.1 in the E53), you shouldn't expect an abundance of space with the AMG's trunk space maxing out after a large suitcase, a small carry-on case and, at the very most, an extra duffel bag. But the coupe wasn't made to haul suitcases; it was made to haul ass.
In-cabin storage is sufficient and wide door pockets can be found in all four doors, capable of comfortably fitting wallets, keys, and Evian water bottles. A phone tray and dual cupholders are located in the deep-enough center armrest as well as the rear center backrest.
The multitude of standard features found in the AMG CLS 53 is enough to make you question whether you really need to cultivate relationships with actual human beings. The AMG is a personal experience for its owner and comes standard with a Nappa leather performance steering wheel, heated front seats, 64-color LED ambient lighting (yes, if you can remember the color of the walls in your childhood bedroom, the AMG will provide it) dual-zone climate control, and a power sunroof. The CLS 53 will open your garage for you through HomeLink, as well as anything you think you might need to touch a key for: keyless start, keyless go, keyless here, keyless everywhere.
Optional features are abundant and include massage seats, a heated steering wheel, ventilated seats, and a cabin fragrance system. Prices for these additional options range from $250 to $1,300. The CLS 53 is also no stranger to driver assistance and offers automatic emergency braking, blind-spot warning, rearview camera and driver attention warning as standard. Popular and optional driver's assist options also include park-assist, lane keep assist, and semi-autonomous cruise control.
An abundance of standard infotainment features is offered with the CLS 53, as expected when one keeps the price tag in mind. Both the instrument cluster and the central display are fully digital 12.3-inch screens. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are offered as standard, and Bluetooth connectivity allows you to enjoy your playlist or phone calls through a crystal clear 13-speaker Burmester sound system, though a premium 19-speaker Burmester sound system is available as an additional option. Dual USB ports, HD Radio, and SiriusXM come standard, as does navigation with complimentary map updates for three years. Additional options include an AMG head-up display, in-car Wi-Fi and TuneIn radio.
The 2020 AMG CLS 53 has not been the subject of any recalls as a 2020 model, but three recalls affected 2019 variants, with issues including incorrect headlight adjustment, the potential failure of brake assist, and the risk of the seatbelts not being detected. These issues are somewhat unsettling, but the CLS 53 offers a four-year/50,000-mile basic warranty and 24-hour roadside assistance to quell the concerns of potential purchasers.
We are unable to rate and compare the safety of the AMG CLS 53 using black and white figures as neither the IIHS nor the NHTSA has rated it as yet. This is quite common for luxury cars and although cold, hard figures are preferable, we'll instead have to take into consideration the abundance of standard safety features offered by the CLS 53, and that it's mechanically identical E53 sibling was awarded a 2019 Top Safety Pick + by the IIHS.
Mercedes holds safety in the highest regard, and so they should. When you're serving up over 400 horsepower to the general public, it's generally wise to add some more safety to avoid a perfect recipe for disaster. So, standard safety features include the typical blind-spot warning, rearview camera, ABS, stability control, and rear cross-traffic alert. Seven airbags (dual front, front side, and side curtain, as well as a driver's knee airbag) are present in the CLS 53 and a host of additional safety features are available. Notable features include semi-autonomous adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, congestion emergency braking, and a surround-view system.
It proved an extremely difficult task to find any glaringly obvious faults in the captivating four-coupe, but as usual, nothing is without fault, the CLS 53 included. The trunk space is a bit on the small side compared to the E53, as is the amount of space for rear-seat passengers. Pricewise, the mechanically identical E53 is also much cheaper, meaning you're paying a premium for less practicality in the pursuit of style. It's also notable that the ride can be a little harsh at times and many driver assistance features are optional, driving the price up further.
Having said that, the CLS 53 is superb in many categories, with stellar performance, impressive fuel economy, and an interior design that's second to none. It's also cheaper than direct four-door coupe rivals like the Audi A7 and Porsche Panamera, and it's strikingly similar to the more expensive GT 53 in terms of features and performance. The CLS 53 is designed for the driver and provides an exemplary experience for the performance enthusiast.
At the end of the day, you don't buy a CLS 53 for its value for money or top-notch accommodation of rear-seat passengers - you buy it as a luxuriously styled four-door coupe with a turn of pace, and in this light, it gets a thumbs-up from us.
The CLS has a starting MSRP of $81,200 for the base model (the word base sounds rather unflattering for a coupe that is loaded with fancy features), representing a premium of nearly $8,000 over a comparable E-Class, while a model loaded with all of the bells and whistles on offer from Mercedes will set you back somewhere in excess of $110,000. A destination fee of $995 is applicable to your purchase of the AMG CLS 53.
The only CLS to don an AMG badge is the sole model in the range, but as they say, it's lonely at the top. It boasts a 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-six and is assisted by an integrated starter-generator dubbed "EQ Boost". It also employs a nine-speed automatic transmission and an AWD system.
Full LED lights grace the CLS 53 as well as a sunroof, air suspension, multi-way power-adjustable heated front seats, 64-color ambient lighting, Apple Carplay/Android Auto, a fully digital 12.3-inch instrument cluster, as well as 12.3-inch central display as standard features. Driver-assist tech features also include blind-spot monitoring, active brake assist, and rain-sensing windshield wipers.
The CLS 53 comes fully-equipped with no shortage of standard features, but should you want a little more, Mercedes is ready to oblige.
The Driver Assistance Package sees the addition of a few driving aids, namely active steering assist, route-based speed adaptation, lane keep assist and blind-spot monitoring for an additional $2,200. Meanwhile, the Exterior Lighting Package costs an additional $900 and sees the addition of ultra wide-beam headlights and adaptive high-beam assist, and for an additional $1,050, the Warmth & Comfort Package includes a rapid heating feature for the front seats, heated front armrests, and a heated steering wheel. The Parking Assist Package adds rear cross-traffic alert, a surround-view camera, and an active parking assistant for $1,290.
Sporty enhancements include the AMG Night Package for $650 or the AMG Exterior Carbon Fiber Package at $1,750. Heated rear seats come at an extra cost of $620, while adding ventilation to the front seats will cost $450 extra. A $990 head-up display is also available as an option. Adding a burly AMG Exhaust System will result in an additional charge of $1,250.
There are many ways you could spec your CLS 53 for added uniqueness, seeing that there is only one model to opt for. Less is more in our eyes and we'd suggest Graphite Grey Metallic paint, 20-inch AMG five-spoke wheels, and a Magma Grey and Macchiato Beige Nappa leather interior as well as AMG Matte Silver fiberglass inserts. If you'll be spending a considerable amount of time on the road, massage seats would be a good addition, and opting for the Driver Assistance package is always a good idea. All of these added options result in a final asking price of $93,130 - well below the $111,785 maximum we were able to configure by going all-out.
There is a considerable chunk of cash separating the AMG CLS 53 and the AMG GT 53. The GT 53 costs $18,750 more than the CLS 53's starting MSRP of $81,200. Given that the two produce the exact same 429 horsepower and 384 pound-feet of torque and share a platform, is there really a reason to buy the GT 53 unless you're a die-hard fan?
The CLS is more fuel-efficient than the GT with a combined EPA estimate of 23 mpg to the GT 53's 21 mpg. The GT is also a little less forgiving when it comes to interior space, although neither is the most practical, if we're completely honest. Notable features offered on the GT 53 that are not found as standard in the CLS include a Wi-Fi hotspot and power liftgate, while the AMG chassis is a little more aggressively tuned as well. But considering the similarities between the siblings, are the relatively minor differences and the cachet of the AMG GT name enough to motivate a nearly $20,000 dollar jump from the CLS to the GT? The answer from us is no, it isn't, and the CLS 53 comes out on top.
Arguably the CLS 53's strongest rival, the Audi S7 Sportback does a good job of putting up a fight for the prime spot in the segment, and, with just $2,700 separating the two (the Audi being more expensive), it's likely to be a close one.
Straight out of the gate, the Audi produces slightly more power than the CLS with 444 hp standing against the AMG's 429 hp. The Audi also brings considerably more torque to the table with 443 lb-ft towering over the Merc's 384 lb-ft. Ultimately, this results in the S7 being slightly less economical than the Mercedes, and yet, surprisingly, no quicker to 60 mph. But the S7 is better-equipped, offering hard drive media storage, a Wi-Fi Hotspot, four-zone climate control, and a heated steering wheel all standard on the base trim, with the Prestige catering to even more. The S7's Sportback design also makes it more practical, with nearly 25 cubic feet of storage decimating the CLS's paltry 11.9 cubes. Head and legroom in both the front and rear of the Audi are better, too, making it more practical all-round. However, in a heart-over-head decision, it's the CLS we'd rather have for its emotive driving dynamics and fluid powertrain. If you really wanted practicality, you'd be looking at an E-Class instead.
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