mReview: Mercedes-AMG CLS 53 - Is This a Worthy AMG?
A snarling naturally-aspirated V8 engine to wake your neighbours up at night. A rear-wheel drive layout to go sideways at will. A no-frills interior to focus on the one thing that matters when in command of an AMG – driving.
If you were expecting to find these elements in the latest Mercedes-AMG CLS 53, you’d be sorely disappointed. Yes, it still retains the once-controversial artsy swooping lines that have become synonymous with CLS models, and still commands road presence that few cars can brag about, with its imposing dimensions.
But it has also replaced the proven formula, bringing out a smaller turbocharged inline-six unit, a four-wheel drive system, and a posh cabin similar to that of a swanky upmarket lounge.
Not a bad thing, we suppose. But with all the seemingly watered down characteristics to cater to a larger audience, we couldn't help but wonder: “Is this still a proper AMG?”
An Eye-Pleaser Outside
At just over five metres long, the CLS 53 certainly makes a statement wherever it goes. Its impressively long bonnet with twin muscular bumps, small and arched chrome-trimmed window lines, and massive 20-inch multi-spoke alloy wheels all help to accentuate its sheer length.
There are also gaping vents and intakes on the bumpers, all of which are all fully functional and not merely there for show.
The CLS 53 also features chrome-tipped quad exhausts and a subtle lid spoiler, the latter of which helps to give the car an even more pronounced length from a visual standpoint.
Apart from perhaps a Mercedes-Maybach S-Class, I struggle to find another luxobarge from the German marque that is just as eye-catching as this without going overboard.
A Cosseting Cabin Inside
It's just as luxurious inside, with the cabin quite literally wrapped in Nappa leather, suede, and other premium materials. The dashboard inlays are covered with high quality carbon fibre panels, and also feature background lighting that can be adjusted to your liking.
The cabin switchgear feels tactile to the touch, and I highly appreciate the physical HVAC controls on the centre dash. However, the stacked arrangement of buttons on the flat-bottomed leather steering wheel leaves a lot to be desired.
When mated to the chunky rim of the wheel, attempts at pushing some of the buttons on it have been best described as frustrating and counter-intuitive.
With that said, the wheel is quite grippy, thanks to the dimple-patterned leather. This in turn allows for greater driving confidence, especially when executing a series of corners at considerable speeds.
The driver is also able to adjust driving modes and settings on the fly via the two circular dials located at the lower portion of the wheel. The digital miniature screens are quite easy to run through, and makes the whole process much easier than using the screen.
MBUX comes as standard, and the interface across both 12.3-inch virtual screens is vivid, with almost every critical bit of data clearly shown.
The UI does get a bit overwhelming at times, however, and the menu screen on the centre screen could be redesigned to be more user-friendly, like those found in other Teutonic offerings.
Like the front seats, the rear bench is supremely plush and inviting, with premium materials being utilised. They're also ISOFIX-compatible, a great boon if you happen to have young ones in tow. The headroom could be better for people above 1.75 metres tall, but that's a small price to pay if you want something as sleek as the CLS.
It's packed with a Burmester premium audio system, which pumps your favourite tunes into the cabin with amazing clarity and bass.
Press the Mercedes-Benz emblem on the bootlid and it swings open automatically, revealing all 490 litres of available cargo space. It's more than sufficient for your golf bags and luggages for the occasional weekend trip up North, and should you need even more space, the rear bench splits 40:20:40.
While we all miss the rumbling V8 engines that made AMGs proper back in the good old days, that era is long gone now. In an age where electrification – mild or full – reigns supreme, this turbocharged 3.0-litre M256 inline-six engine is the best compromise.
It’s less of an unhinged street fighter which AMGs of yesteryear were best known for being, and more of a ballroom dancer now who just happens to know a thing or two about martial arts.
Supplemented by both an integrated starter-generator that pumps 22 horsepower to eliminate any turbo lag and a 48 V mild hybrid system, the CLS 53's petrol-electric heart provides 435 horses and 520 Nm of torque; hearty headline figures that'll quash any doubts of its AMG-ness.
On the road, the CLS 53 is a curious machine. It’s less of an unhinged street fighter which AMGs of yesteryear were best known for being, and more of a ballroom dancer now who just happens to know a thing or two about martial arts.
The ride quality is supple even with all of its harshest track-ready settings enabled, and driving across bumpy tarmac did nothing to faze it.
The cabin does a bang-on job in insulating the occupants from external noises, although the M256 engine only makes its presence known when it's about to reach the redline, producing a beautifully bassy note in the process.
We would have preferred a more raw experience, but perhaps that's what the Mercedes-AMG GT 63 is for.
And yet, the CLS 53 is always ready to tackle a corner enthusiastically. Its steering response is sharp and precise, if a bit artificial. The nine-speed 9G-Tronic AMG Speedshift MCT (what a mouthful!) gearbox changes cogs rapidly without hesitation, and is a pleasure to operate overall.
The high-performance brakes bite with confidence, and the pedal feel was not one of mushiness when applied, which is something many other high-end performance saloons can learn from.
Driving around the bends, the 4MATIC four-wheel drive system allows the CLS to carve through them with such precision, it's actually amazing. If you sat inside one while the car's being given the beans, you'd swear that it felt like a much more compact Benz, with its agility.
When it comes to real-world practicality, however, the CLS 53 falls short. Navigating around the various carparks in Singapore, both sheltered and open-air, proved to be slightly challenging, especially with its dimensions. More often than not, the rear overhang made parking manoeuvres tricky and arduous.
When it comes to efficiency, we clocked in just under 10 km/l. Unsurprising and somewhat decent for a 1.98 tonne behemoth with a 3.0-litre engine, if we're being frank.
So, Is This a Proper AMG?
This is a hard question to answer, if I'm being completely honest. With all the craziness being tuned down in the name of improved efficiency and comfort, some of the AMG magic that we've all grown to know and love is somewhat gone.
But do not get me wrong. This is still an exquisite piece of German engineering that will still bring joy to the owner and occupants with its superior driving dynamics and avant-garde looks.
Is this worthy of being called an AMG? Yes, but only by a hair's breadth. But it would have been a much more convincing case if it had been marketed as a CLS 500.
|Mercedes-AMG CLS 53 4MATIC+ Mild Hybrid Specifications
|VES Band: C2
Turbocharged in-line 6 with Mild Hybrid
523 bhp, 750 Nm
9G-Tronic 9-speed automatic
Fuel Tank Capacity:
5,012 mm x 1,896 mm x 1,422 mm
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