The Original 4-Door Coupe: 2019 Mercedes-AMG CLS 53 Hands-On Review

Type in “Mercedes-AMG CLS 53” into your favorite medium (search engine, YouTube etc.), and you’ll notice a lot of the reviewers saying something along the lines of “2019 CLS 53, is it a real AMG?”. What is a “real AMG”? According to those reviews, an AMG has to have a V8 and the engine has to be hand-built. The new for 2019 CLS 53 AMG has neither of those, but does that mean it’s not a “real AMG”?

The answer to that question, a question no consumer asked, is yes. Yes, the CLS 53 is a real AMG. So what if it doesn’t come with a hand-built V8? It might not have the rumble of the V8, but it still sounds very good and it performs like a real AMG.

More on the performance of the CLS 53 later, but first let’s do a little history lesson.

The Mercedes-Benz CLS was introduced in 2004 to much fanfare. It was the first vehicle (if I recall correctly) to use the phrase “four-door coupe”, based on the E-Class platform. It was a revolutionary design, and I personally fell in love with it. Thanks to the CLS, now there are many of these so-called “four-door coupes” produced by various manufacturers. Some carmakers are even selling four-door coupe-SUV-things.

The current generation CLS is the third generation of this car, code named C257, it went on sale as a 2019 model.

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Prices

The 2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS comes in two trims, a regular CLS and an AMG version; the regular CLS has a starting price of $81,000 and the more powerful Mercedes-AMG CLS 53 has a starting price of $92,000. Four our review, we were handed the keys to a 2019 Mercedes-AMG CLS 53 4MATIC+ Coupe, with a sticker price of $111,450 plus taxes.

Our review car had the following options:

  • Lighting Package $1,000
    • Active Multibeam LED Lighting System
    • Adaptive Highbeam Assist
  • Premium Package $5,300
    • Climate Comfort front seats
    • Power rear-window sunshade
    • Burmester Surround Sound System
    • Foot-activated trunk release
    • Heated rear seats
    • EASY-PACK power trunk closer
    • Keyless-Go
    • Front seats rapid heating feature
    • Heated front armrests
    • AMG Illuminated front door sills
  • Comfort Package $3,600
    • Drive-Dynamic multicontour front seats
    • ENERGIZING Comfort Control
    • AIR BALANCE cabin-air purification system
    • AIR BALANCE cabin fragrance system
  • Head-Up Display $1,500
  • Intelligent Drive Package $3,000
    • Active Distance Assist DISTRONIC
    • Active Steering Assist
    • Evasive Steering Assist
    • Active Blind Spot Assist
    • Active Lane Keeping Assist
    • Active Lane Change Assist
    • Active Brake Assist with Cross-Traffic Function
    • Congestion Emergency Braking
    • Active Emergency Stop Assist
    • PRE-SAFE Impulse Side
    • PRE-SAFE PLUS
    • Route-based Speed Adaptation
    • Extended Restart in Stop-and-Go Traffic
  • AMG Driver’s Package $1,900
    • AMG Nappa/DINAMICA Performance steering wheel
    • AMG Performance Exhaust System
    • 20” AMG twin 5-spoke wheels
    • AMG Track Pace
  • 360 Camera $650

As you can see from the list above, our review 2019 CLS 53 AMG is loaded with a lot of tech, convenience, and safety features. Even without all the options, the CLS 53 is an exceptional car.

Engine

The Mercedes-Benz CLS 450 and the CLS 53 AMG are powered by a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6 engine with EQ Boost. In the CLS 450 the output is 362 horsepower between 5,500 and 6,100 rpm and 369 pound-feet of torque between 1,600 and 4,000 rpm. In the CLS 53 AMG, the turbocharged I6 engine produces 429 horsepower at 6,100 rpm and 384 pound-feet of torque between 1,800 and 5,800 rpm. Power is sent to all-four wheels via the “AMG SPEEDSHIFT TCT 9G” 9-speed automatic transmission and 4MATIC+, which can send 100% of the power to the rear axle, depending on driving conditions. The 2019 Mercedes-AMG CLS 53 does the 0 – 100 km/h sprint in a blistering 4.5 seconds (0 – 60 mph in 4.4 seconds).

The I6 engine is mated to what Mercedes calls “EQ Boost”, which is an Integrated Starter-Generator with a 48-volt lithium-ion battery, providing up to 21 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque at certain rpm. Combined with energy recovery during braking/deceleration, engine start-stop, engine off during some coasting condition, we have a pretty fuel efficient yet powerful engine. According to Mercedes-Benz, the CLS 53 AMG should consume 12.4/8.7 Liters/100 kilometers in city/highway driving, for our weeklong review, the on-board computer showed 12.5 in city driving and 9.0 on the highway, which is almost exactly the claimed number and I did drive the CLS 53 like a sports car, not my typical smooth driving.

Driving

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The 3rd generation CLS AMG doesn’t come with a V8 engine option, but it’s still a properly fast car and it is a true AMG. Sure, it doesn’t have the growl of the ferocious V8 engines from other AMG cars, but the inline-6 has a unique sound of its own, which is musical even in the lowed setting and pretty aggressive in the highest setting. The exhaust sound can be turned to “powerful” even in the comfort mode (the two settings on the exhaust are “Balanced” and “Powerful”, a very elegant way to put it).

There are five driving modes on the CLS 53 AMG: Eco, Comfort, Sport, Sport+, and Individual. These driving modes are pretty self-explanatory, and do change the dynamics of the car quite a lot. I mostly drove in the Comfort mode in the city and in traffic, and when it came time to have some fun, I skipped the Sport and went all-in on the Sport+ mode.

Driving in Comfort mode is a nice experience, the ride is comfortable and the exhaust sound is turned down to Balanced, there’s more than enough power to have fun even in this mode, but the throttle response is slower and the transmission upshifts at lower rpms to save fuel. The Sport mode adds a bit more fun to the Comfort mode, it’s a good compromise between the Comfort and Sport+.

Sport+ is the mode to have some fun in, I enjoyed this mode the most; the car felt even more power, more agile, and very sporty. The CLS is not a small car by any means, it’s based on the E-Class, but in the Sport+ mode it feels like a proper sports car; after driving the CLS for a week, now I understand why cars like this exist. They’re practical enough for a family but have the souls of sports cars.

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In the Sports+ mode, you’re treated to more of the sound of the I6 engine, combined with the “Powerful” mode of the exhaust. The transmission holds gears much longer and shifts are crisp and precise, you can also manually shift gears via the steering wheel mounted paddle shifters. In this mode the exhaust pops and crackles a lot, giving all occupants childlike smiles. I had an absolute blast every time I drove the CLS 53 AMG in the Sport+ mode.

The suspension on the CLS 53 AMG is sporty but also very comfortable, even in the Sport+ mode, it is very smooth, this is a grand touring car after all. The steering has the perfect amount of weight and holding the AMG steering wheel in your hands feels very natural, this is probably the best steering wheel I’ve come across in my 6+ years of reviewing cars. It has a nice thickness to it, with Alcantara material from the 2 to 4 o’clock and 8 to 10 o’clock positions.

The turbocharged engine, the transmission, and the 4MATIC+ AWD system work in perfect harmony to give you a car that’s comfortable and civilized, yet it can be turned into a proper sports car.

Our review car was equipped with the Intelligent Drive Package, which included items like active distance control, active steering assist etc. This system worked flawlessly, DISTRONIC was developed by Mercedes-Benz after all. This package also included Active Lane Change Assist, which works when DISTRONIC is engaged. In other vehicles with active distance control (also known as active cruise control and a few variation of that name), when you get close to the car in front of you, your cars slows down to match that car’s speed, with the Mercedes system, press the turn signal indicator and the car will automatically change lanes (if safe to do so) and pass the slower car. I tried it and it worked just as advertised, although I was a little nervous because I’ve never used this type of a feature before.

Styling

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The original Mercedes-Benz CLS was a revolutionary design, which started an entirely new segment. I still vividly remember seeing the original CLS at a car show, my jaw hitting the floor at the clean coupe like design with the practicality of a sedan. The third generation CLS pays homage to that original design, with its clean and elegant lines, the 2nd generation CLSs didn’t have as clean of a design as the original.

2020 Mercedes AMG CLS 53

In my opinion, the CLS 53 AMG is a very good-looking car, although that’s hard to translate to pictures, it’s a much better-looking car in person than what I had seen on my computer screen. The CLS looks smaller in pictures and even seeing it in person, from some angles, it looks small. But looking at it from the side, you see it’s a big car with a long hood and large doors. Looking at it from the back and the rear three-quarters view, it looks like a coupe, this three-quarters view of the CLS is my favorite. The front is aggressive with large air intakes and a chin spoiler. The front looks good; however, it reminds me too much of the CLA, which is not a bad looking car, but if I’m paying CLS money for my car, I wouldn’t want it to look like the less expensive CLA, that’s the snob in me talking though.

Interior

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I can write a short book on the interior of the CLS 53 AMG, there’s so much to see and experience here. I’ll begin by saying, the CLS 53 AMG has an amazing looking interior, in fact most modern Mercedes-Benz cars have beautiful interiors.

The CLS 53’s interior looks good in pictures, but you really need to sit inside and touch all the surfaces to feel what it’s really like; the fit and finish, materials used, and attention to details is top notch. As impressed as I was by the performance of the CLS 53, I was blown away by the beautifully crafted interior.

2020 Mercedes AMG CLS 53 interior collage

The seats are covered in rich leather that will not fade with time and usage, these seats are incredibly comfortable yet sporty, a combination not very common. Our review car was equipped with the Premium and Comfort Packages, which include heated/ventilated front seats with four different massage settings, with the Comfort Package the car is equipped with “Drive-Dynamic multicontour front seats”, which come with pneumatically adjustable lumbar, side, and shoulder support and active side bolsters that activate in corners, holding the driver and passenger in place. Adding these two packages to the seats make for the most comfortable seats I’ve ever sat in, the seats on the CLS 53 AMG felt like a tailor-made suit just for me, thanks to all the available adjustments. These packages also add heated front armrests, which would come in handy in cold Canadian winters.

The interior layout is very elegant and you instantly notice the four air vents above the center console and the huge screen that starts from the gauge clusters and ends at the infotainment system, it’s the biggest screen I’ve ever seen in a car. The interior layout might look simple at first glance but there are a lot of different features and settings, which can get overwhelming at first. It took me a few days of driving to get comfortable with everything, and once I was used to it all, everything felt very intuitive.

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The infotainment screen, which displays maps from the navigation system, video from the cameras, radio/media, car settings, climate settings, and a few other items I may have missed, can be controlled via the touchpad on the center console, the buttons on the center console, and with the little touchpad on the right side of the steering wheel. Using the touchpad on the steering wheel is the best way to access different menus of the infotainment system, as you don’t have to take your hands off the steering wheel, making it much safer. The small touchpad on the left side of the steering wheel controls the functions on the “gauge cluster” side of the big screen. Here you can change the layouts of the gauges and what information you’d like to see on various parts of the gauge cluster, the gauges themselves have three main settings.

After spending a week with the car, I felt very comfortable with using all the different settings on the car by using the small touchpads on the steering wheel, I believe this is a great way of dealing with all the information with minimal distractions from driving.

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As you’d expect from a larger Mercedes-Benz vehicle, the CLS 53 AMG is really comfortable and the interior is quiet. There is barely any wind or tire noise at highway speeds, making long journeys very comfortable and enjoyable. Combine that with the optional massage function (featuring normal or high intensity massages like “hot relaxing back”, “hot relaxing shoulder”, “activating”, and “classic” massages). I took full advantage of this feature and had the massage activated on high intensity for all my drives. These massages are as good as any automated system I’ve used.

I found there to be more than enough room for me in all of the seats, but because this is a “coupe” style sedan, the rear has a steeper slope than the E-Class, so rear passengers over 6 feet tall might feel a lack of head room.

Final Thoughts

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I had an absolute blast driving the 2019 Mercedes-AMG CLS 53 around for a week, it’s a great looking car on the outside and inside, with a lot of tech, safety, and convenience features. It’s practical enough for a family, I had two car seats in the back seat, yet it’s also very fun to drive. In the Sport+ mode, it acts like a proper sports car.

I have reviewed high-end cars before, but there’s something special about driving a Mercedes-Benz car, I call it “Mercedes lifestyle”. I also appreciate the fact that Mercedes-Benz is still committed to building a lot of different coupes and sedans, not just focusing on SUV/CUVs, which they do offer quite a few of as well.

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Faisal

When I'm not reviewing the latest cars, I'm busy checking out the latest gadgets and watches by the world's best manufacturers. Cars, gadgets, and watches... that's all a man needs to get through life.

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