It wasn’t so long ago that Mercedes invented the “four-door coupe.” Well, maybe “reintroduced” is a better term—the 1962 Rover P5 has that claim to fame. Regardless of copyright, the 2005 Mercedes-Benz CLS-class was a bona fide catalyst, sparking the other German luxury-car makers and beyond to whip-up their own swoopy four-doors.
Now, that concept has extended far beyond the mid-size sedan platform, with automakers now offering sleek and swept-back variants of their SUVs and compact cars, including Mercedes. In fact, with the launch of the AMG GT 4-Door Coupe, the new-for-2018 C257-generation CLS finds itself to be a middle child, slotting as it does above the itty-bitty CLA sedan. To figure out if the CLS still has the verve it did 15 years ago, we drove the Mercedes-AMG CLS53 as part of our recent Benz bash in Napa, where we slid the first-ever hybridized AMG around some rain-drenched roads.
The second-gen CLS lacked the same visual presence of its predecessor, so the new CLS represents a return to the swoopy side of things, and brings with it a truckload of cutting-edge powertrain tech. As an example, this is the U.S.’s first taste of Mercedes’ new M256 3.0-liter inline-six, having replaced the older M276 family of V-6 engines.
High-Tech Engine, High-Tech Tech
We’ve already covered this fascinating engine elsewhere, so we won’t go into deep detail here, but here are the fast facts: In the CLS53 AMG (and all other AMG “53s”), the 3.0-liter puts out 429 horsepower and 384 lb-ft of torque courtesy of a single twin-scroll turbocharger and an electrically driven supercharger/compressor. An integrated electric motor goes by the EQ Boost nomenclature and acts as a starter motor and alternator; it’s sandwiched between the engine and transmission and is rated for 21 horses and 184 lb-ft of torque. All of this gumption is routed through Mercedes’ 9G-Tronic nine-speed automatic transmission and the AMG 4Matic+ all-wheel-drive system.
All of this is crammed under one of the most cohesive and smooth sedan designs currently on the market. It does lack the original CLS AMG’s muscularity, instead opting for refinement and subtlety. (If you really want the broad-shouldered, on-its-haunches visual attitude of the original, save your pennies for the bigger, badder AMG GT 4-Door—it even offers the same trick powertrain in the 53 model.) The CLS only gets better when you step inside. it shares nearly everything with the current E-class, which means the interior is as sumptuous, well-executed, and exceptional as you’ll find on anything under six figures. It’s an elegant environment of high-quality materials fitted together in a smooth and effortlessly luxurious design, especially around the sloping center console. Techies will have a ball with the dual high-res screens, with the panel in front of the driver primarily handling vehicle info and gauges, and the central display largely devoted to infotainment and navigation functions.
AMG Lite Still Applies—in a Good Way
Yet it’s still an AMG, at least according to the badge out back. That said, this car isn’t meant to attract the same kind of buyer that would usually spring for the mighty V-8–powered thumpers that wear a “63” moniker. Rather, it’s for someone who values having the latest and greatest in internal combustion, enjoys a bit of additional quickness in their daily driver, and desires ride quality and sound levels unaffected by the stiffened-up and hunkering-down procedure that often occurs behind the walls in Affalterbach.
Of course, this is to say nothing on the refinement of the V-8 models. Those bad boys still are capable of daily duty, though you might find the brakes a touch grabby, the ride a little stiff, and the V-8 a touch thirsty. But there is very little in the way of trade-off with the CLS53; this is one of the best balances of performance and comfort we’ve found, and it’s no surprise that such a package is delivered in a car with the tri-pointed start up front. With three suspension settings, an active exhaust, and four distinct driving modes (Eco, Comfort, Sport, Sport+), you can putt around the local luxury strip mall without spilling your boba tea. Then when you have to return to your bungalow in the Malibu hills, set it in Sport+ to tighten everything up and shoot through the canyons.
That’s all the performance driving you should be doing, however. We drove the CLS53 during evaluations for our 2019 Automobile All-Stars awards a few months ago, and found it wasn’t as eager to tackle the Streets of Willow Springs as was the E63 S Wagon also in attendance. It was noticeably soft for track work, even cranked up to the sportiest setting, and the brakes weren’t as crisp after a few laps.
Then we sampled it on regular roads, where it excelled. The 3.0-liter builds power with a rush, those 429 ponies peaking at 6,100 rpm. All the while, the EQ Boost setup fills in the gaps to deliver a monumentally long period of maximum torque, with all 384 lb-ft available from 1,800 rpm and only petering off at 5,800. It sings the sweet six-cylinder song we haven’t heard from Mercedes since the 1990s, but those were hardly performance-oriented engines. It settles down nicely when you just want to get to your destination without muss and fuss, especially with the super-smooth nine-speed playing conductor. Even on the soggy backroads of Napa during our most recent experience, the CLS was surefooted, easy-riding, and easily reined in whenever we were a little too generous with the throttle.
We’re impressed. Like the E53 family, the new 2019 Mercedes-AMG CLS53 is the best of both worlds in one luxury package. It looks sharp, sounds great, and packs all the accoutrement we’ve come to expect of modern Mercedes.
2019 Mercedes-AMG CLS53 Specifications
|ENGINE||3.0L DOHC 24-valve turbocharged and supercharged inline-6 ; 429 hp @ 6,100 rpm, 384 lb-ft @ 1,800 rpm|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD sedan|
||21/27 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||196.9 x 74.4 x 56.0 in|
|0–60 MPH||4.4 seconds (mfr)|
|TOP SPEED||130 mph (mfr)|