Can the svelte four-door coupe deliver in third generation guise?
Mercedes-AMG CLS 53
Price: £70,000 (est)
Engine: 3.0-litre, six-cylinder, turbocharged petrol
Torque: 389lb ft plus electric motor, 21bhp and 194lb ft
Gearbox: 9-spd automatic
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
Fuel economy: 32.5mpg
CO2 emissions: 200g/km
Meet the new Mercedes-Benz CLS, the latest in Merc’s line of more stylish E-Class-sized four-doors that offer seating four adults in business class luxury without looking like the owner’s moonlighting as a posh taxi driver.
Here, we’re driving the performance-focused Mercedes-AMG variant. The hot Merc division is launching its third generation CLS four-door coupe in on-message 53 guise: not 43, not 63, but 53. It’s part of a new naming strategy – the numbers no longer refer to a single engine variant, but to increasing power output.
The 53 thus fits in between the straight-six 43 and V8 63…and is an extraordinarily complex engine in its own right. The spec details run to many pages, but at its most basic, it’s essentially a mild hybrid, with a clever starter-generator system that gives an electric boost to the 3.0-litre straight-six turbo engine. There’s even an electric compressor that reduces turbo lag: Mercedes-Benz calls it EQ Boost.
Our first drive was held in Spain, whose unusually snowy weather made us grateful for its all-wheel drive. We also had winter tyres fitted, which engineers said would soften the character a little: the objective of the 53 is to act as a half-way house between regular CLS and the hardcore 63.
That wasn’t our first preoccupation. The engine was. It’s a sparkly straight six, with lots of character and an engaging engine note. For a turbo, it’s very responsive, and nicely linear. It’s genuinely top drawer.
The way it steers is pretty impressive for a five-metre-long coupe-saloon as well, though. It’s accurate and agile, well up to the high standards set by something like the BMW M5, while standard air suspension gives good body control. The other two new CLS we briefly drove, the 400d diesel and a four-cylinder petrol, also had air suspension and were similarly impressive.
This new CLS is a looker on the outside, successfully pulling off the ‘sleeker E-Class theme with aplomb. It’s also impressive within, with a terrific cabin that’s brilliantly laid out and ultra-clear to use. The digital screens are intuitive and the controls are logical.
The highlight is the air vents. They’re illuminated, and look like radical little turbines lighting up. Even those in the back will admire them: it’s not as if they’ll be grumbling about a lack of headroom, even if it is perhaps inevitably a bit tighter than a comparable E-Class.
The new CLS is, overall, a seriously impressive machine. It’s smooth, slick and sophisticated, with this AMG 53 version adding just enough spice and incisiveness, despite the compromises of the winter tyres. It might yet get sharper still. We’d be happy with it the way it is. Mercedes-Benz has hit the spot once again.