The Mercedes-AMG CLS 53 4MATIC+ is the king of the CLS range.
The Mercedes-AMG CLS 53 4MATIC+ is not just a string of capital letters, it's the king of the CLS range with the most luxury and the most power, but there is one thing it could do with a little bit more of...
You should read this next bit in your head like you're a boxing announcer. Because I'm introducing the king of the CLS lineup, the Mercedes-AMG monster, the high-performance hero of the range, packing more than 430 horsepower, it’s the CLS 53 4MATIC+. Let's get ready to rumble!
Yep, it might be a niche model, but any AMG-stamped car creates a lot of expectation. But does this one live up to the what we’ve come to expect?
There are things you should know, things I learned about the CLS 53 when it moved in with me for a week, that you should know before you invite one over to your place.
Good things, and maybe not-so-good things.
Ready? Let’s go.
Mercedes-Benz CLS53 2020: 4MATIC+ (HYBRID)
Hybrid with Premium Unleaded
Is there anything interesting about its design? 9/10
The Mercedes-AMG CLS 53’s profile has always made it look as slippery as a cake of soap found at the bottom of a bathtub, and then the new-gen car arrived in 2018 with almost every crease smoothed out, making it somehow even sleeker.
The CLS’s non-traditional looks have kept it a niche favourite, and this angry AMG version is easily spotted in the wild thanks to its twin-louvred grille, quad exhaust cocooned snuggly in the diffuser, and the boot lid spoiler lip. There’s also the Night Package exterior treatment, which comes standard and adds a splitter to the front apron, rear privacy glass and a gloss-black effect on the wing mirrors and window surrounds.
The test car I drove wore Diamond White Bright Metallic paint, which is optional – find out how much it costs below in the features section below.
The CLS’s non-traditional looks have kept it a niche favourite.
Speaking of size, the CLS is a large car, at 5001mm in length, 1442mm in height and almost 2072mm in width with its wing mirrors unfurled. Despite the dimensions, you might be surprised to know that interior space isn’t cavernous, but more on that in the practicality section below.
For now, let’s talk about what the cabin looks like. Short answer? Stunning. See, when it comes to cabin design, Audi’s are premium but functional like a business class lounge, BMW cockpits are more intense and sporty like an exclusive gym, and Mercedes-AMG’s thing is more liked the roped-off section in an A-list night club, and I love it.
I wouldn’t call the front seats cramped… it’s snug but life was fine.
I’m a sucker for a light-show spectacular, and I’m not embarrassed to say that I spent a full hour scrolling through the different ‘moods’ you can set in the interior, combining LED lighting with climate, music and the massaging seats. The giant screens, the ambient lighting, the chrome air vents, the red seat belts, the leather with red stitching… well, just look at the images.
OK, so I may have become a little carried away about the interior design, but I’m not as taken by the cabin’s practicality: this is one of the smallest large cars you can buy. I’m built like a retired state-level basketball player and I just don’t fit in the CLS all that comfortably. My two-metre wingspan means my elbows always bump the side bolsters up front, and I lost count of the number of times I hit my head on the A-pillar when swinging myself into the pilot’s seat thanks to the low roofline. I wouldn’t call the front seats cramped… it’s snug but life was fine, until I needed to climb out again.
The second row was far from fine for me: I could barely fit my knees behind my driving position and my head was mashed against the roof. But this isn’t an S-Class, or an E-Class or a C-Class, the third rows of all of which accommodate me well. Nope, this is a coupe with four doors, and so really it’s a two + three seater, well two + two and a half, because that rear middle seat is width of the headrest that goes with it (I’m serious, see the images). So, if you’re built like a cat and your body is no wider than your head, you’ll be happy.
The second row was far from fine for me: I could barely fit my knees behind my driving position.
Wireless charging, two USB ports and two 12V outlets cover the power for devices, but if you want climate control for the second row you’ll need to option it.
Cabin storage is limited, but you’ll find four cup holders (two up front and two in the rear), a large split-opening centre console bin and door pockets.
If you’re wondering where all the space has gone in a car that’s more than five metres long, then look under the bonnet and in the boot. We’ll get to the engine later but suffice to say that’s a big engine bay, and the boot is impressive, too, with its 520 litres of cargo capacity.
Unlike the Audi S7, and despite what the CLS 53 looks like, it’s not a fastback with a hatch opening for the boot. Instead, the CLS 53 has a regular sedan-style cargo area, which means you do lose some practicality.
The CLS 53 offers 520 litres of cargo capacity.
If you’re wondering where all the space has gone in a car that’s more than five metres long, then look in the boot.
The CLS 53 has a regular sedan-style cargo area, which means you do lose some practicality.
Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with? 8/10
The Mercedes-AMG CLS 53 lists for $186,800. The Audi S7 undercuts that at $182,500, while the BMW 840i M-Sport Gran Coupe is $199,900 before on-roads.
Pretty much any feature you can have on a CLS is standard on the 53. There’s the AMG leather upholstery with red stitching, the leather AMG steering wheel, the 12.3-inch media displays, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, the Mercedes Me assistant, digital radio, a Harman Kardon stereo, head-up display, wireless phone charging, heated and ventilated front seats, proximity key, power tailgate, LED headlights and air suspension.
The 12.3-inch media display come with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The $4000 Comfort Package was fitted to the test car and that adds active seats which hug you in the corners, heated rear seats and a heated front armrest. The package also adds something called Energizing Comfort Control which sounds like a spa treatment, and isn’t far from it, because the system uses fragrances and seat massaging and the climate control to relax or invigorate you. I’ve never been one for letting complete strangers give me a sensual experience, but I’m totally fine with a car doing it.
The brown ash wood trim is standard, too, if you were wondering.
If you’re after three-zone climate control rather than the standard dual-zone, you need to option it as well, for $1450.
The white paint mentioned in the design section above costs $2990. Don’t want to fork out $3k on paint? Then choose Polar White, it comes standard on the CLS.
What are the key stats for the engine and transmission? 8/10
When this new-gen model arrived in 2018 it was missing two cylinders. At least that’s what fans of the previous CLS 63 S with its V8 thought. Yes, the iconic Mercedes-AMG eight-cylinder engine had been replaced with a straight six.
It’s the same 3.0-litre, in-line six-cylinder engine that’s in the CLS 450, the grade which sits below the CLS 53, only it’s a more potent twin-turbocharged version making 320kW and 520Nm.
You might have heard about the CLS 53 also having an electric motor. It’s true, but not in the petrol-electric hybrid powertrain sense. Instead, it’s a combination of a starter motor and alternator located between the engine and the transmission and provides an extra 16kW and 250Nm, which not only reduces fuel consumption, but it also feeds the 48V electrical system.
The 3.0-litre, twin-turbo six-cylinder engine makes 320kW/520Nm.
I’ve been leaving the 4MATIC+ part of this car’s name off almost the entire time in this review, not because I’ve forgotten, but because it’s annoying for me to write and also for you to read. But now is the most important time to write it because the 4MATIC + in CLS 53 4MATIC+ indicates that this CLS is all-wheel drive.
The grunt goes to all four wheels via a nine-speed automatic transmission and it seems none of it is wasted in lost traction as the CLS 53 is propelled forward toward 100km/h from a standstill in 4.5 seconds.
The soundtrack of the screaming six straight is terrifying and exciting at the same time, but it’s not as glorious as the previous V8’s rumble and roar. To me the top-notch CLS needs that thunderous V8 soundtrack to really be the king of the range.
How much fuel does it consume? 8/10
Mercedes-AMG says the 3.0-litre twin-turbo six cylinder in the CLS 53 should use 8.7L/100km after a combination of open and urban driving. My fuel test saw me drive 119.1km, with 50.5km of urban roads and 68.6km of motorways, and I needed 12.4L of premium unleaded petrol to fill the 80-litre tank back to full. That comes to 10.4L/100km. Not bad for a 430-horsepower, two-tonne car.
What's it like to drive? 9/10
All right let’s get the grumbling out the way about the Mercedes-AMG CLS 53 not having a V8. It’s disappointing, and something that looks like a stealth bomber should sound like the end of the world. The six-cylinder under the bonnet, despite the AMG exhaust, just can’t replicate the same sound. But it’s time to get past this - it’s been almost two years since the new-generation CLS arrived.
Besides, the straight-six with its twin-turbo set up is simply incredible. Not only is power delivered smoothly, but 320kW will be more than enough for most people, and 520Nm from 1800rpm will squash you back into your seat and make you grin. The inline six has its own sound that is addictive, too. It’s a higher, angrier war cry that you’ll come to love.
AMGs are not all about the engine and going fast, it’s about stopping and turning, too. The CLS 53 has perforated and ventilated disc brakes the size of family pizzas (well, 370 x 36mm with four piston calipers at the front and 360 x 26mm single pistons on the rear).
Sitting behind the front alloy wheels are large brakes with four piston calipers.
Then there’s the magic trick of how the air suspension not only provides a composed and comfortable ride on terrible, pot-holed streets, but also superb dynamics and body control on fun twisty roads in the more sporty Dynamic drive mode.
A turning circle of almost 12.5m did lead to an Austin Powers-like 20-point-turn in a side street. Thing is, despite the line of waiting cars, nobody honked at me. That may have been because when you’re in a giant, menacing-looking Mercedes-AMG in a small, dark alley way, you could be anybody, right?
Warranty & Safety Rating
3 years / unlimited km
What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating? 9/10
The Mercedes-AMG CLS 53 hasn’t been tested by ANCAP or it’s cousin EuroNCAP, but the CLS is based on the E-Class which scored the maximum five-star rating in 2016.
The safety equipment list is impressive. Along with nine airbags and a 360-degree camera there’s advanced safety tech such as AEB with cross-traffic function, evasive steering assistance, active blind spot warning, lane keeping assistance and adaptive cruise control.
For child seats there are three top tether points and two ISOFIX mounts across the second row. If you are planning to put babies or children back there, take your baby capsule or child seat to the dealership and get them to fit it. I struggled (and finally won the battle) to fit my son’s seat in with that sloping roofline.
What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered? 8/10
The Mercedes-AMG CLS 53 4MATIC+ is covered by a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty. Servicing is recommended every 12 months or 20,000km. A three-year service plan will cost $2500, a four-year plan is $3350, and a five-year program is $5100.
Mercedes-Benz was doing this type of swooping four-door coupe saloon long before Audi and BMW came up with their rivals, and this current generation CLS is outstanding in its dynamics, design, tech and safety. The Mercedes-AMG take on the CLS sharpens this weapon further, while keeping it superbly comfortable to drive.
Is it good for a family? Heck no. It’s really not good for any more than two people as far as space in concerned. If you need the space then the CLS 53’s more practical twin is the Mercedes-AMG E 53 4MATIC+, and it has loads of room for a bit less money.