Mercedes CLS 53 - Regal Rowdiness

BY Sean Loo

Want something that can pounce on most supercars on the road, and wake up the entire neighbourhood, whilst still looking discreet? Let me introduce you to the Mercedes CLS 53.

This is a tried and tested formula from Mercedes - take a loud boisterous engine, throw it into one of their cars, and magic happens. In the past, this would have meant a guzzling V8 or V12, with lots of other performance trinkets that turn their cars into undercover street weapons.

However, due to tighter emission standards and the quest for cleaner cars, Mercedes has replaced this formula with smaller displacements. The new Mercedes CLS 53 for example now comes with a smaller turbocharged inline-6 banger.

It still retains its four-wheel drive system and other performance parts, but is it enough to still be worthy of its AMG title?

Downsized engine, upsized fun

While the M256 inline six-banger that resides within the Mercedes CLS 53 doesn’t provide the same rumbling sensation as a V8 would in past generations such as the C219 and C218 eras, it’s still a pretty competent engine in its own right.

Supporting its cause is a 48 V mild hybrid system combined with an integrated starter generator that eliminates any potential turbo lag. The result is a petrol-electric fusion that bestows the user with 435bhp and 520Nm of torque, and power is sent to all four wheels via a speedy 9G-Tronic AMG Speedshift MCT gearbox. Try saying that three times fast.

The AMG Ride Control+ air suspension comes with variable adjustable damping from the factory, and does a good job to arrest any body roll. Couple that with high-performance 4-pot ventilated disc brakes, and the CLS 53 really gives you the agility and confidence to wring round corners at enthusiastic speeds.

Like a wolf in sheep’s skin, the CLS 53 knows how to make a statement for itself on the roads.

Regal ensemble

The Mercedes CLS never had the same glamorous history other prominent Mercedes models enjoyed. Debuting with controversial styling, it did not fit in line with the design language of the time, where straight lines and boxy demeanours dominated the space.

But, this styling ended up becoming one of the CLS’s unique attributes, and the teardrop design traits still run true to this day.

Its stretched appearance gives it regal presence on the roads. 20-inch alloy wheels do little to conceal the giant brakes sheathed underneath, and tasteful dashes of chrome and gloss black trim give the car added opulence.

Numerous vents are dotted around the bumpers, and these are all functional, helping to direct pockets of air throughout the car for better aerodynamics.

The Mercedes designers really did a fantastic job with the CLS 53, giving it a subtle but imposing ‘stealth wealth’ persona.

Conflicted Luxury

Step inside, and you are greeted with a smorgasbord of premium materials. The cabin screams luxury, and you feel pampered nestled in Nappa leather sport seats. Carbon fibre trim pieces remind you of what kind of car you are sitting in, and there are no outward protrusions that break up the otherwise smooth centre console.

Physical HVAC controls are a feature I always prefer in cars. However, the MBUX infotainment system that comes as standard does leave more to be desired. You get a pair of 12.3-inch screens, and while the system works well when you are locked into one setting, navigating across different menus proves to be a challenging affair. The UI isn’t the most user-friendly, and you do tend to over-swipe even with careful finger inputs.

The haptic menu buttons on the steering wheel do not alleviate this concern either. It sometimes took a few attempts to dial in a setting, and there were numerous instances when I accidentally clicked something else instead. They do look pretty sleek, but perhaps physical buttons may have been a better ergonomic choice.

Otherwise, the steering wheel feels good in the hands, and the flat bottom allows for slightly more leg wiggle room. The Nappa leather here is perforated as well and provides ample grip for all driving situations. One feature that I do appreciate is the pair of circular dials located at the bottom of the wheel. Drive settings can be quickly adjusted on the fly, and this makes swapping modes a breeze on the CLS 53.

Should you want to listen to your own tunes instead of the car’s burble, a 13-speaker Burmester speaker array comes as standard. This thing packs a punch, delivering audio with amazing clarity.

Give and take conveniences

The rear door apertures are narrow, which can make ingress and egress a slight inconvenience. But, once you do manage to climb in, the rear is a cosy and plush ambience to be in.

ISOFIX points are also on hand when a child seat is required. Legroom is decent, but the headroom in the back could pose an issue for taller folks, due to the tapered roofline that recedes towards the rear.

An automatic boot lid reveals 490 litres of available cargo space. While the boot aperture is a little on the small side, the space within is more than enough to lug anything from luggage to golf bags. If rear occupants aren’t a factor, you can even fold the rear seats down in a 40:20:40 configuration.

The CLS is pretty long, coming in just over 5 metres in length, but this doesn’t really hinder real-world practicality. You get a whole suite of sensors both front and back, which alerts you to any little obstacle that you might run into. A 360 camera with dynamic guidelines is also on hand to aid with parking manoeuvres.

Efficiency isn’t the CLS 53’s strong suit, and I clocked in an average of 8.4km/litre during my test. I will admit to some enthusiastic pedal pressing, but you wouldn’t have considered the Mercedes CLS 53 if you wanted an efficient car in the first place.

Soul searching

If you were asking yourself whether this is still potent enough, performance-wise, to sit amongst the AMG family, the answer is a resounding yes.

But, having driven this, I kind of get the feeling that the quintessential AMG soul that the German marque is renowned for has become slightly diluted. What was once loud and unapologetic, has become more sensible as a result of conforming to forced standards.

Do not misunderstand, I do not hate the Mercedes CLS 53. I do in fact like it, and this is still a potent package which will turn heads as you drive by.

Would a V8 and a bit more drama complete the package? Arguably. But, don’t let that detract you from the main picture, which is what a lovely thing the CLS 53 is.

Photo Credits: Sean Loo (@auto.driven)