Friday 16th March 2018
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First drive: Mercedes-AMG CLS 53 4Matic +. Image by Mercedes-AMG.

First drive: Mercedes-AMG CLS 53 4Matic +
Slinky new Mercedes CLS gets hot AMG hybrid power.


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Mercedes-Benz CLS AMG 53 4Matic +

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The new Mercedes CLS is arguably less distinctive than it used to be, styling-wise, but this mid-ranking AMG version packs clever new hybrid tech and serious speed into a very sexy package.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Mercedes-AMG CLS 53 4Matic+
Engine: 3.0-litre turbocharged straight-six petrol with mild hybrid assist
Transmission: nine-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
Body style: four-door coupe
CO2 emissions: 200g/km (Band 191-225, 1,200 per annum and 450 first year tax)
Combined economy: 32.2mpg
Top speed: 250km/h
0-62mph: 4.5 seconds
Power: 435hp at 6,100rpm + 22hp electric assist
Torque: 520Nm at 1,800-5,800rpm + 250Nm electric assist
Boot space: 520 litres

What's this?

So, here's the issue with the styling of the new Mercedes CLS: it's not CLS-y enough. Look back to the 2004 original; with its banana-shaped sills and swept-back headlights, it looked like nothing else on the road. Not to all tastes, I guess, but the antithesis of bland. This new one, though? Well, it's very pretty and all, and I do like the sheer cleanliness of the surfaces, but that leaning-forwards nose is just too much like that of the new A-Class (there's going to be a lot of visual confusion between this and the next CLA, in spite of the size difference) and there's a lack of the visual theatre of that first CLS. A shame, even if it is undeniably a good looking car.

Inside, I have similar issues. It is almost impossible to crib about the cabin of the CLS, lifted more or less directly from the E-Class. The level of quality and the fit and finish are just staggeringly good, and the big, paired-up 12.3-inch digital screens that take care of the infotainment and the instruments are great. So too are the jet-turbine-style air vents, which glow backlit red when you turn up the cabin temperature, and blue when you dial it all down.

Almost impossible to crib, but not entirely impossible. It's just the cabin from the E-Class, which is fine in an E-Class, but this CLS is going to be significantly more expensive, so shouldn't one expect something with a little more impact? Again, that's what you got from the original 2004 CLS - a cabin built around E-Class components, but with more visual flair.

Perhaps I am just being too harsh. After all, it is gorgeous inside, the seats are wonderful, the Burmester stereo can blow the wax right out of your ears and with a 2.9-metre wheelbase, there's far more space in the back than you'd expect from a car that bills itself as a four-door coupe. It's even a five-seater this time around.

That wheelbase is courtesy of the E-Class's platform, and the CLS shares almost its entire mechanical package with the saloon. Same four-link front, five-link rear suspension (with optional air springs), same steering gear, same 9G-Tronic automatic nine-speed gearbox.

Thankfully, the same safety systems too, in a list as long as the arms of your tallest local basketball professional. Highlights include an updated Distronic active cruise control system, which, on the motorway, is better at keeping you in your lane (and which can change lanes for you if you like), and a new active steering system that can help you swerve around and away from danger in an emergency.

On the engine front, the entire range for now is built around Mercedes' new line-up of straight-six 3.0-litre diesel and petrol engines, all turbocharged, and the petrol versions come with 48-volt mild hybrid assistance. This AMG 53 version, as you might well imagine, slots in neatly between the older V6 AMG 43 engine and the Dreadnought-class AMG 63 V8s with their bombastic power outputs. For the first time ever, this AMG is a hybrid, using a 3.0-litre turbocharged inline-six petrol engine with an electric motor built into the gearbox housing. That motor adds 22hp and (wait for it) 250Nm of torque to the already decent 435hp and 520Nm of torque developed by the engine (at different times in the rev range, admittedly). The hybrid system can add in its power and torque to aid performance, when needed, or can take some of the load from the engine to help save fuel, although it can't drive the car on pure electric power.

It does have a neat trick though - as well as a big, conventional, exhaust-gas-driven turbocharger, this AMG engine has a smaller turbo, powered by the 48-volt electrical system, which has virtually instantaneous response and which Mercedes says eliminates turbo lag pretty much entirely. Better yet, it can also help the bigger, conventional turbo by acting as an air pump, drawing gas across the big turbo's impeller, spinning it up quicker and improving throttle response at high speeds.

The CLS 53 AMG wears a very subtle body kit (you'll only know the AMG version via its grille, which has twin chrome 'blades' to the standard model's one, or its small, Gurney-flat carbon-fibre boot spoiler), 19-inch wheels as standard and uses conventional steel brakes with four-piston callipers.

How does it drive?

It starts out very, very smooth. Our test car came with the air suspension, standard on the AMG 53 and optional on other CLS models, which means that even in Sport mode (which can be altered by the small switch next to the Comand infotainment controller), the ride is relatively relaxed and calm. Big expansion joints cause a big thud, but aside from that, our AMG CLS rolled effortlessly out through early morning Barcelona traffic and across urban Catalonian tarmac. Around town, you'd never know this was an AMG car at all, aside from the distinct shove in the back as you pull away from a traffic light.

Out on the open road, things become a little more serious. The CLS 53 is a consummate motorway cruiser, thanks to its refinement, its excellent seats, its much-improved (compared to early versions of the current E-Class) satnav and the insistent poke from the engine when you need to build up a bit more pace.

Get to some twisty roads, and things really start to come to life. The roads that wind up the mountains behind Barcelona are familiar road test territory, and we've had enormous fun up here in the likes of the Ford Focus ST and the Toyota GT86 in the past. In a five-metre long executive 'coupe', though?

Yup, still big fun, and so much of it is down to this engine. No, of course it doesn't slam you back in your seat as hard as the mentalist V8 engine does, but 0-62mph in 4.5 seconds is still pretty quick in anyone's book, and what makes this engine great is the way it responds. The Merc boffins weren't making it up; this thing really doesn't have any noticeable turbo lag, and with both electric and gas compressors spinning, the big CLS picks up and flies, and does so with a wicked straight-six crackle that's quieter than, but damn near as entertaining as, the big V8's burble.

It also does that wonderful thing of shrinking around you when the road gets properly twisty. The steering is perhaps a touch light, but it's very accurate and has lovely responses, and the combination of AMG's slightly harder-edged suspension and steering settings (plus a go over the suspension geometry, and with specific steering pick-up points), combined with the natural abilities of the air springs to soak up the worst excesses of the road surface, means that the CLS glides, swoops and dives like a leather-lined F15 on afterburner.

And then you get to the end of the twisty road, and without even really needing to switch back out of Sport mode, you can cruise down the next stretch of highway in impressive silence. Cruiser on the streets, rally car everywhere else. It's an extraordinary combo.


OK, so the debate over the CLS's exterior styling is going to roll on for a bit. I'm not sure it's striking enough, but it is undoubtedly pretty and, as is so often the case with Mercedes designs, it will probably age very well.

The AMG bits will also probably prove ageless - this isn't the heaviest-hitting AMG model, but it's still entertainingly quick, and has exceptionally good handling and ride comfort. Plus, it sounds terrific. The practical family guy in me would rather have all of this mechanical package in an E-Class (and you'll shortly be able to buy just that), but for those looking for a dash more style, the CLS is a good choice.

3 3 3 3 3 Exterior Design

4 4 4 4 4 Interior Ambience

4 4 4 4 4 Passenger Space

4 4 4 4 4 Luggage Space

5 5 5 5 5 Safety

5 5 5 5 5 Comfort

5 5 5 5 5 Driving Dynamics

5 5 5 5 5 Powertrain

Neil Briscoe - 1 Mar 2018

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2018 Mercedes-AMG CLS 53 4Matic+. Image by Mercedes-AMG.2018 Mercedes-AMG CLS 53 4Matic+. Image by Mercedes-AMG.2018 Mercedes-AMG CLS 53 4Matic+. Image by Mercedes-AMG.2018 Mercedes-AMG CLS 53 4Matic+. Image by Mercedes-AMG.2018 Mercedes-AMG CLS 53 4Matic+. Image by Mercedes-AMG.

2018 Mercedes-AMG CLS 53 4Matic+. Image by Mercedes-AMG.2018 Mercedes-AMG CLS 53 4Matic+. Image by Mercedes-AMG.2018 Mercedes-AMG CLS 53 4Matic+. Image by Mercedes-AMG.2018 Mercedes-AMG CLS 53 4Matic+. Image by Mercedes-AMG.2018 Mercedes-AMG CLS 53 4Matic+. Image by Mercedes-AMG.


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