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2019 Mercedes-AMG CLS 53 4MATIC+ Review: Extreme Premium

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The rear three-quarter view is best.

Don’t get me wrong; there’s plenty of other styling bits to like about the 2019 Mercedes-AMG CLS 53 – the single-bar front grille, two-tone 20-inch wheels, subtle hood creases – but it’s from the rear three-quarter that you can best see the CLS’ grand touring intentions thanks to that sharply-raked rear window and short trunk; it looks long, it looks muscular and it looks high-class, as if it would be at home out front of the Monte Carlo Casino and on the Nurburgring alike.

Which, of course, is where the CLS came from. It was one of the originators – might be the originator, actually – of the four-door coupe, a body style that’s been mimicked to varying degrees by BMW, Audi and even Kia and Volkswagen. Granted, it does compromise rear seat room a little, but I still managed to fit a rear-facing child’s seat back there, and what room isn’t in the cabin ends up in a massive trunk (that can be made to be foot-activated, as was the case with our tester). I managed to fit three days’ worth of travel gear in there, including a stroller. Imagine unloading all that in front of the Monte Carlo…

The exterior styling, however, is really just the tip of the iceberg as the interior styling is fantastic as well, and there’s a whole heck of a lot going on underneath the skin that takes this latest CLS model to another level.

Photo: D.Heyman

First of all, the interior: as is Mercedes’ way these days, it’s a confluence of materials, shapes and technology that’s right up there with the best of the best in the business. I love the smart placement of silver detailing on the vent roundels, the steering wheel, and especially on the Burmester sound system’s speaker grilles, which look like they should be attached to the hifi in a penthouse suite more so than the door cards of a car. I’ve always believed that a high-quality sound system should look the part, and this one sure does.

Then there’s the rest, for instance carbon fibre here, piano black there (though, I find this dust-magnet material to be the least pleasing aspect of the cockpit styling) and adjustable mood lighting all over. The silver around the seat adjusters is nice, the contrasting red seat stitching is great and there’s even a race car-like centering band at the new steering wheel’s 12 o’clock position. I absolutely love it in here, and the fact the seating position is right on is the icing on the cake.

The tech situation, however, is a little bit more of a mixed bag.

Photo: D.Heyman
Photo: D.Heyman

For starters, the dash is fully digitized, with two screens (actually one split into two) displaying all data – from your infotainment to your main gauges – and you can like it or lump it. I don’t mind it; the graphics are sharp, colourful and modern looking and the gauges themselves can be customized.  I prefer the traditional tach-and-speedo setup, but I’m sure there are others who like their speed displayed in big fonts right at the centre, or for their navi map to sit there instead of on the infotainment display.

That’s all well and good; I just wish it were all easier to navigate. The touchpad-style thumb buttons on either spoke – left for your in-gauge displays, right for your infotainment displays – mean that there are a total of three ways to interact with the screen as they join both a scroll wheel and a touchpad on the centre console. Why, then, did it take me 20 minutes to find an equalizer menu? I don’t think I’m that much of a tech luddite, and I’m sure that my knowledge level is decent – probably above average, if I’m honest, simply because I’ve sampled so many of these systems.

Then there’s the interaction; first I’m bumping the wheel fore and aft, now I’m running a finger across the touchpad – it may seem great to have all these options, but I find it a little overwhelming.

Better you select a playlist and focus on the drive, I suppose, because there’s so much here to like.

Photo: D.Heyman
Photo: D.Heyman

The mechanics
Chief among the additions for 2019 is a new turbo and supercharged inline-6, though not “supercharged” in the traditional sense: the CLS 53 actually has an electric supercharger as opposed to one that used fuel. That’s pretty neat-o, and it not only makes for 420 hp and 383 lb-ft of torque, but makes the power delivery smoother because it compensates for any turbo lag.

Which means you’ll very smoothly be cracking the 100 km/h barrier in no time, especially under full throttle when the electric supercharger kicks in to provide even more power, albeit temporarily. This is a massively fast car that seems to be doing its darnedest to make everyone forget that it’s not a hand-built item along the lines of the “63” and “65” line of engines from AMG. Indeed, there’s actually more tech here than there is in the bigger, more bespoke motors.

I know that for me, I no longer felt myself longing for the big V8 as I did as recently as last year, when testing the “43” variants of the C- and E-Class.

Photo: D.Heyman

The additions for 2019 don’t stop at the engine, either; air suspension is now standard, and of course you’ve got AWD as standard as well. It’s a permanent system so power is never more than 45/55 front/rear. So, while you can never get the full-RWD effect, power can be shuffled from wheel-to-wheel as the system starts to sense slip. All I know is that on the dry roads I was on, the CLS tracked true and was almost impossible to unseat.

Problems? There are few. Since the CLS’ doors are frameless, there are a few creaks I could have done without – that’s what happens when you lose a bit of structural integrity by removing the door window frames. But other than a snug back seat – if room back there is important to you, then perhaps the E 53 would be the better choice – there’s little else to complain about with the CLS 53.

I guess the price may cause some eyes to water. The 2019 Mercedes-AMG CLS 53 4MATIC+ starts at $92,000 (the E 53 sedan starts at $83,900) and can easily carry you well over the $100K mark with just a few package additions. My car’s Premium Package, for example, which adds, among other things, the foot-activated tailgate, Burmester sound, heated front armrests and keyless-go, will run you $5,300. Add the $3,000 Intelligent Drive package, and there’s your six-figure MSRP.

Photo: D.Heyman
Photo: D.Heyman

But the fact is, you get a whole heck of a lot of power and panache for your hard-earned pesos. At this level, that’s what it’s all about.

We like

- Extremely premium interior
- Fast performer
- Awesome road grip
- Good trunk space

We like less

- Overly busy tech
- Creaking noises due to absence of door window frames
- Options crank the price up quickly

The competition

BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe
Porsche Panamera
Audi A7

Photo: D.Heyman
Photo: D.Heyman
Photo: D.Heyman