These days, there really is an AMG for everyone. From compact sedans to full-size SUVs, Mercedes' performance arm tunes them all, with powertrain badassery and pumped-up appearances to set them apart from lesser Benzes.
This year, AMG added a series of "53" cars to its lineup, all using a 3.0-liter, turbocharged, straight-six engine with some mild-hybrid assist. The Mercedes-AMG CLS53 was the first such car to get this treatment, and after a week behind the wheel, I can tell you that just because it's a hybrid doesn't make it any less of an appealing performance sedan.
First, I have to qualify the use of "sedan" here. Mercedes-Benz calls the CLS-Class a coupe -- a "four-door coupe," specifically -- and as far as I'm concerned, it's a misnomer. But I can kind of see the logic. After all, the third-generation CLS is one rakish, sexy car, with a really slick roofline.
You can tell a CLS53 apart from a more staid CLS450 thanks to its flashier grille, small rear lip spoiler, quad-tip exhaust and larger wheels -- 20-inch rollers, in the case of this test car. In AMG guise, the CLS is a stunner. I kept turning back to look at it every time I parked.
Not that I parked often, since the CLS is a car I just wanted to keep driving. The 3.0-liter I6 engine puts out 429 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque, sent through a 9-speed automatic transmission to all four wheels via Mercedes' 4Matic all-wheel-drive system. There's enough power on tap to make the CLS a riot to drive, but not so much that it'll get me into trouble. Mercedes estimates an acceleration time to 60 miles per hour of 4.4 seconds.
The turbocharged engine has a trick up its sleeve: Mercedes' mild-hybrid system, called EQ Boost. It's comprised of an integrated starter/generator sandwiched between the transmission and engine, and helps power the car's 48-volt electrical system, which powers the CLS' accessories and smooths out the stop/start tech. The CLS53's stop/start is so smooth, in fact, that I never feel the need to turn it off.
The other benefit to the EQ Boost system is, well, boost. It offers an additional 21 hp and 184 lb-ft of supplemental power for acceleration, so you don't have to dig deep into the throttle for mid-range punch.
Of course, this doesn't turn the AMG CLS53 into a fuel-sipper. The EPA gives this sedan a fuel economy rating of 21 miles per gallon city, 27 mpg highway and 23 mpg combined.
In Sport and Sport+ modes, the nine-speed automatic transmission fires off snappy shifts, and the nicely weighted steering responds instantly to inputs. The CLS53 is tossable and easy to place on a winding back road, and despite its all-wheel-drive system keeping things cool, there's enough rear-end shove to let the CLS quickly rotate through turns.
Like most modern Mercedes-Benz vehicles, the CLS53 is packed with driver assistance tech. I really like the adaptive cruise control, which can bring me to a complete stop behind a lead car and start up again on its own after a brief pause. A lane-keeping system works with the adaptive cruise control to keep the CLS53 centered in its lane. The CLS can even read highway signs and slow itself down automatically. In fact, it'll even slow itself down as I approach a bend in the highway -- this is truly one of the most adaptive cruise control systems available today.
Interior tech is just as similarly robust, though the CLS53 does not get the new MBUX system with its cool artificial intelligence and augmented reality navigation. Instead, you'll find the older COMAND system in here, housed on a 12.3-inch screen that can be controlled from either the center console or swipe-pads on the steering wheel. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are both along for the ride.
As for comfort amenities, the CLS53 has one of my favorites: multicontour front seats with massage. Every time I go around a turn at speed, the side bolsters automatically inflate for extra support. It's a bit of a gimmick, sure, but I love that the car gives me a little hug as we're on a back-road drive. It makes me feel loved. The massaging seats too are a joy, although the function stops after about 10 minutes. Don't tell me when my massage is over, AMG.
The CLS53 has room for five passengers, but that sloping roofline does a number on rear headroom. Taller folks should call shotgun as soon as possible. Even at 5 feet, 9 inches tall, I find I have to duck my head to get behind the wheel, though once I'm there, front headroom is plentiful.
All of the interior materials are of the sort of quality you'd expect from a $100,000 Mercedes-Benz. The leather surfaces look and feel great, and overall fit and finish is impeccable. My only complaint is the AMG-specific steering wheel -- the shape and size is great, but the Dinamica microfiber texture isn't as grippy as I want.
Unlike its key competitor, the Audi S5 Sportback, the CLS53 has a traditional trunk rather than a more functional liftback design. That means you only get 11.9 cubic feet of cargo space, compared to as much as 35 cubic feet in the Audi with its rear seats folded. The CLS has form, but not a lot of function.
The 2019 Mercedes-AMG CLS53 starts at $79,900, excluding $995 for destination, but the car you see here stickers for just over $108,000. For my money, I'd rather get a few key options like the multicontour seats ($1,310), AMG performance exhaust ($1,250) and the driver assistance features ($2,250), for a more reasonable $85,705, all in.
The CLS53 strikes a great balance between the standard CLS450 and the more powerful 63-badged cars (E63, S63, etc.). It's got all the punch you could want, but isn't so over the top that you'll be in jeopardy of losing your license on every commute.