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 Finding the sweet spot: The Mercedes-AMG CLS 53


Cast your mind back to a time when everything was just right. When nothing could top a certain feeling, sensation or experience. Those times are few and far between, admittedly; if your name is Goldilocks then it takes quite a bit of searching to find the sweet spot.

 

I’ve spent thousands of hours and miles in hundreds of cars over the years. Some good, some bad; miles of making noises of sheer exhilaration and nearly as many with steam coming out of my ears for one reason or another. I think back to being in the passenger seat of a German thoroughbred with an Italian heart singing from the terracotta mountain tops of the Spanish/Portuguese border regions as we headed along seemingly endless winding roads that were still scorched from that summer’s wildfires. That was astounding. There was, however, one issue: I was not behind the wheel.

 

To me, driving is so much more than just “getting from A-B” – anyone who says that a car is simply a machine to complete this task is very quickly aware of how to make me explode with more energy than a kilogram of caesium being dropped into a bath.

 

A wise man once said: “It’s what non-car people don’t get. They see a car as just a ton and a half/two tons of wires, glass, metal and rubber. People like you or I know, we have unshakable belief that cars are living entities. You can develop a relationship with a car, and that’s what non-car people don’t get.”

Here, here.

 

Cars have personalities – some are brash, obnoxious and intimidating. Others are drab, dreary and dull. Then there are the rare ones: the ones that spend time to get to know you. The ones where a drive is not just a task or a monologue; these ones have a conversation with you. They can very quickly become someone you trust. They become your best friend.

 

Out of the triple digit figure of cars I’ve driven I can only count around 30 that make me pretty excited just by thinking of them. Divide that number by 6 and you’ve got the number of cars that make me feel an uncontrollable desire to get back behind the wheel and drive until I run out of British Isles. In that class of 5 there is only one that for me was just right.

 

As mentioned earlier, what is just right for one will be different to what it is for another. In this case it was completely unexpected. Let me introduce you to the Mercedes-AMG CLS 53 4MATIC+. Little did I know when I grabbed the keys that this would go from being a car that I appreciated the idea of straight to the top of my (extremely long) wish list. Put it this way, if I were limited to having one car for all occasions this would be it.


 

                                                                                     

 

This is truly gorgeous. Stunning. Angelic. Subtly athletic.

 

I like a sleeper – a car with a monumental amount of performance to give but one that doesn’t outwardly shout about it. It’s like the – quite tempting – thought of having an anti-satellite missile launcher in the roof of my house. To the outside world it would look like a regular house with nesting sparrows and house martins and that is what it would be thought of until the power within is unleashed in anger. Put more simply, I prefer people not to know what is under my bonnet until my bonnet is closer to the horizon.

 

AMG have got their hands on each of the three generations of CLS that have rolled down the production lines since 2004. First the 55, two iterations of 63 and now the 53 – the model which launched electrification with the Mercedes-AMG product portfolio.

 

That wide, low, creased bonnet hides an incredibly advanced engine underneath. The 3.0 litre in-line 6-cylinder turbocharged engine is augmented by the EQ Boost mild hybrid system. This features, among other things, nanoparticle lined cylinders which reduce friction whilst increasing power and the electric turbocharger which can spool up in less time than it takes you to blink thus virtually eliminating turbo lag. The combined power output comes in at 457 hp and a mighty 770 nm torque combined. More on the engine later.


 

 

                                                                                  

 

 

The CLS invented the four door coupe segment when it was launched and this third generation model sticks true to the original. Narrow windows, long and flowing character lines along with the signature sloping roof give the car a presence whether it’s moving or not. Sharp, angular lights on the nose and tail which previewed the design direction we are now seeing throughout the rest of the passenger car range.

 

Externally the pre-facelift 53 gets a twin-blade grille with the facelift model receiving an updated front bumper and AMG-specific vertical grille, a small lip spoiler on the boot lid and four exhausts flanking the rear diffuser. Perfect.

 

The key in my pocket is for a selenite grey metallic CLS 53 with a Bengal red/black leather interior. Open it up to be greeted by the 3D design of the cabin which never ceases to amaze me. It’s an environment where the narrow side windows make sense – you feel as though the car embraces you as the door closes.

 

The outside world is more than a thought and a pane of insulated glass away; the isolation is worthy of being considered part of the S-Class family. The starter button glows as if asking to be pressed; without hesitation the powerplant springs into life in an instant thanks to the integrated starter/generator (ISG) of EQ Boost. It’s not obnoxiously loud yet it’s not quite subdued. Sure, I’ve heard louder 6-pots on start up but the CLS by nature has never been too unruly.


 

 

                                                                                   

 

The last thing to do before leaving is to configure the Head Up Display (HUD) to show me an elongated rev counter, my speed and the navigation directions as there’s a few miles ahead. Oh, and to connect my phone for a healthy amount of liquid drum and bass.

 

My idea of hell is driving through a city. Nothing comes close to being as infuriating and claustrophobic in equal measure. City driving is quite often an inconvenient cocktail of lunatics, tailbacks and traffic lights – attempting to walk across a manure field in flip flops and socks would be more pleasant.

 

Thankfully, the good city of Milton Keynes exists which is the first city in the country to think logically when it comes to town planning whilst making use of something that seems to be alien in most other new-build urban/suburban areas: the national speed limit. Additionally, there appears to be nobody around on this crisp and clear morning.

 

This is a city that I know rather well so paying attention to the navigation directions is not a concern of mine; instead, I can carry on the conversation with the CLS 53. The steering is well weighted depending on how much speed you are carrying – light at low speeds, heavier at high speeds – turn in is confidence inspiring. Not too sharp but it does mirror the amount of pressure you put on the steering wheel.

 

The three stage adjustable air suspension? Stable, unsettled, comfortable. Pretty good so far.

 

After a little bit of time on a motorway and letting the CLS do most of the work for me with the incredibly intelligent Driving Assistance Package it’s time to get this two-ton, three litre, four door, five seat, six-cylinder performance luxury car on one of my favourite ribbons of tarmac in the country.

 

The CLS 53 and I head towards a road that I’ve traced back and forth countless times – one that keeps me coming back for its mixture of fast, sweeping cambered bends, long straights and the occasional sharp S or double S bend. Elevation changes and the occasional pretty village with as many resident pheasants as humans just add to the theatre of this route through the rolling hills of this part of the world. This road has the right mixture of flowing sections that are more technical than one may imagine simply by looking at their profile on a map. It’s here where the relationship starts to develop and the trust starts to grow.


 

 

                                                                                  

 

 

The AMG CLS 53 offers bags of grip thanks to its wide tyres, wide track and omniscient combination of the 4MATIC+ all wheel drive and electronic witchcraft from the ESP and traction control. It’s communicative and feeds back instantly – if you try to throw it into a bend it won’t be too happy but it will tell you to be a little more gentle and progressive with the next turn-in. Lean on it, let the weight and power shift around and be smooth. Smooth is fast, as they say. Through a mixture of dips and cambered corners the car starts to come into its own.

 

Half an hour later I need not think twice about how to attack the next bends. The CLS has gone from embracing me when I jumped in to completely shrinking around me. I feel dialled in to the powertrain – locked on the target of extracting everything this phenomenal machine has to offer like a seagull that has just spotted some freshly cooked, freshly bought chips. This is a car that likes to flow through the bends rather than being pushed. I love the way the car is able to carry speed from apex to apex with no fuss. 

 

My playlist has long since been switched off so I can hear that super smooth six singing towards the red line and crackling back down through the nine gears I have at my disposal. I’m not the only one driving here. The CLS 53 and myself are driving together. The more I talk to the car the more it gives back. More confidence, more grip, more and more reasons to enjoy every mile – every yard.

 

That engine under the bonnet is quite something. Instantly responsive – the additional 22 hp and 250 nm from the electric motor help the car to take the first few steps in its march towards the horizon. It torque fills between gearchanges as well as spooling up the exhaust turbocharger to eliminate the word “delay” from its vocabulary when you require some additional schnell. On the few moments where my gaze drops down from the HUD to the instrument display I see the EQ Boost Power/Charge meter zipping from side to side telling me how the mild hybrid is influencing the drive.


 

 

                                                                                  

 

The key part of the word powertrain here is train as this combination of combustion engine and electric motor have locomotive levels of strength. It is unrelenting yet not intimidating; it’s usable, exploitable and enjoyable whilst making a superb array of notes through those four pipes at the rear. It sounds incredible – coming from someone who has grown up in and around V6 and V8s and is genetically engineered to prefer the sounds of an engine with two rows of cylinders is quite some praise indeed. All the while it stays smooth and well balanced enough to leave a coin on top whilst it’s running. This is some engine.

 

On the home stretch towards my destination as I head into the final town I pause for a moment and think. This is a journey that I would happily add another 200 miles to. If the car wasn’t needed at its destination I would have done anything possible to keep it in my possession. What an experience this journey has been. What a drive. What a feeling. 

 

The telepathic response from this all-capable machine truly defies its size and blew any preconceived thought I had about this lesser-spotted model out of the water. There are more powerful models in the AMG range. There are more cylinders to be had, more bars in the grille to be found, more this and more that. 

 

Does that matter to me? Not one bit. 

 

That wonderful powertrain delivering the combined 457 hp and 770 nm to all four wheels is addictive and usable; there’s not too much performance that a two second stab of the loud pedal will launch you either into orbit or a lot of trouble. Having driven all manner of things from south of 50 hp to well north of 600 hp I’d say that my sweet spot for power output is somewhere between 400 and 470 hp. As power is merely a resultant force of torque being generated by the engine I say the more torque the merrier.


 

 

                                                                                     

 

The AMG CLS 53 is on the larger end of cars that I enjoy driving yet it is not as wide as a bus and there was no need to stand on the brakes whenever faced with any oncoming traffic on a single carriageway. The ride is superbly well damped and the suspension does a fantastic job of cleaning up the imperfections in the road surface without making you feel disconnected from it. The car can cruise quietly and comfortably for days at low revs in its long 9th gear and drop 5 ratios if you’d prefer not to look at whatever is spoiling the view of the world in front of you. It’s always ready to go. Ready to perform.

 

The mixture of a beautiful body and endearing soul is hard to find. The interior is a first class suite; luxurious, effortlessly. The styling is elegantly purposeful; a sleeper with minimal hints to what lies within. Those that know, know. The AMG CLS 53 4MATIC+ marches towards the horizon with the determination of an armoured brigade and sticks to the ground like a bluebottle to fly paper. Right car + right road = one very happy driver.

 

It’s a car that I yearn to get behind the wheel of again and experience that cross-country trip again and again. 

 

It gives me a few feelings. First of all it feels like an AMG. Secondly it feels alive. Perhaps, most importantly, it feels just right. I want one.


 

                                                                                     

 

The new CLS will be arriving soon, featuring a blend of intelligent interior technology with the beautiful design that we have got to know and love over the years.