The Mercedes-Benz CLS is big on size and big on style. It takes more than that to make a car, though, even if it is aimed at fashion-forward buyers. Because style fades by the first mid-cycle refresh, though, substance must endure.
There's no denying the style of the CLS, of course. It's a four-door coupe with an aggressive AMG Panamericana grille and an athletic nose. Which is backed by a tight tail and subtle lip spoiler. It's the kind of design that looks like it's racing forward even when it is standing still.
Picking the AMG model adds the side sill panels and a rear diffuser as well as that slatted grille. This is an Edition 429 car, which adds jet-black accents to the skirts, mirror housings, and side window surrounds. It includes the car's 20-inch black split five-spoke wheels with a delightfully cheeky chrome lip and matte black badges. It also includes the car's big twin exhaust tips finished in black chrome.
The car is also equipped with the Carbon Fibre package as Mercedes rolled through the options. This pack uses the lightweight material to make the mirror caps and the rear spoiler.
Under the hood is the AMG-tweaked version of the Mercedes-Benz 3.0-litre inline-six. A smooth delight, this engine has 429 hp and 384 lb-ft of torque.
That's not enough, though, said Benz, and so the engine is boosted by the Mercedes EQ Boost 48V starter-generator function that uses two methods to increase performance.
First, it uses an auxiliary electric compressor that squeezes air into the engine for the few moments before the turbocharger can spool. This gives you more boost more quickly and is the reason for the car's knife-sharp throttle response.
As soon as you even think about pressing the accelerator, this electric compressor is up and running. The result is responsiveness that even naturally aspirated engines have trouble matching.
The second performance boost comes directly from the big starter generator. It can add 21 hp of electric assist, along with 184 lb-ft of torque. The former doesn't sound like much, but the latter arrives immediately.
Instant torque from the starter gives you an acceleration boost. It also fires up the engine in an instant when it's shut off at a stop, moving you forward at the same time. The result is a start-stop function that is as natural as a full hybrid and not the afterthought it so often feels like.
While it's impressively responsive, it lacks the visceral feel we expect from even lower-spec AMG models like this. It feels slow to accelerate for a car with this much power - even if it responds immediately - and no matter the mode the adaptive exhaust doesn't ever get loud.
We expect an AMG model in Race mode to be a bit of a handful, or at least loud enough to annoy a neighbour or two. This isn't that.
Inside, this Mercedes-Benz has style to match the bodywork. Yes, it looks like every other Mercedes of this generation, but I consider that a big plus. The brand's use of wide expanses of trim - here it's carbon fibre but you can get eight other finishes including open-pore wood - and leather makes for a cozy and inviting place to sit for driver and front passenger.
Letting you know you're in a big Merc, this CLS has four centre vents. A lesser model only gets three. Another cool touch.
Bengal red leather seats are AMG-specific, meaning they're sports seats with AMG upholstery. The AMG 53 model also includes the AMG Performance steering wheel which is a delight all on its own.
The Dinamica microfibre grip of the wheel feels soft, warm, and satisfying, but the AMG wheel has some tech tricks too. The dials under the wheel to the left and right control have screens within to give you function and customization. The dial on the right controls and displays your drive mode. The one on your left can do two functions at once, and you can choose which two. I had one set to the surround-view cameras and the other to the exhaust noise level, but there are several to pick from.
Other CLS choice features include a particularly good massage seat and Surface Heating. The latter warms your armrests and not just the seats and steering wheel. It's really nice in the cold.
Front seat room is good, rear seat space is ok, and the same goes for the trunk. The rear seat and trunk are both sacrificed somewhat for style, with the low roof and rear deck height, so this isn't exactly a surprise.
So far, this car is coming across as a big boulevardier. A Grand Tourer rather than a sports sedan. The AMG Ride Control+ suspension contributes to that. It's a multi-chamber air suspension backed by "particularly sporty" springs and dampers. The continuously adjustable system can deliver great body control and a wonderful ride, but the constant lateral cracks of Southern Ontario highways are too much for it.
On these roads, the ultra-low-profile tires are clearly unhappy. If you're looking to drive this car like the GT it is, maybe stick with the 19s. Unless you live somewhere with less frost heaving. Fashion comes with a price, it seems.
A sleek and high-performance tourer, the Mercedes-Benz CLS is a delight to sit in and a great ride to be seen in. Canadian buyers can also enjoy the fact that this AMG 53 model isn't sold south of the border so it's a little more exclusive. If only it felt a little bit more AMG when it came time to smash the loud pedal.
2022 Mercedes-Benz AMG CLS 53
Four-door, five-passenger sedan
Front-engine, all-wheel drive
3.0-litre turbocharged inline 6-cylinder with EQ Boost; Power: 429 hp @ 6,100 r.p.m.; Torque: 384 lb-ft @ 1,800-5,800 r.p.m.
(premium gasoline in L/100 km) 11.6 city; 8.8 highway
$99,900 Base. $118,750 As Tested includes $1,900 AMG Driver's Package $900 AMG Track Package $2,500 Edition 429 $3,000 Intelligent Drive Package $4,800 Premium Package, $250 Illuminated Door Sills $2,500 AMG Carbon Fibre Trim $1,500 Black Dinamica Headliner $1,500 Head Up Display.