It’s still a gem of a car, but hardcore fans will pine for the purity of the first-generation version
The CLS has always been my favourite Mercedes model for many reasons.
While the general Mercedes buyer a decade ago would expect a large and elegant vehicle with lots of interior space, the first-gen CLS, first launched in 2005, offers quite the opposite. Despite its 4.9-metre body length, the extra-low roofline gave it a height of just 1,389mm. Sleek-looking it was, but the fact is it wasn’t a spacious car.
I love to compare the CLS to a family member – that mysterious underworld uncle who comes to the family reunion with plenty of gifts, but never tells you what he does for a living – imagine Christopher Walken.
Of course the CLS isn’t perfect, with the low roof offering little headroom, particularly for the rear passengers. But that was another reason I liked it so much – this was an example of style taking over practicality, something you don’t expect from well-engineered German cars.
The long wheelbase and flat body provided the CLS with a comfortable and stable ride too, with a bunch of engine choices.
Since the first generation, the CLS has been a popular niche model in the Thai market, being marketed in large numbers by both official dealerships and grey importers.
The second-gen car came around in 2011, and while the flat windows and low roof concept were retained, the front- and rear-end design were softened along with a less-aggressive bodyline.
For 2018, the third-generation CLS has been introduced and will arrive in Mercedes showrooms in Thailand later this year.
As you can see, the biggest changes again are at the front and rear (and the low roof still needs to be there, otherwise it wouldn’t be a CLS). The new CLS looks modern and sleek coming with a low drag co-efficient (Cd) of just 0.26. Still, the new face design has been mellowed down further, and has a bigger similarity to other Mercedes models with that grille design. The rear-end, meanwhile, comes with sleek horizontal lights that are trendy in design, but I did mistake it for an Audi from a distance.
Seems like the new CLS is targeted at a wider customer group. There are now five seats instead of four (what for?) and interior space has been increased dramatically, offering plenty of headroom, shoulder room and legroom. The car has actually grown in size as well, measuring 5 metres in length and almost 1.9 metres wide. It’s much taller than the first-gen car too, standing at 1,422mm for the Mercedes-AMG CLS 53 4MATIC+ model featured today.
Talking about Mercedes-AMG, the brand recently started being assembled in Thailand, with C 43 Coupe 4MATIC SKD kits being put together at the TAAP plant in Samut Prakan.
This had significantly lowered the retail price of the car from Bt5.19 million to just Bt4.14 million.
And while there is no confirmation that the CLS 53 will be offered (the first model to hit the Thai market will come with a 3.0-litre diesel followed by a 4-cylinder petrol), I am pretty sure it will eventually come when the timing is right. The interior of the CLS 53 is highlighted by the two large high-resolution screens sharing one glass cover, and appearing as a widescreen cockpit.
The sporty side provides plenty of lateral support, particularly while cornering hard as the side bolsters squeeze inwards automatically. As mentioned, there is plenty of space as well, offering passengers a relaxed atmosphere. The luggage area is also good, measuring in at 520 litres (rear seat backrests are split-foldable as well).
Speaking of atmosphere – the interior lighting offers a combination of 64 colours, 10 colour themes and two effects. The dash air vents are reminiscent of jet turbines, and also illuminated. They turn red with the heater and blue with the cooler.
But really, the highlight of any AMG vehicle is the engine and in the case of the CLS 53, some points are pretty interesting.
First is that instead of the regular V6 motor, this one comes with an in-line-six that you’d normally associate with a BMW. Not that Mercedes has never offered a straight-six, but it’s not what you’d normally expect. An advantage of the in-line-six, and you can clearly notice it in the C 53, is the smoothness once you fire up the engine.
The good thing about this engine is that it’s really compact and is not much longer than a conventional V6, with twin-turbocharging churning out as much as 435hp and 520Nm. The EQ Boost starter/generator system (which is being offered across the Mercedes product range) throws in another 25hp and 250Nm over a short period. It also feeds the 48-volt on-board electrical system – meaning that it uses a 48-volt battery.
A clear advantage of this system is that it builds up high charge pressure without any delay, resulting in better response and acceleration.
The CLS 53 gets a new AMG SPEEDSHIFT 9-speed gearbox that provides you with short shift times, double de-clutching and multiple downshifts.
While the C 43 comes with the 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system with a fixed 30-70 front-rear-power distribution, the C 53’s 4MATIC+ is fully variable. The test drive event was held in Barcelona last week, and the snowy weather was perfect for testing out the car’s grip.
The CLS 53 can accelerate from 0-100km/h in 4.5 seconds and reach an electronically-limited top speed of 250km/h (270km/h with the Driver’s Package). The CLS runs on multi-link suspension, both front and rear, and gets AMG’s speed-sensitive steering that provides a good feel and weight at high speeds.
In Sport+ mode the CLS 53 performed with much enthusiasm, the powertrain unleashing its potential without any signs of turbo lag. Unfortunately, the car weighs in at 1.9 tonnes, and even the 435hp engine and the boost function isn’t going to turn it into a supercar.
Nevertheless, bear in mind that you’re capable of going faster than a Lamborghini Countach in the CLS 53, and in style too, with the retarded ignition purposely igniting backfires that gets the attention of others on the road.
“Did you hear the crackles? I was driving behind you,” I asked a fellow Thai journalist who was in front. His reply was, “You bet I did all the way!”
Driving the CLS 53 through serpentine Spanish roads was entertaining. I could enter tight corners easily with good precision and tight body control despite the car’s large dimensions and the slippery road condition.
Large vented discs at the front (4-piston calipers) and rear (1-piston caliper) provide good bite when the 1.9-tonne car needs to decelerate.
There are plenty of driver assistance systems and other features in the new CLS, but for the Thai market, we’ll have to see what the marketing guys at Mercedes-Benz (Thailand) decide to offer.
For me, the new CLS has become a more complete car despite its original hard-headed styling being toned down somewhat. It’s going to appeal to more people surely, but for those who want that no-nonsense “purist” design, we all just might have to wait longer.
Mercedes-AMG C53 4MATIC+ specs
Engine: inline 6-cylinder 24 valve with turbocharger and electric auxiliary compressor
Bore and stroke: 83.0x92.4mm
Compression ratio: 10.5:1
Max power: 435hp/6,100rpm
Max torque: 520Nm/1,800-5,800rpm
Transmission: 9-speed automatic
0-100kmh: 4.5 seconds
Top speed: 250km/h
Average fuel economy: 11.4km/litre
Average CO2: 200g/km
Suspension (f/r): four-link, air springs, stabiliser/five-link, air springs, stabiliser
Steering: powered rack-and-pinion
Turning circle: 12.3 metres
Brakes (f/r): vented disc/vented disc
Track (f/r): 1,647/1,637
Kerb weight: 1,980kgs
Wheels: 19-inch alloys
Tyres: 245/40R19 (front), 275/35 R19 (rear
Fuel tank capacity: 73 litres
Price: to be announced
Distributor: Mercedes-Benz (Thailand) Ltd