Monday, 06 May 2024 15:50

2024 Mercedes-AMG CLE53: The Coupe, Made Swole

"We're going to pump—[clap!]—you up!" One imagines Hans, Franz, and all their pals at AMG reacting thusly to the new Mercedes-Benz CLE coupe, which debuted last summer in four-cylinder CLE300 and six-cylinder CLE450 form. After a muscle-building regimen at AMG HQ in Affalterbach, the result is the Mercedes-AMG CLE53.

The vertical-slat grille may be the first-noticed telltale that this is the AMG version, but the more transformative elements are the swollen front and rear fenders that accommodate similarly wider tracks, by 2.3 inches in front and 3.0 in back, compared to the regular CLE coupe. Additionally, the AMG-specific front fenders allowed the CLE53's front wheels to move 0.4 inch forward, giving the car a fractionally longer wheelbase. The lower front air intake also grows larger, the reshaped hood incorporates a functional vent, sill extensions protrude from the lower body, there are quad exhaust outlets, and the decklid sprouts a small ducktail spoiler. The optional AMG Performance Studio package adds a rear diffuser, a larger rear spoiler, and tweaks to the front fascia. The sum total of the changes gives this car some visual menace, and the available matte paint finish really helps that vibe.

What Motivates the CLE53

The CLE53 doesn't follow the lead of the Mercedes-AMG C63 sedan, which employs a highly complex turbocharged four-cylinder plug-in-hybrid powertrain. Instead, it sticks with a turbocharged and supercharged 3.0-liter inline-six. As in the CLE450, the turbo six is aided by a 48-volt hybrid system, but the AMG version kicks things up a notch. In the CLE53, it's energized with 443 horsepower and 413 pound-feet of torque—with an overboost function adding another 30 pound-feet for up to 10 seconds. Those are hearty increases over the Benz variant (375 horses, 369 pound-feet) and also represent a bump of 14 horses over the previous "53" models. The extra output comes courtesy of a new electrically driven turbocharger that increases boost pressure and provides the overboost function. Additional changes include new piston rings and revamped inlet and outlet channels.

While the rival BMW M4 offers a manual transmission, AMG has no interest in manuals, and there isn't one here. Shifting duties are handled by an AMG-modified nine-speed automatic that, unusually for AMG, retains a torque converter. Even without a clutch pack, however, it still incorporates a Race Start function, which is accessible in Sport mode and above, simply by holding the brake and mashing the gas. All-wheel drive is standard, as it is in all CLE models, and AMG's rear-biased system can decouple the front axle and send 100 percent of the grunt rearward. Spec the AMG Dynamic Plus package, and you get a Race drive mode in addition to Comfort, Sport, Sport+, Individual, and Slippery. Within Race, a Drift function can be unlocked, though it's a multistep procedure. The package also includes adaptive engine mounts and red brake calipers. All CLE53s have the same brake hardware, however, with 14.6-inch vented front discs squeezed by four-piston calipers and 14.2-inch vented rear discs. An AMG Driver's package available in other markets raises the speed limiter from 155 mph to 168 mph, but it won't be offered in the U.S.

Driving the CLE53

The boosted six fires up without the throat-clearing of AMG's V-8s, and even with the active exhaust switched into its more vocal program, there's only the faintest burble when lifting off the throttle. Still, the engine sounds great as it climbs the tach, and we don't miss the theatricality—although some might. The powertrain is plenty strong, with AMG quoting a 4.2-second zero-to-60-mph time and 4.0 seconds with Race Start. That strikes us as conservative; we expect a number in the high threes.

We drive a nearly endless series of curves climbing up and down the mountains in Tenerife, Spain, with zero runoff and only occasional guardrails, and the CLE53's helm provides a welcome measure of feedback, more notably in Sport and Sport+. This marks a real improvement over the standard CLE coupe. We'd wish only for a greater buildup of effort when winding on more lock. Powering out of slow corners, the more rearward torque bias in the sportier drive modes also can be felt, and the standard rear-wheel steering, which turns the rear wheels opposite the fronts by up to 2.5 degrees at speeds up to 60 mph, sharpens cornering response. AMG fits the CLE53 with steel springs and adaptive dampers, which vary in stiffness based on the drive mode. Firm body control is to be expected in an AMG product, and you'll find that here. Stray from Comfort mode, however, and you'll also feel some ride harshness.

The car we drove had the optional AMG Performance Seats, which are firmly padded and narrow at the hips, but they do hold you in place—and without the sadism of the most extreme BMW M chairs. The driver looks out over an AMG-specific hood with twin raised bulges. In tight corners, you find yourself peering around the beefy A-pillars, and as you might expect, rearward visibility through the dramatically sloping back glass is not great.

The AMG-specific steering wheel includes two dials to switch among the overall drive modes or individual parameters (exhaust, suspension, etc.). The CLE53's 12.3-inch instrument screen allows the driver to keep tabs on additional performance metrics compared to the regular CLE, but the 11.9-inch center touchscreen with the third-gen MBUX system is essentially the same as in the Benz coupe and C-class sedan. This infotainment can't match the ease of use of BMW's 4-series, and the touch-sensitive buttons and sliders are not ideal during high-intensity driving.

Currently, this is the sole Mercedes-AMG two-door other than the SL and AMG GT sports cars. Looking at competing coupes, the CLE53 lines up nicely against the Audi RS5 but isn't as powerful as the BMW M4, nor is it as hardcore as the M4's CS and Competition variants. However, while this is the first time AMG laid its hands on the new coupe, it may not be the last—we anticipate a CLE63 variant will join at some point. A more steroidal AMG CLE may be in the offing, but the gym-toned CLE53 successfully brings a dose of the brand's characteristic swagger to Benz's mid-size two-door.


2024 Mercedes-AMG CLE53
Vehicle Type: front-engine, all-wheel-drive, 4-passenger, 2-door coupe

Base: $80,000

supercharged, turbocharged, and intercooled DOHC 24-valve inline-6, aluminum block and head, direct fuel injection
Displacement: 183 in3, 2999 cm3
Power: 443 hp @ 6100 rpm
Torque: 443 lb-ft @ 2200 rpm

9-speed automatic

Wheelbase: 113.2 in
Length: 191.0 in
Width: 74.2 in
Height: 56.5 in
Passenger Volume, F/R: 55/37 ft3
Trunk Volume: 15 ft3
Curb Weight (C/D est): 4400 lb

60 mph: 3.8 sec
100 mph: 9.8 sec
1/4-Mile: 12.2 sec
Top Speed: 155 mph

Combined/City/Highway: 23/20/28 mpg


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