Mercedes-AMG CLE 53 Review: A Good Car, But Not A Great AMG

The Mercedes-AMG CLE 53 is here with 443bhp straight-six power. We head to Tenerife to get behind the wheel...
Mercedes-AMG CLE 53, front 3/4
Mercedes-AMG CLE 53, front 3/4


Shedloads of grip
Retains the core goodness of the CLE


Lack of engagement when you’re pushing it
Suspension likely to feel back-breaking in the UK

Mercedes-AMG’s big-boy 63 models are in an odd place right now. Take a look at the C63 (and GLC 63 for that matter): its hybrid four-pot mish-mash is a fascinating bit of engineering that hasn’t translated well into making an exciting car. Meanwhile, the AMG GT plug-ins are proving the V8 works with some electrical assistance but the prices are beyond astronomical.

Yet there are rumours constantly brewing that V8 will return to the smaller AMG models, despite Mercedes' insistence it's not happening and the all-but-confirmed hybrid straight-six in the upcoming E63. It seems AMG can’t just decide on one route.

This leaves us in the odd position of the sweetest AMGs on sale today not being the most powerful, with the 53 cars tickling a certain fancy. This brings us nicely to the CLE 53.

Mercedes-AMG CLE 53, rear 3/4
Mercedes-AMG CLE 53, rear 3/4

The CLE itself is an odd car, directly replacing both the C- and E-Class Coupes and falling directly in the middle of the two. Throw a 443bhp straight-six under the bonnet, and it becomes a little more perplexing still.

It’s bigger and more powerful than a BMW M440i and Audi S5, and more expensive as a result, yet no real rival on paper for the M4 or RS5. It’s more comparable in size to the old M550i or S7, but being a coupe (and a proper one, not a pseudo-four-door marketing exercise at that), doesn’t directly compete with them either.

As a standalone thing, though, it looks the part. It may not be a full-fat 63, but AMG has left its imprint on the design of this CLE. Blistered wheel arches help accommodate wider front and rear tracks and increase the overall width of the car by 75mm, which gives it a seriously aggressive stance.

Mercedes-AMG CLE 53, side
Mercedes-AMG CLE 53, side

You’ve got the option of chrome, matte black or carbon trim buts but all versions get more aggressive bumpers over an AMG Line plus the trademark Panamericana grille, as well as a vented, bulging bonnet. The overall effect is profound - it looks the part.

Changes inside aren’t quite so aggressive but then again, such are AMG Line models now, there’s not much to tweak. You do get a CLE 53-specific steering wheel which incorporates the plethora of customisable drive and chassis settings, though it does inherit the infuriating touch-sensitive buttons of the base car.

Sports seats are standard but you’ll want the optional AMG Performance ones, even if they are part of a £7,500 option package (yes, tick that box - it adds Race mode - which we’ll get to). They’ll hug you nicely but without feeling like your arse is jammed into a rock-solid carbon bucket.

Mercedes-AMG CLE 53, interior
Mercedes-AMG CLE 53, interior

Otherwise, the usual CLE stuff applies. Build and material quality is OK, and above the manufacturer’s recent EQ offerings, yet still feels a step down from Mercs of old. The MBUX infotainment is user-friendly but the car relies on it too much for key functions, but that’s the same for so many new cars these days.

The driving position itself is great and with lots of adjustability, and you’ve got a pretty generous amount of room to stretch out in.

Fortunately, as with its exterior, the CLE 53 is changed comprehensively under the skin. It rides on AMG Ride Control suspension as standard - linking up steel springs with adaptive dampers - along with rear-axle steering. The latter allows the rear wheels to turn up to 2.5 degrees opposite of the fronts below 62mph for a little more agility, and up to 0.7 degrees in parallel at speeds above.

Mercedes-AMG CLE 53, front 3/4
Mercedes-AMG CLE 53, front 3/4

There’s also been a reworking of the 4Matic all-wheel drive system, with power delivery more rear-biased, and a new ESP Sport setting that should, in theory, allow for some more controlled slip.

The result? A car that feels exceptionally capable, yet not all that engaging. There’s an absolute shedload of traction, helped in part by Michelin Pilot Sport 5 S tyres, which is great when you’re really wanting to exploit its power.

Yet, despite the more rear-biased setup and even in its most fun setting, Race Mode, it doesn’t ever feel like it wants you to let loose. It’ll do it, sure, but it doesn’t feel natural - more akin to how Audi RS systems feel than what you’d want from an AMG.

Mercedes-AMG CLE 53, interior, driving
Mercedes-AMG CLE 53, interior, driving

That’s not helped by a feeling of disconnect through the wheel. Although direct, there’s a sense of insulation from the car while you’re trying to carve up corners - like you’re hooked up to it through a force feedback sim racing wheel rather than really being in the car.

This contrasts with the suspension which, even in its more sedate ‘Sport’ setting rather than all-out Race, jolts quite noticeably over the slightest of bumps. Not a dealbreaker out on the smooth Tenerife roads we tested it on, but a concerning sign that even the softest settings in the UK will prove back-breaking.

At least you can exploit all of the 443bhp and 443lb ft of torque (in overboost, anyway – normally you get 412lb ft) from the 3.0-litre twin-turbo straight-six. It’s a great engine, with strong mid-range grunt and consistent delivery of its power. Paired up with this nine-speed torque converter, it can feel a little hampered at times - shifts can be very snappy but not consistently - but the combo generally works well. Now, strap an extra electric motor to it and it could make this chassis really work.

Mercedes-AMG CLE 53, engine
Mercedes-AMG CLE 53, engine

Settle down to more gentle driving and the CLE 53 is, well, a CLE. It rides nicely at motorway speeds and doesn’t let in a great deal of wind noise or even road noise despite the beefier tyres. The upside of artificially enhanced sounds on performance cars these days is they’re not so intrusive when you just want to relax. The thing is though, it does none of this better than a CLE450.

We need to talk price, too. You’ll need at least £73,075 for a Mercedes-AMG CLE 53 and, once you’ve gone for the Night Edition Premium Plus (ah, Mercedes trim names…) to allow you to spec the must-have £7,500 Pro Performance package, you’re in for £86,325.

By that point, the £4,000 stretch to a BMW M4 xDrive with its extra 79bhp and greater engagement is awfully tempting.

The CLE 53 is a good car, let’s not get that fact wrong. But a great AMG? No. Not yet at least – let’s see what the 63 brings… 


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