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Road tests

New Mercedes-AMG CLE 53 review: held back by its downsized engine

While the new Mercedes-AMG CLE 53 looks the part, it's 3.0-litre straight-six engine is somewhat disappointing

Overall Auto Express Rating

3.5 out of 5

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Verdict

Mercedes-AMG is thoroughly overhauling its product strategy with downsized engines and a rationalised range, with the new CLE 53 4MATIC+ its latest high-performance offering. But while it looks like an AMG, drives like an AMG, and even feels like an AMG inside the luxurious cabin, it’s let down by what used to be the company’s USP: its engine.   

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Unlike the regular Mercedes CLE, this AMG model replaces one model rather than two – that of the previous-generation AMG C 63 Coupe

Despite being the masters at filling every available niche, Mercedes didn't think there was enough of market for its previous-generation E-Class Coupe to be offered as a full-fat E 63. Which was a peculiar decision considering it was happy to apply the AMG treatment to every one of its SUVs – and even the S-Class limousine. 

The CLE 53 4MATIC+, to give it its full name, might have had some detailed attention from those based in AMG’s Affaltabach’s HQ, but to the core AMG fan they will question its AMG provenance and credentials. As do we. 

It certainly looks like a full-blooded AMG model. Its wider front and rear wheel arches are both aesthetic as well as functional, allowing the car’s 58mm wider front and 75mm wider rear tracks to be incorporated into the design. There’s also a specific AMG front grille with large openings for improved cooling, and a rear diffuser that sits beneath a rear spoiler fixed to the bootlid’s trailing edge. The look is completed by a set of multi-spoke 20-inch wheels.

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A great deal of work has gone on beneath the CLE 53’s body, too. Much of which hits the mark, with one sizeable component that doesn’t. That’s where we'll start, because the 3.0-litre straight-six engine is the car’s Achilles’ heel. 

It’s based on the same unit fitted to the regular CLE 450, with AMG redesigning the inlet and outlet channels in the combustion chambers, fitting new piston rings and a new exhaust gas turbocharger that allows for an increase in boost pressure from 0.4 to 1.5 bar. It has the optimised fuel injection system, too.

Combined with a mild-hybrid system, the numbers are not insignificant. Peak power is rated at 449bhp, and torque stands at 600Nm with overboost deployed. 

Despite this detailed work, it’s an engine that feels less than the sum of its parts. The throttle response is languid in both Comfort and Sport mode, and even when you twist the rotary control mounted on the base of the steering wheel to Sport+ (or even Race – only available with the AMG Dynamic Plus package) the engine’s responses lack the expected AMG spark. It’s slow to rev and, as such, gaining momentum seems to take longer than you’d expect; despite a claimed 0-62mph time of four seconds, it never feels alive nor exciting. And certainly nowhere near your expectations of an AMG engine.

However, what AMG has achieved is the creation of a very precise and unexpectedly detailed chassis that provides the CLE 53 with a platform to behave more like a performance car. At high speeds it can feel flat and uninvolving, prioritising grip and a neutral balance to suit a broader spectrum of drivers. Its variable 4MATIC+ four-wheel drive system remains neutral, the steel springs and sport-oriented damper settings provide reassuring levels of stability; the CLE 53 feels resolutely pinned to the road surface.

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On slower, more technical sections, the car impresses more. It’s more agile and precise than we expected, thanks to its rear-wheel steering that helps the car get in and out of the corner as cleanly as possible. From The driver’s seat you don’t feel the wheels turning in opposite directions, but you can sense the car pivoting around your mid-point providing the encouragement to push on and enjoy the CLE 53’s dynamic delights. It makes for a car with an approachable nature to its performance. If it had a stronger, more characterful engine it would be better still. 

From inside, the CLE 53 it feels very AMG, with the (optional) sports seats pinching and holding you where you need them to. The ergonomics are well suited to a myriad of body shapes, but while the rear two seats might put Porsche’s 911 Carrera to shame, the lower rear roofline and pinched width of the cabin would make for a claustrophobic space after a couple of hours.

In a world where a C 63 saloon is a few quid short of £100k, the CLE 53 looks like decent value at £73,075. However, BMW’s M440i XDrive costs from £60,725 and is superior to the Mercedes in pretty much every area. 

Model:Mercedes-AMG CLE 53 4MATIC+
Price:£73,075
Engine:3.0-litre 6cyl turbo petrol MHEV
Power/torque:449hp/600Nm
Transmission:Nine-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
0-62mph:4.2 seconds
Top speed:155mph
Economy/CO2:29.4mpg/217g/km
Dimensions:4,853/2,041/1,435
On sale:Now
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