The first AMG hybrid
Lots of manufacturers offer mild hybrid systems for improved fuel efficiency. Both the 2019 Ram 1500 and Jeep Wrangler use motor-generators and small supplemental batteries to eliminate alternators, which reduces parasitic losses and provides plenty of electric oomph during engine stop/start. But when AMG decides to build a mild hybrid powertrain for the first time, that’s news. Recently, we got behind the wheel of the new 2019 Mercedes-AMG CLS 53 and 2019 Mercedes-AMG E 53 to test the German brand’s mild-hybrid performance cars.
For this review, we drove four different but related cars with the same powertrain: a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six with both an electric compressor (centrifugal supercharger) and an electric motor. The engine itself is good for a healthy 429 hp and 384 lb-ft of torque. The donut-shaped electric motor-generator-starter, which AMG calls EQ Boost, is sandwiched between the engine and the transmission. Under certain circumstances, like hard launches, it can add up to 21 hp and 184-lb-ft of torque to the equation (the reason the motor doesn’t figure into the combined engine + motor output). The electric motor can also propel the car at speed while “sailing” with the engine temporarily dormant for improved fuel economy.
Meantime, the battery-fed e-supercharger spins up to 70,000 rpm in less than a third of a second, eliminating the inherent low-rpm lag from the second exhaust-driven turbocharger. Combined, these systems eliminate all pulleys and belts from the engine, alternator, and starter, and a 48-volt electrical system piggybacks on the usual 12-volt one. It sounds complex—because it is—but I can tell you it all works seamlessly and effectively. The end result feels like, thought doesn’t sound like, a powerful V-8 making at least 429 horsepower. The thing is, despite the power, fuel economy is that of an efficient six-cylinder engine. The once-promised but never quite true adage of “power of an eight-cylinder engine with the economy of six” has come true. Indeed, the respectable 20–21 mpg (11.8-11.2 L/100 km) in the city and 26–28 mpg (9-8.4 L/100 km) on the highway would belie the true performance of the 53 Series cars.
Same Power; Different Wrappers
Mercedes-AMG currently offers this new power unit in one of four body styles: E 53 Sedan, Coupe, and Cabriolet, and the CLS “four-door coupe.” The E Coupe and Cabrio share a common wheelbase and most dimensions; so do the E Sedan and CLS. They all share the same nine-speed dual-clutch automatic and 4Matic+ all-wheel-drive system that can supply up to 100 percent of the power to the rear wheels, or up to 50 percent to the front. We’ve tested the CLS 53 4Matic+ as well as the E 53 4Matic+ Cabriolet and found them both a couple tenths of a second quicker than the manufacturer’s claims. Our 4,474-pound (2,029-kg) CLS 53’s 0–60 time of 4.1 seconds and the 4,602-pound (2,087-kg) Cabriolet’s time of 4.2 seconds demonstrate the potency of the new AMG engine-motor combination.
All are five-seaters except the Cabriolet, which seats four. Driven back to back on rainy Napa, California, back roads, the differences between them are subtle, as one might expect. The shorter-wheelbase Coupe/Cabrio felt sportier by a small margin, but the power was more than ample to dominate the rolling route. Certainly the all-wheel-drive systems were put to good use; not once did I detect wheel slip or spin. The snappy transmission automatically clicked off up- and downshifts like a stopwatch in Sport+ mode (invisible and smooth in Comfort mode), but because of the hilly terrain, I used the obedient paddles most of the time. I found my personal sweet spot to be the E 53 Sedan, which felt incongruously nimble for a sedan, perhaps because it’s claimed to be the lightest by about 100 to 250 pounds (45 to 113 kg). All examples were wearing optional 20-inch wheels and summer tires, so handling complaints were few; however, the CLS 53’s highway ride felt harsher and more intrusive, even in the softer settings. Across the board, the fake engine and exhaust sounds being broadcast through all of the testers’ audio systems were comical, especially in Sport and Sport+ modes.
Pampered and Safe
The list of standard equipment, even at these prices, is long and impressive. From keyless entry and start-up, to heated front seats and dual-zone climate control, to the awesome Burmester audio system and racy flat-bottom steering wheel, the 53 Series cars feel special. Also, we’re big fans of Mercedes’ new, dual 12.3-inch-wide displays and their sharp, high-contrast graphics, deep menus, and customizable configuration. There’s no extra charge for navigation, Apple CarPlay, or Android Auto. Attention assist, blind-spot monitoring, a rear-view camera, and LED headlights and taillights are also standard. One stunner on the CLS was the $21,855 USD Edition 1 option, a comprehensive one-stop shop that ticks nearly all of the desirable option boxes from metallic paint, Nappa leather upholstery, ventilated/massaging front seats, heated rear seats, unique accents, and a head-up display with lane-keep assist, and automated parking.
AMG or AMG Light?
Without the guttural V-8 and V-12 noises we’ve grown to associate with AMG performance derivatives, it’s hard to argue that this new generation might not inspire the same way the division’s cars once did. Merely looking at their performance will tell you these 53 Series cars are, in most cases, more potent and assuredly more efficient. Yet, smaller, more efficient engines and electric propulsion, in increasing amounts, is the future. That AMG found a way to integrate these philosophies in such a seamless and thrilling way should be confirmation that the future AMG is safe and sound.
|2019 Mercedes-AMG 53 Series||E Coupe 4Matic+ | E Cabriolet 4Matic+||E Sedan 4Matic+ | CLS 4Matic+|
|BASE PRICE||$74,695 | $81,345||Front-engine, FWD|
|LAYOUT||Front engine/elec motor, AWD, 5-pass 2-door coupe | 4-pass 2-door convertible||Atkinson cycle I-4, alum block/head + permanent-magnet AC synchronous electric motor|
|ENGINE||3.0L/429-hp/384-lb-ft turbocharged/e-supercharged DOHC 24-valve I-6, plus 21-hp/184-lb-ft elec motor||3.0L/429-hp/384-lb-ft turbocharged/e-supercharged DOHC 24-valve I-6, plus 21-hp/184-lb-ft elec motor|
|TRANSMISSION||9-speed dual-clutch automatic||9-speed dual-clutch automatic|
|CURB WEIGHT||4,450 lb | 4,600 lb (mfr)||4,350 lb | 4,450 lb (mfr)|
|WHEELBASE||113.1 in||115.7 in|
|L x W x H||190.6 x 80.9 x 56.3 in | 56.2 in||195.2 x 73.2 x 57.0 in | 199.1 x 74.4 x 56.0 in|
|0-60 MPH||4.3 sec (mfr est) | 4.2 sec (MT tested)||4.4 sec (mfr est) | 4.1 sec (MT tested)|
|EPA ECON, CITY/HWY/COMB||21/28/23 mpg | 20/26/23 mpg||21/28/24 mpg | 21/27/23 mpg|