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2024 Mercedes-AMG CLE 53 First Drive: The Do-It-All Sport Coupe

The AMG CLE is a masterful combination of performance, style, comfort and practicality

2024 Mercedes-AMG CLE 53 coupe
  • Upgraded turbocharged mild hybrid 3.0-liter delivers a healthy 443 horsepower and 413 lb-ft of torque.
  • 4Matic all-wheel drive is standard, but an optional Drift mode turns this into a genuine rear-drive coupe.
  • Arrives summer 2024, with pricing expected to start around $76,000.

The Mercedes-AMG CLE 53 is the new CLE Coupe in its finest form. A car like the CLE exists to evoke the excitement of a sport coupe without completely abandoning all practical considerations. As we noted in our original first drive article, the CLE combines the space of the outgoing E-Class Coupe with more visually appealing proportions of the similarly discontinued C-Class Coupe. As for the AMG CLE 53 version, it takes what is already a comfortable, and surprisingly accommodating, coupe and cranks up the driving and visual pleasure.

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2024 Mercedes-AMG CLE 53 profile

Nipped and tucked

Perhaps you'd be surprised to learn, as I was, that the design team that chiseled out the final form of the AMG CLE is completely different from the one that composed the standard CLE Coupe and Cabriolet. Maybe it's the tasteful restraint in evolving the design to the AMG aesthetic that suggests the original artist had a hand in it. The gain in muscularity is distinctive but never too exaggerated — more Captain America than Incredible Hulk.

The front end's bolder grille and accentuated contours give you the first hints that the AMG 53 is special. From some angles, you may even completely overlook the vent that's been added between the hood's two longitudinal power dome creases. It's harder to miss the bulging fenders stretching outward to house the front and rear wheels, which have been pushed out by 2.3 inches and 3 inches, respectively. Gorgeous 20-in deep dish wheels sporting meaty 265-millimeter section tires up front and 295-mm wide tires at the rear, do a great job of filling the wheel arches in addition to providing extra stick on the road. We're told the AMG wheelbase was lengthened by 10 millimeters to better accommodate the larger standard 19-inch and optional 20-inch wheels.

2024 Mercedes-AMG CLE 53 rear

The interior of the AMG CLE is equipped with the latest third-generation Mercedes MBUX infotainment interface and is flanked with glossy carbon fiber in place of the pinstriped wood trim in the cruisier CLE models. The flat-bottom AMG steering wheel adds grippy material at the proper hand placement spot, plus two round dials at 4 and 8 o'clock that allow for quick adjustments of various drive systems, such as suspension damping and power distribution for the all-wheel-drive system, on the go.

The standard seats get AMG support enhancements but my test car was fitted with the optional AMG Performance seat package that has additional bolstering. While I love how well the sport seats held me in place, they felt a bit snug at the upper back and the side bolsters were a little too pronounced that my elbows would make contact with them if sitting in my normal sport-driving position.

2024 Mercedes-AMG CLE 53 dashboard

Open heart surgery

At the center of every AMG is an engine to back up that extra wide-body swagger. The familiar, silky smooth turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six engine that's graced many of the 53-series AMG models before has been upgraded for the CLE. More efficient combustion chambers, new piston rings, revised fuel injection, and a larger turbocharger all contribute to a nice performance bump to the tune of 443 horsepower and 413 lb-ft of torque (with up to 443 lb-ft for 10-second bursts using overboost). For those about to Google it, that's an increase of 14 hp and 29 lb-ft (not counting overboost) compared to the Mercedes-AMG E 53 from last year. Like previous 53-series engines, an integrated starter generator is used here. It's a small electric motor residing in the transmission bell housing, contributing as much as 23 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque at lower speeds. Additionally, a revised electric compressor helps maintain higher torque over a broader range of engine speeds, particularly at the low end where the turbocharger hasn't fully kicked in.

2024 Mercedes-AMG CLE 53 engine

On the road

What this all translates to on the road is a highly responsive and potent engine that delivers Goldilocks levels of linear thrust, not too crazy but enough to get those endorphins flowing. Mercedes estimates it'll serve up 60 mph sprints in about 4.0 seconds, which feels accurate according to our butt dyno, but we won't know for sure until we can verify for ourselves at the Edmunds test track. What we do know is that we wouldn't need, or want, any more power for the street.

We know a torque-converter automatic sounds like a rather unsexy pairing for such a marvel of an engine, but AMG has somehow managed to make this nine-speed box feel nearly as sharp dual-clutch unit. Shifts are quick and crisp, and in the more dynamic Sport+ and Race modes, it'll even proactively downshift and hold a gear through a corner until you tag the engine's redline. My passenger fully believed I was orchestrating the gearshifts with the paddles until he heard me commend our car for such fine shifting.

2024 Mercedes-AMG CLE 53 rear three-quarter

We had some decent, albeit narrow, mountain roads with which to stretch the CLE 53's legs some. The CLE AMG's standard rear-axle steering system and 4Matic all-wheel drive really shined on tight switchbacks. The rear steer effectively helps to shorten the CLE's wheelbase by providing up to 2.5 degrees of directional articulation, while the 4Matic all-wheel drive distributes all the power down to pavement without much need for finesse, allowing you to fire out of corners with laughable abandon. 

All-wheel-drive traction is undeniably effective for going fast, but nothing quite satisfies like laying down fresh strips of rubber exiting a corner. The AMG Dynamic Plus package unlocks both a more aggressive Race mode, and also a Drift mode that enables 100% of the engine torque to be sent to the rear wheels 100% of the time. You also get dynamic engine mounts that help reduce engine movement whilst laying down said rubber strips and red painted brake calipers that serve purely to signify that you've checked that box.

The AMG CLE also shines for daily driving. The adaptive suspension rides more firmly than the CLE 300 but is still quite comfortable. Plus, the turbo inline-six can either fade into the background or make great noises when you want it to.

2024 Mercedes-AMG CLE 53 coupe interior

What about the competition?

The AMG CLE squares up against some of the biggest performance game, namely the BMW M4 and Audi RS 5. Both offer significant power under hood, and are possibly a half beat quicker than the CLE 53 by the numbers, but lack the handling engagement that well-rounded sport coupes should have. Despite not being a full-blown AMG 63 model, the CLE 53 is still plenty quick and feels more engaging and balanced compared to the BMW and Audi, so there's just more enjoyment behind the wheel.

2024 Mercedes-AMG CLE 53 front end

Edmunds says

Mercedes took its already sleek-looking new CLE Coupe and gave it the AMG treatment. The result is a near-perfect blend of performance, class, comfort and sporty aesthetic.