More than a decade ago, Mercedes-Benz explored the notion of a coupe with four doors instead of two, a sedan beneath a swooping, low roofline. Thus, the premium German automaker launched the CLS as a 2006 model, redesigning it for 2012.
For 2017, a 9-speed automatic transmission went into the V6-powered CLS400, as well as the CLS550. Otherwise, the CLS is little-changed for 2017.
During its lifetime, the CLS has initiated and then helped define the four-door coupe concept. Still stunning in profile view, the CLS has aged well, as luxury-brand imitators continued to emerge. Mercedes-Benz claims that despite its additional pair of doors, the CLS exhibits classic coupe proportions, including a long hood and frameless side-window glass.
Even today, the CLS qualifies as one of the finest interpretations of the dramatic, indeed, daring, body style. For buyers who appreciate innovative design, this stylish four-door continues to attract attention, despite its age.
Three versions are offered: V6-powered CLS400, CLS550 with a V8 engine, and at the performance summit, the Mercedes-AMG CLS63 S with a mighty 577-horsepower V8.
CLS400 models contain a 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged V6 engine, rated at 329 horsepower and 354 pound-feet of torque. For 2017, the CLS400 gets a 9-speed automatic transmission, like the CLS550.
Stepping up a notch in performance, the CLS550 uses the familiar 4.7-liter twin-turbocharged V8, rated at 402 horsepower and 443 pound-feet of torque. Both regular CLS models come standard with rear-wheel drive, but 4MATIC all-wheel-drive is an option.
Beneath the hood of the AMG-tuned CLS63 S, a handcrafted biturbo 5.5-liter V8 cranks out 577 horsepower and 590 pound-feet of torque, the latter available from 1750 to 5000 rpm. Mercedes-Benz’s 4MATIC is standard on the AMG CLS63 S model, which uses an AMG Speedshift 7-speed automatic transmission.
In addition to superior performance and gratifying luxury, the CLS may be fitted with valuable active-safety technology, though most features are extra-cost options. Standard equipment includes Collision Prevention Assist Plus, which can help prevent rear-end collisions by application of autonomous braking. Available features include adaptive cruise control, Pre-Safe braking with pedestrian detection, blind-spot monitoring, active lane-keep assist, and active parking assistance.
The Audio 20 CD system includes Bluetooth audio, satellite radio, and the Gracenote music database, with an 8-inch screen. Optional COMAND navigation lets drivers surf the internet when the vehicle is stationary, and functions with Mercedes-Benz Apps.
CLS400 ($67,550) comes with the V6 engine, rear-wheel drive, leather upholstery, heated power front seats with memory, ambient lighting, Attention Assist drowsiness detection, Audio 20 CD system, and 18-inch wheels. All-wheel drive adds $2,500 to the price. (Prices are MSRP and do not include $925 destination charge.)
An optional Bang & Olufsen BeoSound system promises striking sound for a whopping $5,400, versus $850 for a Harman Kardon Logic 7 system.
CLS550 ($74,850) substitutes a 402-horsepower V8 engine for the CLS400’s V6. An adaptive air suspension is standard. All-wheel drive adds $2,500 to the CLS550 price.
AMG CLS63 S ($108,900) gets a handcrafted AMG 5.5-liter V8 rated at 577 horsepower, a 7-speed AMG automatic transmission, and standard 4MATIC all-wheel drive. Standard equipment includes Nappa leather, paddle shifters, a performance steering wheel with Dinamica grips, and an LED Intelligent Light System, and 19-inch wheels.
Nothing stays fresh and new for long in the premium auto world. After more than a decade on the market, design of the CLS still conveys a virtually timeless look. Even so, it’s about ready for a major reworking. Especially up front, the CLS has started to look a bit outmoded.
Highlights include the stretched-out, arching roof curve that dominates the CLS profile. Short overhangs at front and rear also intensify the sleek silhouette. Critics have scoffed at the use of a coupe designation for a four-door model, but the CLS really does express a coupe-like aura. Boldly original when introduced, the CLS design has found its way onto most other Mercedes-Benz vehicles.
Classic detailing blends with contemporary technology inside the CLS. Spacious and luxurious, fitted with fine leathers and woods, the impressively appointed CLS cabin complements its elegant exterior. Front seats are roomy and comfortable, with standard 14-way adjustment. In upper trim levels, active bolstering keeps occupants in place when cornering.
Two bucket seats also are installed in the rear, for four-passenger capacity. The four-door’s arched, coupelike roofline inevitably limits passenger room. Back-seat space is on the snug side, though only taller passengers are likely to be troubled.
Cargo volume also is somewhat restricted. Anyone who expects to carry more than one adult passenger on a regular basis might prefer to consider one of the conventionally-profiled four-door sedans instead.
Fashionable lines are only part of the CLS story. Even with its V6 powertrain, the CLS400 performs briskly. Accelerating confidently and smoothly, the V6 CLS stands ready to pass or merge handily at any road speed. Drivers need not concern themselves about any shortage of energy, whether in urban traffic or along the highway.
As expected with V8 power, the midlevel CLS550 delivers even more impressive acceleration. Acceleration to 60 mph takes 4.9 seconds, versus 5.3 seconds for the CLS400.
Both models excel in ride comfort as well as road behavior, handling with an impressive measure of precision. Each rides and handles more like a luxury automobile than a performance sedan, though considerable body motion may become evident if pushed.
The Mercedes-AMG CLS63 S handles even better, and can hit 60 mph in a swift 3.5 seconds.
Gas mileage is about as expected in this league: specifically, not much in the way of fuel-efficiency. Fuel economy estimates are not yet available for the CLS400 base model, with its V6 engine. The CLS550 is EPA-rated at 18/26 mpg City/Highway, or 21 mpg Combined. All-wheel drive lowers each figure by 1 mile per gallon.
Opting for peak performance in the AMG CLS63 S lowers gas mileage significantly. That AMG rendition is EPA-rated at 16/22 mpg City/Highway, or 18 mpg Combined.
When the CLS first emerged, the four-door coupe idea failed to draw universal praise. Some critics scoffed. Instead of earning lukewarm sales, then shrinking away after a couple of years, it stimulated development of an entire category of stunning travelers. Snug back seats don’t seem to matter to devotees of the basic design. Still, the CLS has been around for quite a while, so a major redesign is likely before long, possibly accompanied by a change to its model designation.
Driving impressions by Aaron Cole, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.