Mercedes got the modern trend for four-door coupes rolling with its CLS of 2004. Here's the latest variation on the theme. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
Although it doesn't look that different, the second generation Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class has here been treated to an extensive refresh, with a range of new engines, the development of a nine-speed automatic transmission, some very slick tech features and a better quality cabin. Cleaner engines are the focus, but there's still the ballistic CLS63 AMG heading up the range.
There are some cars that don't need to try very hard to justify their place in the overall scheme of things. Other rivals might do things better when you examine the numbers, but this rare cadre of vehicles thrive merely because they're beautiful things to own. On the face of it, there's nothing a Mercedes-Benz CLS does that's significantly superior to a garden-variety E-Class, but just look at the thing. It's a car most would love to own. The first generation CLS appeared in 2004 and lasted for seven years. Its 2011 replacement didn't look quite as extreme, but was better in virtually every other regard. The pace of development at Mercedes is utterly breathtaking and many of the systems developed for the latest C, E and S-Class models now find their way into this updated CLS-Class line up.
The engine range features an addition at the sensible end, namely the CLS220 BlueTEC model. This replaces the old CLS250 and features a 2.1-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel engine good for 170PS and 400Nm of torque. This is joined by a tweaked CLS350 BlueTEC, that's also using urea-injection exhaust treatment to pass Euro6 emissions regulations. It's a lot cleaner, but power is knocked down 7PS to 258PS, with torque unaffected at a whacking 620Nm. Out goes the CLS 350 petrol model and in comes the CLS 400, which retains its predcessor's twin-turbo 3.0-litre V6 layout but cranks out 26PS more at 330PS. The flagship model is the delightfully unhinged CLS63 AMG S which is now offered in one state of tune equivalent to the old 'Performance Package' upgrade, which means your 5.5-litre V8 makes 585PS and gets to 62mph in just 4.1 seconds. The transmissions have also been updated, with a new nine-speed automatic gearbox standard on the CLS350 BlueTEC variants. This 9G-Tronic unit promises smoother shifts, sharper acceleration and smarter logic software, but the seven-speed box continues in all other models bar the CLS63 AMG S. This gets AMG's seven-speed SpeedShift transmission with an auto clutch actuator.
Design and Build
There was a certain delicacy to the styling of the first CLS. It was almost as if a basic shape was decided on early in the design process and then all the details and extraneous gewgaws were pared back. Less really was more. The second generation model decided that more was, after all, more. The styling was busier with a more muscular bulge to its wheel arches and a front end that was more pit bull than its slightly feline predecessor. The latest revision is subtle, with both the saloon and the Shooting Brake estate getting a revised diamond radiator grille, a reprofiled front bumper with larger air intakes and LED headlamps, as well as slightly darkened tail lights with multi-level function. The basic design of the interior looks much the same, with the exception of a free-standing 8-inch colour display. Other changes include a redesigned three-spoke sports steering wheel and a central control panel that's more intuitive to operate. Five interior colours, six trim finishes and a range of leather grades means there's plenty of scope for personalisation. The 520-litre boot is huge for a coupe-shaped car.
Market and Model
Prices start at around £46,500 for the CLS220, with the Shooting Brake adding another £1,500 or so. Somewhat curiously, the Shooting Brake version of the CLS63 AMG S only adds £500 onto the price of the saloon at £87,000. Mercedes is very proud of the lighting technology on this CLS and it's easy to see why. The light pods are full LED, which offer great visibility, but the MULTIBEAM LED option is something that really brings this car to life after dark. Here you get a bank of 24 high-performance LEDs that are dimmable through 255 stages. The software is clever enough to spot oncoming cars and keep them in a moving cone of dimmed light while shining brightly at all other areas. This camera-based system can also be used to swivel low beam lighting around a bend even before the steering wheel is turned. Roundabout lighting, verge lighting, follow you home lighting - you name it, the MULTIBEAM LED pack does it. Also introduced on this model is an integrated Media Interface but you need to be signed up to Apple. Your iPhone can now talk to the COMAND Online system to access apps such as weather, Google Local Search with StreetView and Panoramio, destination/route download and Facebook can even be used while on the move. Audio and video playback is possible from Bluetooth, from an iPod and iPhone and also from SD card, USB stick or CD/DVD.
Cost of Ownership
The CLS has often been chosen by those looking for a sleek and powerful-looking car that won't break the bank to run. The reason why? You can get some very economical diesels and these days the CLS220 BlueTEC offers the best economy of any CLS model to date. Compare it to the original CLS320 CDI and it's a bit of a revelation. Where the original CLS diesel returned 37mpg and emitted 200g/km, this one nets you 56.5mpg and 129g/km. Yes, it's down a bit on power but even the massively more powerful CLS350 BlueTEC diesel will deliver 52.3mpg and 142g/km of CO2. Even the 333PS CLS400 petrol model returns a creditable 38.7mpg, with emissions rated at a modest 170g/km. Spend too long on the loud pedal of the CLS63 AMG and you're not going to get anywhere near its posted 28.5mpg consumption figure, but you're going to have a heck of a good time. The desirability of the CLS helps it perform strongly on the used market and the diesel-engined cars are the most sought after. Comparatively rare cars with evocative styling rarely fall out of bed by the time owners come to sell them on and this is no exception. Servicing is not cheap however and the car's coupe status hardly encourages generosity from the insurance industry.
The Mercedes-Benz CLS is one of those cars that makes you wonder what really needed to be done to improve it but the Stuttgarters have come up with a very long list of updates. The styling of the car has probably been given the lowest priority, with most budget being diverted to the engines, the lighting systems and the integration of connected services. It's this incremental improvement that has given us a model like the CLS350 BlueTEC diesel which will return better than 52 miles per gallon and accelerate to 62mph in 6.5 seconds; amazing figures for a large Mercedes. While it's not as distinctive-looking as the original CLS, this second-gen car has morphed into something very handsome. It faces some tough rivals in the shape of the BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe and the Audi A7 but make no mistake, this Mercedes will easily outsell both. It's a class act.