The CLS is an expensive car, but it comes with a suitably lavish array of standard equipment. Every model comes with alloy wheels, automatic transmission, parking sensors, climate control, metallic paint, leather upholstery, Bluetooth connectivity, DAB radio and sat-nav. On top of this, AMG Sport cars add larger alloys, sports suspension, the ‘intelligent’ light system, and a smarter look inside and out. Among the options are air suspension, an electric sunroof and upgraded infotainment systems.
The original CLS was one of the first ‘four-door coupes’ and inspired rivals such as the Audi A7 and BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe. Even with the extra competition – and less exclusivity as a result – this second-generation model still looks very smart. It has the now-familiar Mercedes front end, with a grille inspired by the SLS AMG’s and giving it real presence on the road. At the same time, the flared wheelarches and the creases in the body that run towards the tapering rear give it a sense of sportiness and elegance. Beyond that, AMG Sport models have a unique bodykit, 19-inch AMG wheels and full-LED headlights.
Just as the exterior is full-on Mercedes, so is the interior of the CLS. That does mean it’s not totally distinctive, but on the other hand, there’s no faulting the build quality or the choice of materials. The dials are easy to read, but there are a couple of niggles: the Comand system (which operates pretty much all of the infotainment system) takes a while to get used to, as does having the wipers and indicators on the same stalk, and the foot-operated parking brake, which is released by a lever by the driver’s right knee.
Most buyers will go for one of the two diesel engines, and that makes perfect sense. Even the most basic four-cylinder 250 CDI gives more than enough pace, although the extra performance and refinement of the six-cylinder 350 CDI are undeniably unattractive. In both, the strong low-rev pull really suits the car’s nature and makes the petrol-engined 350 seem less appealing, as it needs working harder to generate the same pace – although it’s certainly quick enough, hitting 62mph in just over six seconds when you use the engine to its full potential. If that still isn’t enough, there’s always the CLS 63 AMG, which is the best part of two seconds quicker to 60mph and will leave no one feeling short-changed for pace.
The ambition of the CLS is to combine sleek coupe looks with the practicality of a four-door saloon, and it’s mostly successful. In the front, there’s plenty of room for a couple of six-foot adults, with plenty of adjustment on the driver’s seat and steering wheel to ensure a good driving position. Perhaps the car’s biggest drawback is that it’s only a four-seater, but the two rear seats have enough room for a couple of six-footers and the divider between the seats has some handy storage. To cap it all, the boot will hold more than 500 litres, although the saloon-style opening does restrict its practicality compared to the hatchback-style opening of the Audi A7, for example.
Mercedes has been criticised in the past for dropping its standards when it comes to quality. However, the CLS is one of the cars that proves that the company is getting back to its best: it feels extremely well built from high-quality materials.
Ride and handling
Despite the semi-sporty looks, the CLS is still an executive car at heart: treat it as a civilised grand tourer and it hits the spot. It responds best to being ushered along at a brisk pace rather than being taken by the scruff of the neck and hurled through the bends. In fact, the handling is very secure, and the only slight complaints are that the ride is a little on the firm side and there’s more wind noise than you would expect at the motorway speed limit.
One of the attractions of the CLS is that it can return very decent economy: the 250 CDI averages more than 50mpg on the official cycle – and will do that on a long run in the real world. Even the 350 CDI averages more than 45mpg and the 350 more than 40.0mpg. On the other hand, this style doesn’t come cheap: a CLS is much more expensive to buy than an E-Class with the same engine.
The CLS has not been tested by Euro NCAP, but it has an extensive range of safety equipment fitted as standard. This includes Neck-Pro anti-whiplash head restraints, Attention Assist (which warns the driver if they are falling asleep at the wheel) and the Pre-Safe system, which will take precautionary action if it decides that an accident is imminent. Beyond that, the options’ list is similarly extensive, including the Driving Assistance Package, which includes adaptive cruise control, Active Lane-Keeping Assist and Active Blind Spot Assist.
Style will be the biggest attraction for the CLS, but the good news is that there are no great sacrifices to be made: it drives well and is surprisingly practical for something with such sleek lines.