A person looking for a world class European sports car that goes like the dickens, but needs the practicality of a sedan that will seat 4 people in comfort.
Comparable cars in this class:
Audi A6, BMW 5-Series, Infiniti M45, Jaguar S-Type, Jaguar XJ, Lexus GS
Mercedes likes to strut their stuff at car shows, often displaying radical styling exercises in order to gauge public reaction, but usually these one-off show cars are never actually built and sold. So, when Mercedes announced that the swoopy 4-door coupe on the display stand was a prototype for a car called the CLS that they would be producing in quantity in a year or so, there were some audible gasps from the normally staid journalist crowd. And sure enough, less than two years after my first glimpse, a blue CLS500 was sitting in my driveway and the key was in my hot little hands. Here it is, a car of the future that you can own today.
Mercedes calls the CLS a four door coupe. It has the emotional styling of a racy coupe, but with all the convenience and practicality of four doors. Mercedes says it is a cross between a coupe and a saloon (sedan on this side of the Atlantic). One thing is for sure, this car is a head turner.
While sitting behind the wheel, I noticed that the window sill was a bit high and the roofline a bit low, but I did not feel a bit claustrophobic driving this new Benz. Back seat passengers may have a different opinion on that since there is a very shallow side window for them to watch the scenery go by.
Since there is only room for two people in the back seat, shoulder room is not a problem. Just as in the CL coupe, there is a console that gracefully flows through the rear compartment
Our CLS500 test car was a blast to drive (and be seen in). It is built on the E Class platform and shares the mechanicals with the E500 sedan. It's hard to fault that decision. The E500 is one of the best premium sedans around and the CLS500 follows in its tire prints.
Piloting the CLS500 on my favorite roads was a treat. This car had all the right moves for a luxury touring sedan. There is always great throttle response from any Benz with "500" after its call letters and the CLS was no exception. The car had impeccable shift quality from the seven speed automatic that always seemed to select the exact right gear for the situation. Shifts were smooth, precise and fast. At light throttle, you barely feel any shifting at all. If you watch the tach needle, you will see it dip almost imperceptibly for each change of gears while keeping the engine in its sweet spot. At full gallop, the transmission snapped off precise, even shifts, one after the other, with no dip or surge in the steady delivery of power from the silky-smooth302-horsepower, 5.0-liter, three-valve-per-cylinder aluminum V8.
What's that you say? 302 horsepower just won't cut it? You've got this itch on your right foot and... OK, enough... Mercedes has you covered. The CLS is also available as a CLS55 AMG which will take care of your... er... itch. How does a supercharged 5.5 liter V8 producing 469 horsepower sound? The CLS55 will have upgraded suspension and brakes to boot. Be prepared to shell out close to $90,000 for the privilege of owning this beast that will do 0 to 60 in around 4.5 seconds. But you had better get in line fast if you want one, there will be only a limited number of these sold each year and I know a couple of people who are already ahead of you.
The standard suspension system on the CLS500 is called Airmatic DC(Dual Control). This is a computer controlled active suspension system with air springs and four-stage variable damping shock absorbers. You can control the system with a console switch that allows you to select between three levels of ride firmness from comfort to sport. An additional switch allows you to increase the ride height by about an inch in order to traverse rutted roads.
If you leave the ride control switch in comfort mode, the ride is soft and smooth, but still extremely stable, absorbing most of the irregularities in the road without feeling the slightest bit floaty. But should your driving suddenly get aggressive or you steer sharply for an avoidance maneuver, the system automatically switches to sport mode for as long as is necessary for superb control, then it immediately switches back to comfort mode after you are done with your adventure. If you select one of the two sporty settings, the air springs and shocks respond by firming up the ride and also lowering the car by about half an inch for improved stability and lower aerodynamic drag. Slick!
The brakes are also a step above what you would find on other cars in this class. There are huge 13 inch ventilated rotors up front with 11.8 inch vented rotors in the rear, but that is not the interesting part. The brake system on the CLS uses the same "Brake by Wire" technology used in the E-class and the SL. What Brake-by-Wire means is that there is no direct connection between the brake pedal and the actual brakes at each wheel. Instead, when you step on the brake pedal, a pressure sensor connected to the pedal sends a signal to the computer which processes the pressure as well as the speed that the pedal is moving and the time it took the driver to move from the gas to the brake. The computer then determines how much braking to apply to each wheel individually. The result is a car that stops as good as anything on the road.
Brake pedal feel is slightly artificial, but provides powerful stopsfrom any speed this car can attain. The slightly detached pedal feel is only noticeable if you pay close attention to it, but it was easy to get used to and after my time with this car was up, I was sorry to see it go.
As with other high-end Benzes, the standard seats are superb, multi-adjustable thrones that are both comfortable and supportive at the same time. So what does Mercedes do? They present seat options that cost you some $1500 extra. If the standard seats are so good, what could they possibly offer that is worth that much extra you ask? The "Comfort Package" gives you Active Ventilated front seats with an assortment of fans that draw cool air from the floor area and direct it through the perforations in the leather cushions to cool off your overheated butt. (of course, seat heaters take up the challenge in the winter) Not only that, but there are additional adjustments to allow you to shape the cushions as well as the side bolsters on the backrest. Need a massage? There is a button for that as well. I kid you not. Who needs a Chiropractor when you have seats like these?
Unlike a 2 door coupe, the rear seats on the CLS are actually usable by regular adult people. No contortions are necessary to enter and exit. In fact, my 99 year old mom was able to jump in with no complaints (when my mother can find nothing to complain about, that is worthy of note). If you invite someone taller than six feet into the back seat, however, be prepared to clean Brylcreem stains off the headliner.
Another area that was not affected by the coupe-like body was the unusually large and well shaped 16 cubic foot trunk. It had a fairly large opening and hinges that disappeared into pockets on the sides of the trunk so they would not interfere with any packages that might have been in their path.
There are a lot of other interesting features on the CLS. Let's start with the headlamps. Standard fare are projector type halogen lights, but here too, the interesting stuff is on the options list. There is an optional bi-xenon lamp system that incorporates Active-Steer in order to direct the light where you need it most. In this case, it means that these lamps actually steer into a turn based on the vehicle speed and the angle of the steering wheel. While this is not new technology, (Tucker had it in 1947 and other manufacturers currently offer this system on a number of upscale models) what is really interesting is that this system also uses the fog lamps as cornering lamps at speeds below 25 mph. This system is activated by the directional switch and lights up the roadside at an angle of up to 65 degrees in order to eliminate blind spots on dark roads.
A standard feature on the CLS is Four Zone Climate Control. This system gives each occupant in the car their own thermostat in order to control the temperature in their little corner of the world. Twelve fans provide complete and even air distribution.
But all this great mechanical stuff is available on the E500 for $5000 less, so why go for the CLS? Silly question. Go back to the top of the page and look at the photo. While you are at it, look at the picture below this paragraph as well. Go ahead, I'll wait... Nuff said? At 65 grand before the first option is selected, you can be sure that you won't see a CLS at every intersection, so I expect that it will continue to turn heads for some time to come. This is one sexy cruiser.