"Conservative" and "understated" were the adjectives most frequently used to describe Mercedes-Benz styling until the introduction of the CLS-Class, which forever changed the automaker's design paradigm and influenced numerous rivals with its coupe-like roofline and eye-catching lines. Now in its second-generation, the CLS features a somewhat busier look than its timeless predecessor but also offers a significantly more powerful motor and a host of high-tech features.
For the latest model year, the CLS gains a moderately updated front fascia that falls in line with Mercedes' latest design language. Inside, the most noteworthy modification is the addition of a display screen that pops out from the top of the dashboard, a setup that allows engineers to update the screen without having to fully redesign the center stack.
The CLS lineup also gains a new V6-powered entry-level model called CLS400, while the CLS550 benefits from a nine-speed automatic transmission.
With unusual "Pontoon" rear fenders and a somewhat blunt front end necessitated by European safety regulations, the latest CLS isn't quite the visual knockout that the original was, though it remains one of the more attractive sedans on the market. Underneath the sheetmetal, the CLS is closely related to the E-Class.
In this case, there's nothing wrong with a little familial resemblance - the CLS' cabin boasts exquisite materials, excellent seats and a pleasing overall design. In fact, the only flaw to be found exists where the CLS differs from the E-Class - whereas the later has a traditional roofline and a spacious rear seat, the CLS' sportier design equates to less headroom than one would expect for a sedan of its size.
On the technology front, the standard mbrace system includes a host of cloud-based goodies, including a concierge service, location-based traffic and weather updates, stolen vehicle location assistance, automatic collision notification and more. Available apps add internet browsing, Google local search with street view, Yelp reviews, Facebook access and news reports. Owners can even use an mbrance smartphone app to remotely lock, unlock or locate their CLS-Class.
The CLS400 is powered by a 3.0-liter V6 engine that makes 329 horsepower and 354 lb-ft. of torque. Power is sent to the rear wheels via a seven-speed automatic transmission, and Mercedes' 4MATIC all-wheel drive system is available at an extra cost.
Gas mileage checks in at 20 mpg in the city and 30 mpg on the highway.
The CLS550 is powered by an impressive 4.6-liter V8 that relies on twin turbochargers to make 402 horsepower and 443 lb-ft of torque. Rear-wheel drive models get a new nine-speed automatic transmission, while all-wheel drive models carry on with a seven-speed unit.
The V8-powered CLS reaches 60 mph from a stop in less than five seconds. It returns 17 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on the highway.
Standard and Optional Features
The CLS is fitted as standard with leather upholstery, a navigation system, a 14-speaker AM/FM/CD/HD radio/SiriusXM Harmon/Kardon stereo with a six-disc CD changer along with AUX and USB inputs, a sunroof, dual-zone automatic climate control, Bluetooth connectivity with audio streaming, bi-xenon headlights, LED running lights and 18-inch alloy wheels.
The optional Premium 1 Package brings heated and ventilated front seats, adaptive LED headlights, automatic high beams, a rearview camera, a proximity key, a power trunk closer and a power rear sunshade.
The Lane Tracking Package includes a lane-departure warning system and a blind-spot warning system. The Driver Assistance Package nets active versions of the Lane Tracking Package's safety systems along with adaptive cruise control. The Parktronic package adds front and rear parking sensors along with an automatic parking system.
Stand-alone options include heated rear seats, a Bang & Olfusen sound system, a heated steering wheel, massaging front seats and an infrared night-view system.
Mercedes-Benz has long been known for its safety features, and the CLS-Class will only add to that reputation. In addition to ABS and ESP stability control, the car boasts nine supplemental restraints including two-stage front air bags, a knee air bag for the driver and pelvic air bags which work together with curtain and side air bags to provide extra protection for front occupants in dangerous side-impact collisions.
Also standard is an ATTENTION ASSIST system that can alert the driver to the first signs of drowsiness, a factor that causes more than 100,000 accidents a year in the U.S.A steering sensor is coupled to smart software that uses 70 parameters to establish a unique driver profile during the first 20 minutes of driving. Between 50 and 112 mph, the system identifies the erratic steering corrections drivers make as they begin to get drowsy and triggers an audible warning and a "Time for a Rest?" message with a coffee cup icon in the instrument cluster.
Optional safety equipment includes the Lane Keeping Assist system, which alerts the driver by simulating a rumble strip vibration in the steering wheel if the car drifts from its lane without the turn signals on. Part of the Lane Tracking Package, it operates at speeds above 37 mph via a system that recognizes lane markings, thanks to a small camera in the windshield and a computer that analyzes the video images.
The Lane Tracking Package also includes Blind Spot Assist, which monitors both blind spots behind and to the side of the vehicle. Whenever a turn signal is activated with a vehicle in the blind spot, the driver gets visual and audible warnings.
The one that started it all, the CLS now faces competition from the BMW 6-Series Gran Coupe, the Audi A7 and the Porsche Panamera S.