2011 Mercedes-Benz CLS Review

$159,200 $263,500 Mrlp
  • Fuel Economy
    11L
  • Engine Power
    200kW
  • CO2 Emissions
    263g
  • ANCAP Rating
    N/A

Punch the throttle from just a crawl and you better be prepared for blast off...

Mercedes-Benz CLS CDI 350 BlueEFFICIENCY 3.0-litre six-cylinder direct-injection diesel with 7G-Tronic PLUS automatic transmission, rear-wheel drive 195kW and 620Nm - $159, 200 (Manufacturer’s List Price)

Mercedes-Benz CLS 63 AMG with AMG Performance Pack 5.5-litre eight-cylinder direct-injection biturbo with AMG Speedshift MCT seven-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive 410kW and 800Nm - $281, 400 (Manufacturer’s List Price)

Hit the large silver 'Engine' start button on the right-hand side of the steering wheel and the ballistics-grade AMG-tuned 5.5-litre V8 biturbo barks to life with a positively race car-like exhaust blip, before settling in to a smooth deep base idle.

Punch the throttle from just a crawl and you better be prepared for blast off, because the latest Mercedes-Benz CLS 63 AMG accelerates with such ferocity that it would take a brave soul to hold the pedal flat for any more than a few seconds. You may as well call this thing a four-door supercar, as no other term will do.

The CLS is a special kind of car with its four doors and coupe styling for those that like their three-pointed star with a twist. It’s also been a good seller for Mercedes-Benz over the years, with 170,000 units sold worldwide since its launch in 2004, and 2000 of those finding homes in Australia.

The four-door coupe didn’t exist before the CLS came along, so it’s fair to say that Mercedes-Benz single-handedly created the segment and had it all to itself for many years before other prestige marques began to subscribe to the unique styling opportunities that the coupe-style sedan represents.

From any angle, the second-generation CLS looks decidedly menacing. It’s a combination of the low-slung roofline and the extra-wide masculine stance of the new car. It’s also the extra-large three-pointed star with single horizontal slat that is so clearly inspired by the legendary 300SL Gullwing.

The CLS is the world’s first passenger car to offer LED High Performance headlamps as standard fitment. These are way beyond today’s bi-xenon lights with a total of 71 LED lamps helping to create a veritable ‘daylight’ experience when driving at night. That’s because LED light has a colour temperature of 5500 Kelvin and that’s closer to that of daylight (6500 Kelvin) than is xenon light (4200 Kelvin). They also look the goods too.

Around the back of the car there’s the unmistakably large quad exhaust tips synonymous with AMG cars, and the now-standard integrated rear fog light, which is pretty much the same as that on the SLS supercar.

Inside, the CLS is a technological tour de force but to understand how it works you’ll probably need a Masters degree in computer engineering from MIT. Engineers have crammed a huge amount of techno wizardry into the CLS 63 AMG and mostly it’s there to enhance the overall driving experience and overall safety.

New to the CLS are active Blind Spot Assist and Active Lane Keeping Assist and both are better than I have experienced with any other car manufacturer. Blind Spot Assist seems to be a more advanced solution than even Volvo uses and works exceptionally well. The moment the system detects a car or bike in the blind spot, an orange triangle flashes in your side mirror along with an audible warning chime, and it works a treat.

Potentially life-saving is the Active Lane Keeping Assist, which instantaneously alerts the driver if the car crosses a solid line on the road, regardless of what side that might be, left or right. The system will pull the car back in the correct lane by applying brake pressure to the opposite wheels. On broken lines, the driver is given warning via a pulsating feeling in the steering wheel before any brake pressure is applied by the system.

I know these systems are expensive, but why they are not made mandatory on every car sold in Australia (and if that requires a Government subsidy – then so be it) is beyond me. These two systems working in concert with ESP and ABS would surely save hundreds of extra lives on our roads each year.

Settle into the AMG sports seats and you’ll be rewarded with some of the best in the business; a perfect balance between highly bolstered support and long distance comfort is how I would describe these Active multicontour pews up front. The leather is superbly supple too.

There’s a fabulous looking sports steering wheel hand-stitched with a combination of Alcantara and Nappa leather, which while providing a tactile grip, can be a little hard in your hands after a while, compared with an all-leather version.

There is no other way to describe the interior fit, finish and materials used inside the CLS other than exquisite. All the instruments are beautifully clear and simple for the driver, while the switchgear is generally metallic or bordered by metallic surrounds.

Before we get onto how this goes, it would be remiss of me not to mention the practical aspects of this four-door uber-sedan. There’s a tonne of head and legroom up front and six-footers will be comfortable in the rear seats, even on a long haul trip. I had my doubts, but the space factor was tried and tested by my six-foot driving partner, who said he was more than comfortable in the back seat. Ingress and egress is well thought out too, with larger than usual doors and of course, sensibly large door handles to boot.

I like the wheel choice on AMG too. They’re 19-inchers and very low profile, but truth be said, I’d prefer a set of the wheels that come standard on the CLS CDI 350. They are a cleaner-looking design, although they are 18-inch alloys and slightly heavier than the AMG wheels.

Punch the throttle on a clear stretch of deserted tarmac and the ferocity of the CLS 63 AMG under full load is immense. It’s positively explosive acceleration, and it simply doesn’t let up. You don’t expect a four-door luxury sedan to get going like this thing can. If you’re going to overtake a B-Double, or two, you want to be driving one of these things for ultimate safety.

There’s a bonus too in the stupendous exhaust note from inside the cabin when you’re hard on the throttle and shifting up through the gear ratios. AMG sound engineers have created a race car-like engine note under full steam, but around town, it’s completely unobtrusive.

While its undeniably quick in a straight line, you won’t believe how much speed the CLS can carry through the bends, and on damp roads. The only safe place you’ll ever discover the extraordinary adhesion limits of this 1870kg executive express is on a closed circuit.

It’s not just the grip and the wonderful multi-link/air suspension setup that inspires, it's also the planted feeling you get from behind the wheel that provides the driver with such a high level of confidence. That’s partly the addition of the newly developed electromechanical AMG sports steering, which is nice and meaty from dead centre and again steers exactly where you point it. That direct response through the steering wheel is a product of the 14:1 steering ratio, which is considerably more direct than any other CLS variant.

The CLS AMG 63 also benefits from a brilliant feature called the AMG RIDE CONTROL, which allows drivers to vary the damping from 'Comfort' to 'Sport' to 'Sport PLUS' and even a 'manual' setting for the perfect setup for any number of driving styles. 'Comfort' is clearly the softer setting that you would use most of time, but it’s still quite stiff in comparison with the other CLS variant we drove, the 350 CDI BlueEFICIENCY.

The 'CDI' part of the model plate indicates a diesel-powered car, but from the moment you climb in behind the wheel and shut the door, you’d never know it, such is the extraordinary refinement of this 3.0-litre diesel. Not even on start up will you be able to pick this as a diesel engine. Give it a full dose of throttle and you’ll be telling yourself you’re in a high-powered V8.

Naturally, it doesn’t have the brutal punch out of the gates as its AMG big brother, but with 195kW and 620Nm and a 0-100km/h time of just 6.2 seconds, this is a quick car by any standards. In-gear acceleration is even stronger, with peak torque from 1600-2400rpm. But more importantly both these new CLS models offer extraordinary power with equally thrilling fuel efficiency results. The diesel consumes an unbelievably low 6.2L/100km (combined) while the AMG juggernaut uses an equally paltry 10L/100km.

Naturally with this level of consumption, CO2 emissions are also low when you consider the massive power and torque outputs. Those levels are 163g/km and 233g/km respectively, which are frankly extraordinary for such a large sedan.

Through the twisty roads the 350 CDI handles the bends better than some sports cars I’ve driven with very precise steering feedback.

The shift speed in the diesel car, which uses the 7G-Tronic automatic transmission, isn’t as sharp as in the AMG when any of the ‘Sport’ settings are dialled up, but it’s not slow either and very smooth. In fact, you’ll be hard pressed to pick the actual shift up or down the ratio range, as it’s practically seamless.

Both cars can be enjoyed from an enthusiastic perspective using the paddle shifters, which work particularly well with any of the gear ratios. In the AMG, the double de-clutch blip as you’re changing down into corners is a work or art and something you never tire of.

The latest Mercedes-Benz CLS range offers an extraordinary driving experience on so many levels and even at these prices they represent bargain basement value.

CarAdvice will review each model separately in due course and in more detail, including two new petrol models - the CLS 350 BlueEFFICIENCY and CLS 500 BlueEFFICIENCY - which will join the range later this year.