There wasn't much wrong with the outgoing Mercedes-Benz CLS, but a mid-life update makes it better than ever (inside & out).
Few would deny the Mercedes-Benz CLS four-door 'coupe' is one of the most visually appealing cars to grace the German manufacturer’s extensive model range. And that’s especially true when you consider the striking CLS Shooting Brake.
While it shares its underpinnings with the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, the CLS-Class represents a decidedly more glamorous proposition than its donor thanks to its shapely, coupe-inspired silhouette.
On the performance front, the new CLS 63 AMG lines up against the BMW M6 Gran Coupe and Audi RS7, both of which are yet to receive mid-life updates - though a revamped version of the latter is due here in 2015.
Mercedes used the recent high profile Goodwood Festival of Speed event in the UK to debut the latest iteration of its CLS, which includes external styling changes and a raft of updated technology.
New to the second-generation CLS is a nine-speed automatic transmission, (dubbed 9G-Tronic) and a freestanding 8.0-inch high-resolution display with two extra menu buttons intended to make the on-screen navigation, well, easier to navigate.
The new CLS range is also the first model to sport the company’s new predictive Multibeam LED headlights, which uses a camera system to both ‘read’ and illuminate the road ahead, even before the driver has turned the steering wheel.
With the facelifted CLS arriving in Australia in early 2015 as a mid-life facelift, the styling changes aren’t massive, but they are eye-catching and undeniably contemporary.
Up front, the CLS wears a version of the diamond-studded radiator grille that we first saw on the current-generation A-Class and CLA-Class.
Around back, the changes are hard to spot, with tweaks limited to the rear bumper and a few extra LEDs behind the light assembly covers.
Also joining the range are two newcomers including a new entry-level four-cylinder diesel badged CLS220 BlueTEC, producing 125kW and 400Nm of torque. It sits under the 150kW/500Nm CLS250 BlueTec, but won’t be available in Australia.
An equally new addition to the petrol range is the CLS400 that boasts a 3.5-litre turbocharged six-cylinder engine with 245kW and 480Nm of torque (up 110Nm of the previous naturally aspirated version CLS350 that it replaces).
Taking pole position in the revised range is the CLS63 AMG S Coupe and Shooting Brake versions in rear-wheel drive, using the carryover 5.5-litre twin-turbo V8 with 430kW and a thumping 800Nm of torque with a standard limited-slip differential. That’s enough to launch the sedan from 0-100km/h in 4.1 seconds and the wagon in 4.2sec.
Our relatively brief CLS drive route took us on a loop from central London to the spectacular Goodwood estate in the South Downs National Park and began with the diesel-powered CLS250 BlueTEC sedan in a superbly supple leather saddle brown/black trim. It’s a beautiful combination that elevates this entry-level variant (in Australia) into the same type of first-class accommodation you’ll find in pricy London hotel.
More importantly, the quality and materials are an obvious step up from the E-Class, a point made even more apparent by the larger and more user-friendly infotainment screen, as well as a new, more tactile flat-bottomed steering wheel.
The stitched leather front buckets are wonderfully cosseting and offer equivalent levels of luxury cushioning and corner-resistant side bolster. It’s a combination that makes high-speed motorway cruising and those occasional twisty-road-punts equally enjoyable.
And don’t mind the small displacement diesel or doubt its ability to haul this rather large Benz around at a thoroughly decent pace, or even punch through the odd gap in London’s notoriously congested traffic.
Under the bonnet is an uprated version of the same 2.1-litre mill that powers the new CLS220 model, but with 500Nm of twist available from just over 1200rpm, it’s definitely no slouch off the line.
Only at idle is there any hint of diesel clatter. Once you’re under way it’s quiet, refined and has all the pulling-power you’ll ever need.
All the pedals are comfortably weighted and there’s a decent level of feedback through the steering wheel, which makes the CLS feel like a smaller car than it actually is.
Off the motorway and onto the bendy stuff and there’s more of that small car feeling from behind the wheel. Mercedes chose not to fiddle with the CLS’s ride and handling setup. No need to, as its very, very, well sorted – especially in the body control department.
The default mode for the dampers is Comfort, but switch over to Sport and you’ll be rewarded with sharper cornering, but at the expense of ride comfort.
It was a similar story once we jumped into the hardcore CLS AMG 63 Shooting Brake, which seems to offer less variance between the two settings, with better body control in Comfort and more composure over rougher surfaces.
That said, our AMG test car rode superbly over all manner of UK roads despite riding on 19-inch wheels and low-profile tyres.
The AMG’s potent 5.5-litre biturbo engine is mated to the same quick-shifting AMG seven-speed dual-clutch transmission as the outgoing model, though Benz engineers have modified the software to produce a quicker shift than before.
It’s all the more noticeable on our relatively brief journey from Goodwood to the old Brooklands race circuit, which provided a good mix of twisty country roads and an eight-lane British motorway for comparison.
The twin-turbocharged V8 echoes off the hedges, as I wind my way through what resemble ridiculously narrow laneways rather than busy thoroughfares. But again, even this longer Shooting Brake feels nimble and precise on turn-in.
It wouldn’t be an English summer without an afternoon downpour and perfect for testing the CLS 63 AMG’s grip levels on a cold and greasy surface.
We had the all-wheel-drive (4Matic) version, so bags of traction even when on the throttle out of tight turns. In fact, there wasn’t a rear-wheel-wiggle whatsoever.
Despite its extra length, body control felt just as composed as the CLS four-door sedan, and that’s with all 800 Newton-metres under my right foot.
There’s a new set of aluminium paddleshifters on the AMG version if you want maximum driver engagement, but we found the Sport mode (there’s Sport+ too) offered perfectly timed automatic downshifts with accompanying throttle-blips, on cue, every time.
Once on the motorway, we finally got a chance to give the AMG a proper boot-full and load up the twin-turbo V8.
Even in the Comfort setting it just kicks down, winds up, and you’re gone, in what sounds like a hail of thunder. And if that’s not enough, best you shut down the Harman Kardon audio (as good as it is) and enjoy AMG’s base-rich soundtrack.
High-speed stability is simply extraordinary and we’ll have to wait for a German Autobahn to put this CLS to the ultimate performance test.
Summer in the UK also means 9:30pm sunsets; so it was a late night start to try out the CLS’s new Multi Beam LED headlamps. Each headlamp incorporates 24 LEDs that can be controlled individually. Forward-mounted cameras read the road ahead and the lighting system lights up a corner before you even turn the steering wheel.
There are also improvements to the highbeam assistant that allow it to remain on the whole time, where other vehicles simply blended out by dimming any number of the car’s LEDs.
While the lighting technology is certainly impressive, Audi has claimed the world’s first laser lights for a production-series car (high beam for the Audi R8 LMS), which CarAdvice will be testing later this year in Germany.
Changes to the 2015 Mercedes-Benz CLS maybe few and far between, but the subtle improvements go a long way to freshen the appeal of what was already an excellent car.
Australian buyers will have to wait until the first quarter 2015 for the new CLS, with pricing and specifications to be announced closer to that date.