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“Not for everyone” is the tagline for the updated Mercedes-Benz CLS range, which has been freshened up with revised styling, increased levels of standard equipment, altered prices and some big mechanical changes.
You may already have seen Alborz’s review of the new Mercedes-Benz CLS 63 AMG, but for this test we’ve opted for the second-tier CLS500 “coupe”, which now starts at $169,000 plus on-road costs – a full $9500 more than the model it replaces. Prefer a practical wagon? The CLS500 Shooting Brake starts at $179,900 plus costs.
The style-focused four-door model with one of the swoopiest profiles in the business – and now, one of the blingiest noses since Christina Aguilera went through that piercing faze a few years ago – hasn’t just seen a price hike for the hell of it. Indeed, there’s a bunch of new goodies that have been added as standard: read our full pricing and specifications story here.
One of the spec highlights is Mercedes-Benz’s Multibeam LED headlights that feature adaptive automatic high beam. The system is operated by using a forward-facing camera, and they are standard fitment across the range.
The headlight clusters are made up of 24 LEDs, and these can be individually controlled (switched on, off or dimmed) by the car’s on-board computers as it detects cars ahead.
The light beams can also swivel to illuminate the road in front of you as you push through a bend – and while the system uses the camera and steering inputs to judge this, while the standard satellite navigation can inform the computer if more light is required through roundabouts or corners.
In short, the lights are superb. We did plenty of night driving in the CLS500 and found the technology to be near perfect in its judgement of oncoming traffic, cars being approached from arrears, and the way it sent beams of light upwards toward the roadside signs to illuminate them without blinding the driver. The soft LED light definitely helped in that regard.
Another big technology change for the CLS500 is a new nine-speed automatic gearbox with paddleshifters.
Designed in part to help the car’s 4.7-litre twin-turbocharged V8 use a little less fuel than its predecessor, which was sold with a seven-speeder, and its claimed consumption is 8.6 litres per 100 kilometres, a drop of 13 per cent compared to the existing model (9.9L/100km). Over our 650-odd kilometres in the car, we saw fuel use of 12.5L – which was over what we registered previously (12.3L/100km), and thus a tad disappointing.
Also somewhat disappointing was the new transmission, which we found to be something of a hit and miss proposition.
We noted it could be slow to engage a gear to get things moving from a standstill, and on more than one occasion it offered up some jolting shifts that weren’t present in the previous version.
Still, when it comes to swift progress, the gearbox shifts through the cogs quickly and mostly cleanly in the default Eco mode, while the Sport mode makes for even sharper gear changes. Engaging the paddleshifters is also a rewarding thing to do, particularly if you have a sweet piece of road to exploit the engine’s roaring propulsion.
The twin-turbo V8 remains a delightful thing, despite still falling short of some rivals in terms of outright grunt.
The CLS500 packs a not-insubstantial 300kW of power (at 5000-5750rpm) and 600Nm (from 1600-4750rpm), but is marginally out-powered (if not out-pulled) by the $179,900, 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 Audi S7 Sportback, while BMW’s considerably dearer ($238,800) 650i Gran Coupe beats both with 350kW/650Nm from its 4.4-litre twin-turbocharged V8.
Still, there’s no denying this engine is quite the powerhouse, offering precise, linear power delivery once at speed. If you can get off to a quick start, the CLS500 boasts a claimed 0-100km/h time of 4.8 seconds – 0.6sec faster than the previous model.
The standard Airmatic suspension has two modes – Comfort and Sport – with the former offering a cossetting, luxurious level of ride compliance, and the latter ensuring the car feels stable and sits flatter during hard cornering or under heavy braking.
However, there’s no hiding this isn’t a light car – it tips the scales at 1840 kilograms – and it can feel its weight over uneven surfaces while cornering. That said, it never feels unmanageable, thanks in part to its light yet precise steering system.
That air suspension also features a neat ride-raising system that can increase ground clearance by 30mm to help stop you from scraping the low front spoiler, while the body of the car dips 20mm at speed to help improve aerodynamic efficiency.
The light nature of the steering makes it deceptively easy to drive around town, and also makes for easy parking. Piloting this large car (it measures 4937 millimetres long, 1881mm wide and 1418mm tall) in to tight spaces is aided even further by the terrific surround view camera and sensor system. Side-mounted cameras allow an overhead view, or a rearward-view with side angles – and it’s a good thing, as the CLS’s raked roofline makes it quite hard to see out of.
It’s also hard to get in and out of.
On more than one occasion we had people trying to get in to the back seat tell us that it’s quite the yoga move – the low roofline and deep seating position means sliding yourself in and out is something of an experience. There are only two seats back there, but they offer decent leg-room and reasonably good head-room, as well as copious storage in between the scalloped seats.
Ingress and egress is not quite as challenging up front, but the ergonomics can make it challenging for taller drivers to find the ideal seating position.
That said, the interior is a supremely pleasant place to be, particularly for those up front, as the pilot and co-pilot chairs feature the “Active Multicontour Seat Package”.
This seat system includes four different massage settings (Active, Relaxing, Mobilising and Classic) as well as dynamic bolstering, which helps keep you from sliding around in your seat when you go through a bend. They’re also heated, ventilated and offer plenty of adjustment.
A new 8.4-inch tablet-style display is perched above the centre stack, and is a welcome change over the old embedded screen despite being controlled by the existing COMAND interface rather than the company’s clever touch-sensitive unit seen in newer models such as the S-Class and C-Class. That screen also has digital radio and digital TV reception, and access to the COMAND Online suite of internet apps.
There’s good storage up front, too, with deep door pockets, a good centre console bin with twin USB inputs, and sizeable cup-holders. Sedan models have decent boot space, too, with 475 litres of space – though the rear seats don’t fold down. The Shooting Brake model is the pragmatists choice, with 590L of capacity with the rear seats up and 1590L with them folded down.
In summary, the Mercedes-Benz CLS500 embodies the notion of being “not for everyone” – indeed, we’d be tempted to find the extra cash to get the CLS500 Estate, particularly since the CLS 63 AMG S Shooting Brake wagon has been canned. We’d also suggest a test-drive of the thoroughly impressive CLS400 with its twin-turbo V6 before laying down the cash on the V8.
But thanks to this 2015 update, the CLS range offers something that all car lovers can appreciate.