2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS review

Australian first drive: CLS450 lands ahead of wider range

Rating: 8.2
$155,529 Mrlp
  • Fuel Economy
    8.7L
  • Engine Power
    270kW
  • CO2 Emissions
    197g
  • ANCAP Rating
    N/A

New engines, loads of tech, and a cutting-edge design language underpin the all-new 2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS450.

There’s an argument to be made that Mercedes-Benz ‘invented’ the idea of a four-door coupe with the original CLS back in 2004. That first-generation CLS certainly cut a striking pose, with a swooping roofline that belied its four-door credentials.

Its styling polarised back then (even if Falcon AU owners could rightfully have gloated at being several years ahead of the curve), the CLS presenting a curvaceous profile that was neither sedan nor coupe, sitting somewhere between the brand’s more austere E-Class sedan and CL-Class two-door. Which begged the question… what exactly was it?

Of course, since then, four-door coupes have become something of a thing, with Merc’s main German rivals, BMW and Audi, also in on the act. Clearly, there’s a market for buyers who don’t want the conservatism of a sedan but can’t quite commit to a less practical coupe.

And it’s that market this new, third-generation CLS is targeting. Based on Mercedes-Benz’s E-Class platform, the new CLS presents as a stylish, if marginally less coupe-like four-door.

There will eventually be three variants of CLS available in Australia: a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo with 220kW and 400Nm (CLS350), the CLS450 featuring Mercedes-Benz’s all-new 3.0-litre inline six turbo petrol (internal code M256) with 270kW and 500Nm; and the hi-po AMG version, the CLS53 with the same inline six, albeit with 320kW and 520Nm.

Incidentally, when the CLS53 does lob, it will be the first ‘53’ variant featuring Merc’s new inline six in the country, slotting in between AMG’s other ‘43’ six-cylinder and ‘63’ V8 variants. No diesel, and no V8 then. And no Shooting Brake either, for those who love their wagons.

For now, though, it’s the CLS450 flying the four-door coupe flag for Mercedes-Benz in Australia, with the four-pot and AMG variants not due Down Under until later in the year.

Priced at $155,529 plus on-roads, the CLS450 is brimming with style and equipment and a few party tricks.

Externally, the CLS is, according to the car’s designer Gordon Wagener, a design sketch in the metal. It’s certainly a striking car to look at, with its swooping roofline offset by the ‘Predator’ front that combines MB’s current shark-nose design with negative tilting, while the AMG-inspired A-frame bumper adds a touch of aggression.

The diamond grille, separated by a single louvre, comes directly from Merc’s range of coupes, underling the CLS’s coupe pretensions. It cuts a striking figure in the metal, at once long, low and wide. Aggressive.

But more than just a study in automotive design, the CLS is packed with standard equipment, both inside and out. The standard AMG Line adds sporty bodystyling and 20-inch alloys, as well as that aggressive-looking diamond grille and perforated brake discs. The AMG touches continue inside with a multi-function, flat-bottom sports steering wheel, sports seats and pedals, along with AMG floor mats.

There are a variety of interior trims – black plastic, faux carbon-fibre, or light-coloured wood – to accent the gently curving dash which leads into and continues on through the door sills. Sitting atop that calming dash, are two high-res 12.3-inch screens that sit side-by-side and form the nexus of the CLS’s entertainment and information.

The left-hand touchscreen controls the CLS’s infotainment via Merc’s COMAND Online system, featuring satellite-navigation with 3D map display, smartphone mirroring, Bluetooth connectivity, and a 13-speaker Burmester surround sound system with DAB+ radio as well as a suite of the car’s functions including ambient lighting (there are 64 colours to choose from) and Merc’s Energising Comfort Control, in short a suite of wellness programs. No, really.

Without diving too deep, the Energising Comfort Control tailors the car’s ambience according to preset programs, integrating climate control, fragrance and ionisation, music selection, as well as massage, heating and ventilation function of the seats according to whatever mood you select. It’s a quirky feature, for sure. Another neat trick is the illuminated air vents which change colour according to temperature adjustment: red for warmer, blue for cooler.

The second 12.3-inch screen forms the digital instrument cluster and is customisable in three styles – Classic, Sporty and Progressive – to display a variety of information. There’s also a head-up display, just in case that 12.3-inch instrument cluster isn’t info enough for you.

The sports seats are certainly Mercedes comfortable, and come with the usual multi-way electric adjustment. Finding the perfect driving position is easy, augmented by the electrically adjustable steering wheel. That wheel is also typically Benz, chunky in hand and reassuring.

It’s in the back row though, here the CLS’s coupe-like underpinnings come to the fore. Despite being a not inconsiderable five metres long, that back row is a tight fit, even for little old 5’8” me. There’s enough leg and knee room, but it’s certainly not brimming with space. Similarly, headroom is impacted by that sloping roofline. I wouldn’t want to be too much taller.

Those seats are comfortable though, and for the first time, fit three across. Although, a large transmission hump will likely result in a foot-fight amongst rear-seat passengers. It’s also a touch dark back there, a result of that low roofline and the resulting smallish rear windows. That ambience is mitigated somewhat by the standard sunroof, so it’s not all bad back there.

Overall, the cabin presents as a classy and mildly futuristic look. It’s certainly not a staid execution, presenting instead how the interior of how a concept car would have looked not too many years ago.

Of course, safety has always been front-and-centre at Mercedes-Benz and the new CLS is no different. Highlights include a 360-degree camera with dynamic guidelines, adaptive cruise control with stop and go functionality up to 210km/h, lane-keeping assist, lane-changing assist, autonomous emergency braking with cross-traffic function, and attention assist while a complement of nine airbags protect all front and back occupants.

That lane-keeping assist is amongst the more insistent we’ve experienced, offering a firm shove on the wheel should you find yourself straying outside the lines like a toddler with crayons. That makes it sound like it’s intrusive, but in fact, it’s one of the better assistants we’ve experienced. It’s also level two autonomous capable, meaning you can take your hands off the wheel and let the CLS do its own thing, for short periods, before the dash lights up urging you take back control.

The lane-change assist too is flawless. With your hands off the wheel, simply activate the indicator in the direction you want to go, and the CLS will effectively and smoothly change lanes for you. It’s a party trick for now, with no practical application really, but it’s fun to play around with.

The CLS’s sporting bent continues on the road. It’s by no means a sportscar, but there’s plenty of shove from that inline six. Mercedes claims a 0-100km/h time of 4.8 seconds. Proper quick, then, and not surprising considering the 270kW of power and 500Nm of torque on offer under your right foot.

That’s further enhanced by Merc’s 48V EQ Boost mild hybrid system which adds 15kW and 250 Nm of torque for short bursts. That EQ system also allows the engine to shut down when coasting, or in Benz-speak ‘sailing’, further saving fuel. Power to the system is regenerated via braking.

Transmitting that power to all four wheels is Merc’s nine-speed auto (9G-Tronic). The torque split between the front and rear wheels is a rock solid 45/55. The AMG CLS53 will feature Benz’s 4MATIC+ all-wheel drive system which distributes torque between the rear and front wheels as required, while the CLS350 rides on a rear-wheel drive platform.

For now, though, it’s the CLS450 and right off the bat, it’s a decent thing. That new inline six has a pleasing, if not raucous, engine note which intensifies the harder you accelerate. It’s certainly quick under hard acceleration, yet happily benign when cruising, burbling along quietly. And economically.

Mercedes claims a miserly 8.7L/100km on the combined cycle and after a full day behind the wheel in a variety of conditions, from city gridlock to highway cruising to some adventurous country backroad driving, we saw an indicated 9.0L/100km. Impressive stuff.

Toggling through the drive modes alter the CLS’s character with adjustments to steering, transmission and throttle response, according to the mode selected: Comfort, Sport or Sport+. There’s also an Eco mode which dulls everything down in the hunt for fuel economy, but not so much that you find it frustrating. If anything, Eco simply looks to engage that EQ ‘sailing’ mode more readily.

On the road, the CLS is quiet and comfortable and goes about its business with minimal fuss. That’s in thanks largely to Merc’s Air Body Control system which provides continuously variable damper control. The system adjusts on the move, tailoring damping to specific driving and road conditions, via separate valves for damper compression and rebound.

In general driving conditions, like on a freeway, the ride is soft and forgiving. But, start throwing the CLS at some corners with vigour, and the system stiffens spring response and reduces bodyroll.

And should you find yourself in a place where speeds of 138km/h or more won’t land you in jail or cost you your licence, the suspension automatically lowers the car by 15mm, improving handling and reducing drag. Needless to say, we did not test this last function on local roads.

The overall result of this suspension finery is well-balanced and quiet ride, befitting a Mercedes-Benz tourer.

And that’s the nub. Despite its sporty profile, the CLS really is more a comfortable touring car than it is a corner carver. And in that regard, it shines. That it does without the conservative visage of the E-Class is a boon, at least for some.

Sure, there are those who prefer the more austere packaging of the E-Class, but for those who are slightly more adventurous in their outlook, the CLS is the car for them.

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