A long-awaited return to straight-six power, coupled with a revival of Mercedes-Benz’s stylistic elegance, ensures the 2019 CLS doesn’t delve into mediocrity as it enters its third generation.
Perhaps, finally, the Mercedes-Benz CLS is comfortable in its own skin. The third-generation car, freed from the fussy front styling of the first generation and heavy-hipped look of the second-gen model, finally looks like a big ’Benz coupe with the added bonus of four doors.
The CLS has always been a statement in design rather than practicality. The new car is no different, with a roof line like a coupe, albeit with the ease of loading the rear seat through its own set of doors.
Indeed, it’s rare that you’ll find any comment or review of the CLS that doesn’t start by talking about how it looks, such is the impact of exaggerated proportions that have been imitated but still not bettered by competitors.
A new minimalist design language infiltrating Mercedes-Benz products only bolsters the dramatic chopped-roof stance by stripping the silhouette of unnecessary detailing, and ensuring design continues to be the major talking point of the CLS450.
That could almost be considered a failing, however, as the real party piece lies not in the bodywork, but under the bonnet.
Marking a return to an inline six-cylinder configuration, the CLS450 is powered by a turbocharged 3.0-litre petrol engine delivering 270kW of power and 500Nm of torque supplemented by a very mild hybrid system called EQ Boost.
Think of it as an upscaled start-stop system rather than a Lexus-esque hybrid format. The 48-volt starter/generator can chip in up to 16kW and 250Nm at low speeds or low engine loads, recuperates energy as the car coasts, and allows for seamless, noiseless, vibration-free engine restarting.
As the 450 state of tune isn’t an AMG-branded product, there’s also a less boisterous engine note. Although, Australian-delivered cars come with a sports exhaust that still provides a subtly tuneful soundtrack in demanding driving, without diluting the premium serenity expected of a large luxury sedan.
No matter how hard you rev it, the new inline six stays unwaveringly smooth. The soundtrack steps up, but refinement doesn’t decline.
The engine is paired with a slick-shifting nine-speed torque converter automatic that's free from nervousness or hesitation, and 4Matic all-wheel drive that is slowly making the move from ’Benz SUVs and AMG performance products to the wider Mercedes range.
Unfortunately, at a touch over 1900kg, the CLS450 is saddled with a weighbridge ticket that ensures it will never be mistaken for a performance car. That’s unlikely to be a problem if you’re buying on the basis of aesthetics alone, but if that’s the case, the less powerful four-cylinder CLS350 would likely do the trick. Power-addicts might prefer the coming AMG CLS53, but V8 fans, I’m sorry to report there will be no CLS63 this time.
What you do get, though, is an incredibly genteel ride courtesy of Air Body Control suspension, which manages to avoid the small-bump jitters that normally make air suspension systems less comfortable than they should be.
With an absorbent ride and a quiet and serene interior on the road, the CLS marks a welcome return to luxury in the luxury class. Ignore the 20-inch alloy wheels and AMG Line body styling, this is how ’Benzes used to drive at their best.
Although it’s not completely silent, given the size of the wheels underneath and the frameless window glass at the sides, the CLS isn’t far off that benchmark. There’s little to unsettle occupants on highway runs.
The counterpoint there is that if you do decide to turn up the heat a little on a flowing road, despite its best efforts to maintain composure, the CLS struggles to hide its heft. It lumbers through corners and lacks the razor-sharp confidence of something from BMW or Jaguar. Good.
Don’t expect untidy or unpredictable on-limit handling, though. Size and weight will take the lead in spirited driving, diluting the coupe-like spirit. The results aren’t dangerous or unruly, but are definitely thrill-free.
All-wheel drive, which Mercedes-Benz refers to as 4Matic, at least ensures that be it wet or dry under the wheels, the 520Nm CLS450 rarely struggles to find purchase. All the better to take it easy and soak up the ambience of the leather-lined interior, lit like the Vegas strip with a fully customisable LED light show illuminating everything from the floating dual 12.3-inch instrument cluster and infotainment display, to the air vents, dash wood, door trims, console and more.
The dash design itself essentially comes from the E-Class range, albeit with updated turbine-look air vents instead of the E’s louvred outlets. While it might have been nice for the CLS to take a more exclusive approach given its somewhat flagship status, the E-Class design suits nonetheless.
As you’d expect, the chopped roof dictates reduced head room. Front seat occupants don’t miss out significantly, but in the rear, a low roof and even lower door aperture require a measured approach to entry and egress.
There may be three seatbelts across the rear, but with sculpting tailored to two, the centre position is strictly provided for use in a pinch. With a wheelbase and seating layout that matches the E-Class, don’t expect to discover any additional leg room either.
Premium pricing, from $155,529 before on-road costs, sees the CLS positioned $11,700 above an E450 with the same drivetrain. There aren't too many missing luxury essentials for that price, though.
Standard CLS features include AMG interior styling with leather trim, heated and power adjustable front seats and steering column with memory, adaptive cruise control with speed limiter and traffic sign recognition, adaptive LED headlights, keyless entry and start, and dual-zone climate control.
The CLS450 adds extra features like power closing doors, Air-Balance ionising climate control with fragrance, plus Energising Comfort Control – a system that groups interior lighting, fragrance, and plays musical compositions to relax or energise as the driver sees fit.
To go with the dual-screen infotainment system, a supplementary controller on the console features rotary and touch controls, backed up by touch pads on each side of the steering wheel – one for the instrument cluster and one for the infotainment system, providing multiple interface options (including voice control) to operate the system.
A powerful 590-watt, 13-speaker Burmester surround-sound audio system delivers audio reproduction that’s good but not great, owing to bass that lacks depth and clarity that trails off as volume rises.
Digital radio, a digital owner's manual, a range of online services, satellite navigation, and smartphone connectivity including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (without a touchscreen interface) round out the infotainment suite.
Operating the system, known as COMAND in ’Benz-speak, has been made simpler thanks to the multiple control options, but can still be unintuitive at times and is a little too multi-layered when it comes to trawling through menus. The latest and greatest Mercedes infotainment system MBUX (which debuted in the all-new A-Class) has yet to filter through to the CLS range.
On the safety front, nine airbags, electronic stability control with crosswind assist, blind-spot assist, active lane keeping, active brake assist with rear cross-traffic function, multi-view 360-degree camera, evasive steering assist, active blind-spot assist, tyre pressure monitoring, adaptive high-beam assist plus, and driver-attention monitoring create a safety network of preventive and protective features including limited autonomous driving capabilities.
That technology, as you’ll find in the E-Class, S-Class and ramping up across the entire range, sees the CLS able to hold itself through gentle bends on roads with designated lane markings, keep its distance from cars in front and to the sides, and steps in to take evasive action should the human driver fail to react in time. Not fully autonomous, but another step towards it.
As with other prestige brands, warranty coverage trails mainstream industry leaders, with Mercedes-Benz offering a three-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty. Capped-price servicing is offered over a three-year/75,000km period with services priced at $594, $1188 and $1188 respectively.
Obviously, there are very few buyers for whom some form of cost consideration doesn’t affect their purchasing direction. However, in the case of the CLS given its aspirational status, warranty and service pricing – along with the purchase premium over an E-Class sedan – could take a lower priority.
Aspiration is exactly where the CLS450 excels too. Even 13 years after the first-gen four-door coupe arrived on Australian shores, the sports car profile draped over a large car platform continues to turn heads.
Without resorting to outlandish brashness or obnoxiousness, the CLS still commands attention the way big ’Benz coupes of the past used to, and does in cosseting, luxurious and high-tech comfort. Another huge tick.
Though it may not pass the practicality test with the same flying colours as a regular sedan, it manages to do a better job of people-carrying than a two-door coupe. Niche though it may be, the power of choice should always be welcomed.