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Mercedes has never knowingly left a niche unplugged (how else would you explain the G-Wagen Landaulet?). It was with the first-generation CLS that Mercedes claims to have pioneered the concept of a car that “combines the elegance and dynamism of a coupé with the comfort and functionality of a saloon”. In other words, a swoopier alternative to a traditional saloon, or a marginally more practical alternative to a two-door coupe.
When the CLS was revealed 15 years ago it was unlike anything we’d seen from Audi or BMW. It hadn’t yet occurred to them that they could take the relatively humble underpinnings of a conventional three-box saloon, change the body for something more stylish, add 20 per cent to the RRP and, crucially, that their customers would lap it up. Mercedes got there first and, for a while, had it all its own way.
But it was only a matter of time before the others caught up. Before long Audi came out with the A7, BMW the 6 Series Gran Coupe and even Porsche with the Panamera. Suddenly there were options, so the CLS had to work a bit harder to justify its spot in Mercedes’ line-up. Enter the new one, then…
It may share a platform and key technologies with the staid, upright E-Class – as indeed it always has – but the new CLS gets all-new electrified powertrains and a coupe-like body Mercedes design boss Gorden Wagener says is “emotionally charged with elegant beauty”. Make of that what you will. Read on to see what it’s like.
From launch you’ve a choice of two engines (not including the AMGs, which we’ll cover later) in three different versions. The CLS350d and CLS400d get the in-line six-cylinder diesel from the recently facelifted S-Class, with 283bhp/443lb ft and 335bhp/516lb ft respectively. The third option is the 3.0-litre, in-line six-cylinder petrol – also from the S-Class – which with 362bhp/369lb ft is broadly comparable with the old V8-engined CLS500. At launch every CLS is equipped with rear-biased 4Matic all-wheel drive and a nine-speed automatic gearbox.
The petrol, meanwhile, also gets 48-volt electrics and an ‘EQ Boost’ function that delivers an extra 22bhp/184lb ft of boost for a limited time and means, when you let off the gas, the CLS can coast or ‘glide’ without its engine running. In effect, it’s the same powertrain you get in the facelifted S500. Read our review by clicking on these words. Four-cylinder petrol and diesel engines will be added later and make up the majority of sales. The diesel will be the really quite excellent turbocharged 2.0-litre from the E-Class. And the petrol will be a 2.0-litre too, but with around 300bhp and the same EQ Boost setup as the CLS450. We had a quick spin in the latter, with rear-wheel drive rather than four, and were pretty impressed.
We were impressed too with the other, ordinary CLS we drove – the 350d, with the optional three-chamber air suspension. So equipped it’s a bit of a barge and doesn’t really give you any incentive to cycle through its sportier modes (there are two – Sport and Sport+), but when you do it doesn’t fall apart. Heave and float are well supressed, the engine is as smooth and refined a diesel you’ll find anywhere and there’s little wind or tyre roar. With 4Matic and winter tyres it never wanted for traction in the slushy, snowy, freezing conditions of our test drive. When we get one in the UK we’ll see what it’s like on proper tyres, in the dry…
Now, the AMG. This is the first time we’ve tried a new AMG ‘53’. Long gone are the days Mercedes numbered its cars for the engine under the bonnet. The CLS53 does not have a 5.3-litre engine. It doesn’t even have eight-cylinders, turbocharged or otherwise. No, like the 43 series AMGs, 53s have six-cylinder engines, albeit of the inline variety instead of vees. It’s a development of the powertrain you get in the CLS450 – complete with 48v electrics and 22bhp of boost – but AMG has added an electric compressor. It acts as a second turbocharger, filling in until the larger, conventional turbocharger has had a chance to spool up higher up the rev range. With 429bhp and 384lb ft, you’ll see 0-62mph in 4.5 seconds and if you spec the AMG Driver’s Pack, 168mph. Fast car. And quite good.
Much like the E-Class in here, which is no bad thing. The basic architecture of the dashboard is the same – with two 12.3in screens (standard, unlike on the E) operated either by touchpads on the steering wheel (new, borrowed from the S-Class, very button-heavy) or a conventional controller on the centre console.
Ambient lighting is standard, can be cycled through 64 different colours and includes illuminated air vents that shine blue or red when you adjust the climate control. These seats are bespoke to the CLS, and sure enough they’re very comfortable. Not least because if you tick the right options, you can adjust them in what feels like a million different ways. If you need to expand the 520-litre boot those rear-seats – which are pretty spacious considering – fold in a 40:20:40 split.