New & Used Mercedes-Benz CLS Class: In Depth
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Over a variety of models, the Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class offers a choice between V-6, V-8, and AMG V-8 engines, with all-wheel drive also available.
The CLS finds its closest competition in other slinky four-doors, including the Audi A7, Jaguar XF, and BMW 6-Series Gran Coupe. The CLS-Class is a coupe-like spin-off from the German automaker's globally known E-Class family, and one of the creators of today's coupe-sedan niche.
MORE: Read our 2015 Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class review
Completely redesigned in 2011 as a 2012 model--and including an AMG model at launch--the CLS-Class still rides atop the same architecture. It has grown a bit longer, though passenger space remains similar, and trunk space is slightly reduced. The shape is even more dramatic than before, with the blocky, masculine front end now common on the Mercedes lineup fitted to a body with more crests and curves. The ponton flares stamped into the rear quarter panels are especially distinctive, while the heavy-lidded taillamps may be the least inspiring detail. The current CLS interior is positively bejeweled with chrome trim, and accented with beautiful wood or aluminum, depending on the model.
With its aggressively arched roofline and flowing design, the CLS appeals strikes a balance for those who want a little more versatility for carrying backseat passengers compared to the Mercedes-Benz S-Class coupes but don't need the room of an E-Class sedan. It's just a little tight inside: the low roofline steals headroom, especially in the snug-fitting back seat, but it's good enough for occasional use or carting the little ones around.
When the second-generation CLS was first offered in 2012, it was available with a choice of three powertrain combinations. The CLS 550 used a downsized 4.6-liter turbocharged V-8 good for 402 horsepower and matched to a paddle-shifted seven-speed automatic transmission. It was capable of a 5.0-second 0–60 mph time and a 130-mph top speed. The same engine was also offered with all-wheel drive, as the CLS 550 4MATIC.
The performance version, the CLS 63 AMG, fit a 5.5-liter twin-turbo V-8 and a clutched seven-speed transmission under the polarizing body, providing up to 585 horsepower, a 0–60 mph time of as little as 4.3 seconds, and a top speed as high as 186 mph.
For 2013, a new telematics system called mbrace2 was fitted to the CLS, bringing with it apps capabilities including Facebook and Yelp connectivity, plus remote vehicle access and diagnostics, and an mbrace Concierge service that helps customers do things like book airplane tickets and make dinner reservations.
In 2014, the AMG CLS was updated and given a lengthier name: CLS63 AMG S-model 4MATIC. The S-model portion denotes a more powerful version of the 5.5-liter V-8, now making 577 hp and 590 lb-ft of torque. The 4MATIC addendum signifies the standard all-wheel drive that has been added to try and make sense of all that extra power and torque.
In the 2015 model year, the CLS was updated with a new front end, one that's less busy and more subtle than its predecessor. The cabin also has been updated with the latest, cleaner Mercedes themes. Switchgear, most notably, has been updated inside, bringing the CLS back to the level that its E-Class relatives enjoy.
There are also several powertrain updates for the 2015 CLS. Mercedes has added a CLS 400 model, which uses its new twin-turbocharged V-6, good for 329 horsepower and 354 pound-feet of torque; rear-wheel drive is standard with this engine, and 4MATIC all-wheel drive is available. The rear-drive CLS 550 gets a new nine-speed automatic transmission, which will see expanded use in other CLS models and the rest of the Mercedes-Benz lineup very soon. The CLS 550 fitted with 4MATIC all-wheel drive continues to use the older seven-speed automatic.
On the digital side of the technology front, the 2015 Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class offers a host of entertainment and information features, such as the COMAND Online system, operated through the central eight-inch color high-resolution display. From internet surfing while the vehicle is stationary to on-the-go Bluetooth streaming, weather, Google Local Search, StreetView, and more, the COMAND Online system, especially in conjunction with Mercedes-Benz Apps, offers much for the tech-head to love.
Mercedes-Benz CLS history
In its first generation, the Mercedes CLS-Class was sold in the U.S. from the 2006 model year through 2011. The CLS is the model that defined the somewhat nonsensical "four-door coupe" category as a sedan with a coupe-like silhouette and dramatic styling. The CLS was a bold design statement when it launched and the first-generation car managed to look modern until it was replaced. While the interior and underpinnings of the first CLS were closely related to the E-Class sedan of that time, the big difference was seen in the rear seat as a result of the extremely tapered roofline. In place of a standard bench seat, Mercedes fit two small bucket seats in the rear, which were comfortable for smaller folks but didn't provide enough headroom for tall adults. The design also hindered rearward visibility, with thick rear pillars and a short backlight.
The first CLS was built on most of the same mechanical underpinnings as the pre-2010 Mercedes-E-Class sedan. It was introduced as a CLS500 or CLS55 AMG—the CLS500 including a 302-horsepower, 5.0-liter V-8, the latter a 469-hp, 5.5-liter V-8. In 2007, those models were replaced by the 391-hp, 5.5-liter CLS550 and the 507-hp, 6.3-liter CLS63 AMG. Any of these models have the capability to accelerate confidently and smoothly from any legal or extra-legal speed and come with a responsive seven-speed automatic transmission.
AMG models come with paddle-shifters and are sport-car quick; the CLS63 AMG can get to 60 mph in less than 4.5 seconds. In any of these versions, fuel economy is unimpressive—low teens in the city, mid to upper teens on the highway. Overall, the CLS rides and handles more like a luxury car than a performance sedan; despite an air suspension in most versions, there's quite a bit of body motion if you try to drive the CLS quickly. The CLS63 AMG version handles considerably better, without riding any worse.
Powertrains aside, the CLS-Class changed very little from its 2006 introduction through the 2011 model year. The model got an updated grille, new wheels, and a few other small changes for 2009, along with the latest version of Mercedes-Benz's COMAND navigation and entertainment interface. Interior appointments are excellent in this generation, with more colorful and daring interior themes than M-B used in its other vehicles.