New & Used Mercedes-Benz CLS Class: In Depth
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The Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class ranges from mid-to large in size, and shares its underpinnings with the E-Class. There are several drivetrain options, including the entry-level V-6 to the powerful V-8 in the CLS 63 AMG. It competes with the BMW 6-Series, Audi A7, and the Jaguar XF.
See our 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLS Class review for pricing with options, specifications, and gas mileage ratings
The first-generation CLS-Class was sold from the 2006 to the 2011 model years in the U.S. This version set the pace for "four-door coupes," with radically swoopy, curvy, and coupelike lines that weathered well over its life cycle. Inside, the first-generation CLS instrument panel was much like that elsewhere in the Mercedes lineup. The roofline's aggressive tapering drew the biggest contrast with the E-Class, diminishing back seat space in the name of style. Instead of a conventional bench seat in back, Mercedes-Benz installed two bucket seats that were comfortable for smaller adults, but lacking in headroom for larger adults. Rearward visibility proved difficult too, thanks to thick roof pillars and smaller windows.
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 uses in its other vehicles.
Completely redesigned in 2011 as a 2012 model--including an AMG model at launch--the CLS Class still rides atop the same architecture, but has grown a bit longer, though passenger space is about the same, and trunk space a bit reduced. The shape's 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 than ever. The ponton flares stamped into the rear quarter panels are especially distinctive, while the heavy-lidded taillamps may be the least inspiring detail. The new CLS interior is positively bejeweled with chrome trim, and encased in wood or aluminum trim, depending on the model.
With its more aggressively arched roofline and more flowing design, the CLS appeals to those who want a little more versatility for carrying backseat passengers compared to the Mercedes-Benz CL-Class coupes. But it's still a little tight inside: the lower roof trims headroom, especially in the snug-fitting back seat.
Three versions of the CLS are offered. There's a CLS 550 with a downsized 4.6-liter twin-turbo V-8 with 402 horsepower and a paddle-shifted seven-speed automatic, good for 0-60 mph times of about 5.0 seconds and a top speed of 130 mph; it also comes with all-wheel drive as the CLS 550 4MATIC. The performance version, the CLS 63 AMG, fits a 5.5-liter twin-turbo V-8 and a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission under the polarizing body, for 518 horsepower, a 0-60 mph time of as low as 4.3 seconds, and a top speed as high as 186 mph. Steering feel has improved on both versions though it's now electrically assisted, and the performance gulf has grown more sharp, with non-AMG versions setting a relaxed but controlled pace, and tuned versions almost eradicating body roll and really, any passivity.
For 2013, the 2012 model's updates carry forward unchanged. A new telematics system has been added, however, called mbrace2, and bringing with it apps capabilities including Facebook, Yelp, and more, plus remote vehicle access and diagnostics, and an mbrace Concierge service that helps customers to book airplane tickets, make dinner reservations, and more.