2008 Mercedes-Benz CLS Class Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
June 17, 2008

The 2008 Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class turns the E-Class into a dramatic four-door "coupe," with better lines but worse visibility and softer handling.

TheCarConnection.com’s car experts studied road tests of the 2008 Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class to write this definitive review. TheCarConnection.com’s editors also drove the Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class and have contributed driving impressions and details where they help you to make a better decision.

The 2008 Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class is dubbed a "four-door coupe" by the German automaker. The sedan joined the Benz lineup in 2006, and it's derived from the mechanicals that underpin the more traditional E-Class sedan. It's a lovely shape, inside and out, and seems pointed directly at Jaguar's full-size sedans. The interior in particular is slathered in wood trim.

Two engines are available in the CLS. The base CLS550 has a 5.5-liter V-8 with 382 horsepower. Teamed with a slick-shifting seven-speed automatic, it gets 14/21 mpg fuel economy--not a stunning achievement. The 507-horsepower CLS63 AMG is lightning quick but even less efficient at 12/18 mpg.

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With a well-balanced rear-drive chassis and an air suspension, the base Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class has softer reflexes than the typical E-Class Benz. The ride is almost pillowy and the steering a little slow to respond; the AMG version tightens it up dramatically. In the original form, the Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class has an appealing luxury feel that's the opposite of the taut, tightly drawn handling of a BMW 5-Series, for example.

Interior room is at a premium compared with the tall-roofed E-Class. The heated and ventilated front seats sit low, and the higher dash cuts down on visibility, as do the thick rear pillars. The rear bucket seats are quite comfortable, but the CLS's bodywork draws in close, making the backseat feel claustrophobic, especially in dark colors.

Both versions of the 2008 Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class get traction and stability control, anti-lock brakes, side and curtain airbags, and a PRE-SAFE collision preparation system that senses if an accident is about to happen and tightens seatbelts before impact.

All Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class sedans have a premium Harmon/Kardon audio system with six-disc CD changer, standard satellite radio, and an interface for the Apple iPod.

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2008 Mercedes-Benz CLS Class

Styling

The 2008 Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class spins the E-Class basics into a sleeker, more sybaritic experience.

The 2008 Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class is dubbed a "four-door coupe" by the German automaker. The sedan joined the Benz lineup in 2006, and it's derived from the mechanicals that underpin the more traditional E-Class sedan. It's a lovely shape, inside and out, and seems pointed directly at Jaguar's full-size sedans.

Kelley Blue Book says "nothing about the 2008 Mercedes-Benz CLS is as distinctive as its unfamiliar shape" in which the back blends into the rear C-pillars and trunk lid to create a "unique fastback profile." The CLS’s "sweeping arc" roofline was noted by TheCarConnection.com in more than one review, including Cars.com. Edmunds practically quotes ForbesAutos, calling it "a 'four-door coupe' that blends the sleek lines of a luxury two-door with the practicality of a sedan." Automobile ridicules the notion that it’s a coupe, as did many sources; the “CLS is a sedan,” they report. “Take a look: four front-hinged doors, back seats, trunk. If that's a coupe, then Mercedes should open a real estate arm specializing in two-bedroom studio apartments.”

In evaluating its "highs" and "lows" of this particular 2008 Mercedes-Benz, Car and Driver puts "visual presence inside and out" in the former column. Edmunds sums it up by saying, “More stunning in person than even the most flattering photography might suggest, the coupelike Mercedes CLS-Class has a visual presence that few other luxury sedans can match.”

The interior of the 2008 Mercedes-Benz CLS takes a more sophisticated tack than the usual Mercedes sedan. It mimics Jaguar’s sedans with slabs of wood trim and soft finishes. Kelly Blue Book observes, "Large expanses of unique matte burl walnut trim...combine with sculpted perforated seats to convey a purpose that is at once both elegant and spirited." Automobile reports that “A wood-trimmed center console separates the seats and continues the theme set by the Paul Bunyan-sized slab of burled walnut that adorns the leather-upholstered dashboard.” Edmunds says, “Inside the cockpit, sweeping wood panels, chrome trim surrounds, premium materials and beautiful detailing set the CLS apart.”

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2008 Mercedes-Benz CLS Class

Performance

The 2008 Mercedes-Benz CLS offers a softer driving experience, with exceptional power on tap in AMG trim—but fuel economy is a minor disappointment.

The 2008 Mercedes-Benz CLS exudes as much charm in driving as it does sitting still.

Two engines are available in the 2008 Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class. The base CLS550 has a 5.5-liter V-8 with 382 horsepower. Teamed with a slick-shifting seven-speed automatic, it gets 14/21mpg fuel economy--not a stunning achievement. Edmunds assures prospective buyers who may not have the wherewithal for a V-12 that the V-8 engines are still "smooth and incredibly powerful."

Acceleration is strong, performance is rated as "excellent," and the seven-speed automatic transmission provides "crisp shifts." Forbes Autos reports that the seven-speed transmission is standard and does in fact have manual shift capability for those who absolutely must shift their own gears--though this source says that "most will likely leave it in 'drive' and be done with it."

The 507-hp CLS63 AMG is lightning quick but even less efficient at 12/18 mpg. This version catapults from 0-60 in a mere 4.4 seconds--which Edmunds calls "supercar territory." ConsumerGuide says, "It has strong immediate power, and it doesn't taper off as speed increases, making for no-sweat highway passing and merging." The more powerful, supercharged trim of the Mercedes-Benz 2008 has a five-speed automatic, according to Cars.com. Both versions come with "steering wheel shift buttons,” ConsumerGuide says.

With a well-balanced rear-drive chassis and an air suspension, the base Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class has softer reflexes than the typical E-Class Benz. The ride is almost pillowy and the steering a little slow to respond; the AMG version tightens it up dramatically. In its original form, the Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class has an appealing luxury feel that's the opposite of the taut, tightly drawn handling of a BMW 5-Series, for example.

ConsumerGuide as usual has the most to say about this 2008 Mercedes Benz model's handling characteristics. Ride quality is "controlled and comfortable on any road surface despite sporty suspension tuning...[it] confidently absorbs bumps with little impact harshness." The car tested here "turns with grippy assurance, surgeon-precise steering. Any body lean in fast turns is minimal at worst," while "brakes have exceptional pedal feel and erase speed with no drama." Kelley Blue Book says "when a winding mountain road is part of the journey, the adjustable air suspension lets you dial in just enough stiffness to encourage a little coupe-like driving." Edmunds sums it up succinctly: The full-sized 2008 Mercedes Benz "handles like a smaller car."

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2008 Mercedes-Benz CLS Class

Comfort & Quality

The 2008 Mercedes-Benz CLS coddles four passengers in ample comfort and decadent luxury—though front passengers will get more space.

Reviewers from around the Web praised the 2008 Mercedes-Benz CLS’s front-seat comfort, but found tighter seating in back and mediocre cargo space.

There’s plenty of room in the front pair of buckets. The optional massaging front seats, notes Cars.com, entitle driver and front passenger to "expect a comfortable ride in the true luxury sense." ForbesAutos is very impressed with the CLS’s genuine leather and wood appointments, and the "heated and ventilated multi-contour seats" are nothing short of decadent.

Car and Driver and Cars.com suggest that rear space in the 2008 Mercedes-Benz CLS may be a bit "tight" thanks to the sloping style. ConsumerGuide warns there is "little head space for those over 5-ft-9. Knee and leg room get tight for adults with front seats pushed well back." Automobile observes, “The back seats are set low to clear the sloping roofline, but deeply scooped-out front seatbacks leave sufficient leg-room for six-footers, and rear passengers can set their own temperatures via the four-zone climate control.” In addition, the “coupelike roof line and tighter door openings can make getting in and out of the rear seats more difficult.”

According to Kelley Blue Book, the Mercedes-Benz 2008 CLS has 15.9 cubic feet of cargo space, but ConsumerGuide points out that the space is not particularly efficient; the trunk of the 2008 Mercedes-Benz CLS is "long and wide, but not very tall," making it difficult to fit larger hard suitcases. However, there is "decent cabin storage [which] includes large, covered bins front and rear."

In terms of fit and finish, the 2008 Mercedes Benz lives up to expectations. Kelly Blue Book comments on the "impeccable dash stitching," and in a review of last year's model, which is much the same as the Mercedes-Benz 2008 CLS, ConsumerGuide said the cabin had "top-notch workmanship, elegant leather upholstery, numerous padded surfaces, and liberal use of soft-touch materials."

ConsumerGuide also reports that noise levels are "the usual Mercedes-Benz combination of little wind noise and classy, mechanical engine growl," while "coarse-surface tire thrum [is] noticed but is never intrusive." Car and Driver agrees, saying "even at wide-open throttle, your ears aren't exactly pummeled by sound" and that even though the V-8 produces "enough volume to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand at attention ... the sound remains refined by staying at some remove."

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2008 Mercedes-Benz CLS Class

Safety

The 2008 Mercedes-Benz CLS makes plenty of safety equipment standard, but crash tests are still in the offing.

The 2008 Mercedes-Benz CLS has exceptional standard safety equipment, but crash tests haven’t yet been performed on the four-door.

Neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has performed any crash tests on the 2008 Mercedes-Benz CLS.

However, the CLS’s list of standard safety gear is impressive. In addition to the full complement of airbags (eight in all, according to ForbesAutos), the Mercedes-Benz 2008 offers numerous high-tech safety features that are not found on every vehicle. These include the company's PRE-SAFE system. This may be the ultimate in "smart car" accident–avoidance technology; when an "imminent and unavoidable collision" is detected, the system takes a number of protective measures automatically. Cars.com reports that this system "pre-tensions seat belts, moves the seats into a safer position and closes the sunroof." Kelley Blue Book notes that standard safety equipment in the Mercedes-Benz 2008 CLS models includes "electronic stability protection" and "an advanced electro-hydraulic braking system."

The only negative issue noted was the Mercedes-Benz 2008 CLS's "low roofline and high beltline," which, according to ForbesAutos, can "impair outward visibility." In an otherwise mostly giddily gushing review of the 2007 model, Car and Driver says the high beltline "makes looking out of the car and around the various pillars like poking your head out of a trash can that's sitting in a jail cell."

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2008 Mercedes-Benz CLS Class

Features

The 2008 Mercedes-Benz CLS caters to the most avid and demanding technophile.

Drivers and passengers alike will find the 2008 Mercedes-Benz CLS features useful and enjoyable.

Kelley Blue Book reports the CLS550 offers "all the [standard] equipment you might expect of a sedan costing around $70,000." The list includes a sunroof, four-zone climate control, an LCD control center, and Tele Aid, which provides emergency and directional services (similar to OnStar). Cars.com notes that for 2008, Mercedes-Benz offers "a few more standard options, including satellite radio and larger wheels."

One feature of the 2008 Mercedes-Benz that is not terribly helpful, according to many sources noted by the experts at TheCarConnection.com, is the Mercedes-Benz COMAND system--Cockpit Management and Navigation Device system--which Edmunds reports is "largely unintuitive." The wheel-driven controller that operates the navigation, climate, and audio controls is one of a generation of similar controls from Audi and BMW that have met with universal dislike in reviews read by TheCarConnection.com.

"Noteworthy options" in the Mercedes-Benz 2008 CLS, according to ForbesAutos, are a power trunk closer and an interface allowing users to link Apple's iPod MP3 player to the car's audio system. Kelley Blue Book lists more options, including "active HID headlamps, adaptive radar cruise control, front/rear park assist, heated and ventilated front seats, [and] air support front seats." They also mention that the Mercedes-Benz 2008 CLS can be loaded with a "harman/kardon digital surround-sound system, six-disc CD changer, hands-free voice control system, Keyless Go unlock and start and a rear-window sunshade."

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8.2
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Styling 8.0
Performance 8.0
Comfort & Quality 8.0
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