- Muscular new sheetmetal
- Strong, smooth turbo V-8s
- AMG's stunning big-car handling
- Thronelike seats
- Infotainment features galore
- Rear-seat head room still tight
- Unabashedly expensive
- Interior can look busy
- COMAND is what it is
Still a fashionista at heart, the 2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS is cut from a more masculine pattern book these days--especially in powerful AMG trim.
Call it a coupe if you want. The 2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS still has four doors, and at the brass-tacks level, it's still an E Class, albeit one with a new outlook on life.
But what a difference that outlook makes. The CLS has always had a beautiful silhouette--and now that it has more competition, from Europe and from Asia, it's steeled itself with some fascinating new angles and deep new dimples. In the process, it's gone from merely pretty to compelling, tense, and athletic, even inside, where the cabin walks a fine line between glamorous and busy.
The CLS' hallmark relaxed road manners are reined in a little bit, to match its aggressive new looks. The standard V-8 car, with 402 turbocharged horsepower, has a near-bottomless well of torque, and bristles with coupelike performance, though it's still a very comfortable cruiser in all but its most heightened states of electronic tune. It's in AMG-land where the CLS really takes on a new dimension, with up to 550 horsepower and some inspired moves that trim down the usual big-car dynamics into fighting shape. It's a lightsaber of a car that still manages 16/25 mpg on the EPA test cycle, on the same plane as a Porsche Panamera.
Still tight in the back seat, the CLS has front passengers covered for plush accommodations and supportive seats. The gimmicky-sounding active seats are a new favorite, with airy bolsters that inflate as the car does deep knee bends into corners. It's a subtly reassuring detail--and in concert with the CLS' long list of safety equipment, some of which we think should be standard (blind-spot monitors, rearview camera) at its $72,000 base price.
If you thought the E Class was lavishly outfitted, the closely related 2012 CLS is even more lushly equipped. Even the base car has a sunroof and leather upholstery, as well as a navigation system and walnut trim, and an option for all-wheel drive. The ne plus ultra CLS? That's the $95,775 CLS 63 AMG, which comes with its own hellacious drivetrain, along with the same standard features. Want more? It can be had with 550 horsepower, a top speed of 186 mph, and for $12,265, exotic-grade carbon ceramic brakes.
The first version blurred the line between coupe and sedan. With performance like this, the new CLS makes it a moot point.