With the 2010 Mercedes-Benz CLS, the German automaker succeeds with an unusual formula. They call the CLS a "four-door coupe"-a notion that seemed odd a few years ago when it was introduced. And yet today, the Benz CLS has inspired a raft of similar vehicles from automakers around the world, with its slimmed-down side view and its faintly French interior.
In retrospect, the "coupe" designation seems a little more acceptable; though it still has four doors, the CLS' profile is taut and elegant like a fine coupe. Last year's face-lift subtly improved the car's visage with a more dramatic two-bar grille and a slightly trimmed nose, along with LED tail lamps. Years after its launch, the CLS' silhouette still is quite fetching. The sheetmetal gives way to even more elegance inside, where the front seats are surrounded by veneered dash, doors, and console. Last year, the CLS adopted a new steering wheel and white-faced instruments, minor styling cues that didn't interrupt its antithetically Benz beauty.
The 2010 CLS-Class returns with two models. A standard CLS 550 is plenty urgent thanks to a 382-horsepower, 5.5-liter V-8 engine. The performance CLS63 AMG version amps up the numbers with an AMG-penned 6.2-liter V-8, a muscular 507 hp, and 465 lb-ft of torque. Both pour on power in seamless streams, with the AMG barking out a more guttural tone when it hits a 100-mph stride. In either trim, the CLS is no fuel sipper. Even though it's mated to a slick-shifting seven-speed automatic, the CLS 550 musters just 14/21 mpg. The five-speed automatic-equipped AMG edition drops even lower, to 14/19 mpg. In the CLS 550, power shuttles to the rear wheels, and ride motions are controlled by an air suspension that leaves something to be desired, dynamically. The well-balanced rear-drive chassis wants to be firmer, and the steering needs to be a little quicker to please traditional German car fans. If they opt up to the AMG edition, those handling problems are solved; the top version has firm but supple ride and steering feel, without much of a sacrifice in ride quality. In all, there's an appealing, luxuriant feel to the CLS that's the opposite of the taut, tightly drawn handling of a BMW 5-Series-or Mercedes' own E-Class, for example.