The whole Mercedes lineup in the midst of an unsubtle leap from feminine to masculine styling, the 2012 CLS sedan joins in this year with bold cues like the ones that now ring out on the E Class and S Class. Only here, it falls into place more neatly and succinctly. Of all the big Benz sedans, the CLS does the best job of melding an older silhouette with the new styling direction, especially from the rear.
The last time around the drafting table (okay, OLED screen), the CLS had spare, elegant sheetmetal that proved a pretty diversion from the upright E Class lurking underneath. Now it's gone in search of a little toughness. In front, the CLS cribs the pronounced horizontal and trapezoidal lines that also compartmentalize the E Class coupe and sedan. The wide grille and immense three-pointed star come off as a classy way to deal with the taller front end required to meet European crash standards. To us, the beltline that divides the grille from the air intakes makes the CLS look as if it's contemplating its own good looks in a narcissistic pond.
Mothballing the plainer doors and rear fenders it once wore, the CLS is now deeply sculpted down its flanks. Whether you think it harks back to ponton fender lines, or suggests a muscular set of haunches, the CLS' rear quarters just work--it's coiled and tensed, a slingshot of visual motion compared to the gentle arc of the roof.
The reinterpreted panels meet up with a reworked dash inside the CLS. The usual cut-tube gauges glimmer with white borders, a big LCD panel dominates the top of the dash, the center vents bulge outward from wood frames, and soft-brushed metallic trim runs rings around the interior. There's plenty for the eyes to digest on here, and like the other sexy German new on the block, it's almost to the point of overload. The wood trims mostly mute that--but the CLS 63 AMG's optional carbon-fiber trim glowers for attention.