2011 Mercedes-Benz CLS Class Review

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Martin Padgett Martin Padgett Editorial Director
January 25, 2011

The original "four-door coupe"--if you put faith in such a thing--is back for a final model year before Mercedes-Benz replaces the 2011 CLS-Class sedan with a more muscular vehicle.

The current CLS emerged as a singular machine in 2006. Sharing some components with the former E-Class, the CLS wrapped the mechanicals in a more lovely set of sheetmetal panels. The slimmed-down side view and a faintly French interior drew stares--and drew in the competition, with Audi and BMW and even Porsche now fielding similar models.

In its final model year, the CLS is mostly carried over from the prior year. It's still as taut and elegant as ever; the CLS 550 now wears the trim from a former sport package as standard equipment, to go with the the revised grille and headlamps that came with the 2009 model. 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.

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The CLS 550 gets its motivation from a 382-horsepower, 5.5-liter V-8 engine, coupled to a seven-speed automatic outfitted with paddles for shifting. Its sinewy purr at speed makes up a bit for its lagging fuel economy: the CLS 550 musters just 14/21 mpg.

The performance CLS63 AMG version butters the CLS' French bread with its 6.2-liter V-8. The engine throws off a heady 507 hp and 465 lb-ft of torque. It's been upgraded to a seven-speed AMG SpeedShift Plus automatic, which perversely drops its fuel economy from 14/19 mpg down to 12/18 mpg. Still, it pours on power in seamless streams, with a guttural bark emerging when it hits a 100-mph stride.

The rear-drive CLS rides atop an air suspension that can feel pillowy at times. 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. The AMG edition solves all these problems: its firm ride and steering feel are still supple enough to enjoy every day, without much of a sacrifice in ride quality.

The stylish body cuts into headroom, less in front than in the back seats, which can feel a little confining. In front, heated and ventilated front seats pocket passengers deeply; twin bucket seats in the back are very cozy, given the low ride height and the thick body pillars, which also cut down on visibility for all.

Neither the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) nor the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) has crash-tested a CLS-Class Mercedes. Both versions are outfitted with dual front, side, and curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction and stability control; and a Pre-Safe collision preparation system that tightens seatbelts when sensors indicate an imminent accident.

Satellite radio, Bluetooth connectivity, a Harman/Kardon audio system, and an iPod interface are included on each CLS; options include adaptive cruise control and parking sensors.

For an in-depth look at the outgoing four-door coupe, see TheCarConnection's full review of the Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class sedan.

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