2020 Mercedes-Benz CLS Class

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2019
The Car Connection
2019
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Aaron Cole Aaron Cole Managing Editor
September 14, 2019

Buying tip

An upgraded air suspension for the CLS 450 is an entirely reasonable $1,900 option. We’d pick it for its adeptness at comfort and performance.

The 2020 Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class is graceful and serene with impressive performance available.

Others have imitated the look (even some cars sitting across the same showroom) but the Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class started the four-door “coupe” trend and it still wears it best. 

The 2020 Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class is mostly unchanged from last year’s version, which was a ground-up redesign for the luxury mid-size sedan. 

This year, Mercedes offers the CLS 450 and AMG CLS 53, which are both powered by a turbo inline-6 filtered through a 9-speed automatic. 

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Our overall rating of 7.2 applies to the 2020 CLS 450, which is more popular among buyers. Opt for the Mercedes-Benz CLS 53 AMG and that number would go up thanks to its impressive performance. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Performing is what the CLS does best, and it performs for onlookers. The fast roofline has been applied to everything from tall-riding crossovers such as the GLC-Class and GLE-Class, but on the CLS-Class, it works best. The low-slung sedan is elegant and sporty, with the right amount of ‘tude to turn heads. 

The CLS-Class draws power from a turbo 3.0-liter inline-6 and electric motor combo that’s impressive but also complex. The short of the long: the inline-6 deftly replaced the old V-8s and V-6s and we’re just fine with it. 

The base engine makes 362 horsepower, which the CLS 53 dials up to 429 hp. The CLS 450 will happily rip off runs to 60 mph in about 5 seconds, while the CLS 53 takes just 4.4 ticks. 

The CLS-Class gets a supple ride made better through an air suspension (which is standard on the CLS 53) and it makes quick work of corners with an available all-wheel-drive system (again, standard on the CLS 53).

Inside, four adults will fit fine, but two will be happier. The leather and soft-touch materials are a delight—same goes for the quiet cabin. 

For a starting price of $70,945, including destination, the CLS-Class can race past six figures for a fully stocked CLS 53 but it doesn’t want for comfort either. All cars get 19-inch wheels, leather upholstery, heated seats, a 12.3-inch display for infotainment with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility, navigation, blind-spot monitors, Bluetooth connectivity, and configurable interior lighting.

We’d stick closer to the entry end with a few luxury conveniences thrown in, all-wheel drive fitted, and an air suspension for less than $80,000.

8

2020 Mercedes-Benz CLS Class

Styling

The CLS-Class started the trend that others have followed for years. The 2020 example is just as sharp.

Style is what you’re here for and the CLS has it—with more to spare. 

It’s an 8 on our scale because the exterior is better than good, it’s great. The interior is good too, but have you seen that body? (Read more about how we rate cars.)

We could quibble with the “four-door coupe” designation from Mercedes until we’re blue in the face, but our breath is already taken by the sedan’s profile. 

The fast roof plunges toward the rear elegantly, and the frameless doors of the CLS-Class melt into the bodysides. 

The front of the CLS-Class is taut and muscular, this year every model gets the “power dome” that was reserved last year for the AMG version. The A-frame grille reaches toward lower air intakes that give the CLS a low, hunkered-down presence pulling up to the curb. 

The back is sharp and tidy except for one thing: in profile, the area around the rear license plate juts out like a swollen bottom lip. It’s hard to say if it’s protection for the rear bumper, a regulation, or just an odd detail, but we can’t unsee it. 

Inside, the CLS-Class is similarly elegant—but doesn’t strike out in a different direction than the rest of Mercedes’ lineup. It’s best look is at night, when 64 selectable shades of interior LED lights bathe the interior in soft colors. 

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2020 Mercedes-Benz CLS Class

Performance

The 2020 CLS-Class is an impressive and calm performer.

The 2020 CLS-Class is silky smooth in more ways than one. 

On top of a swoopy shape, all sedans are powered by a trick 3.0-liter turbo inline-6 that shuffles power through a 9-speed automatic. All-wheel drive and an air suspension are on the options list. 

Our rating of 7 applies to the CLS 450 thanks to good power and a composed ride. If the CLS53 were rated on its own, it’d be an easy 8—maybe higher. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

We won’t get too in the weeds here, but what’s under the hoods of all CLS models is beyond impressive engineering—it’s excellent. Mercedes-Benz’s new, 362-hp 3.0-liter inline-6 dispatches with the old V-6 in the CLS 400 in the name of efficiency and comfort. Less is more here; the inline-6 delivers silky acceleration and a composed ride with less weight on the nose than the V-6 (far less weight than the V-8), fewer moving parts, less friction, and less noise. The old V-6 was rated at 329 hp. 

Strapped to the new inline-6 is what Mercedes calls an integrated starter-generator that not only spools the turbocharger but also stores small amounts of energy to dump down the driveline to help efficiency and power (up to 21 pound-feet). Called EQ boost, the starter-generator is also tasked with harvesting energy to shut off the engine at stoplights and can smoothly restart the engine in stop-and-go traffic. No, really, the stop-start is seamless. 

Mercedes’ 9-speed automatic pleasantly rifles through ratios, with a preference for upshifts in Comfort modes. Tap the drive selector over to Sport and the transmission holds gears for longer and reaches higher into the inline-6’s sweet-sounding rev range. 

The base suspension setup is four-corner coils over springs with a preference for comfort. 

Most of our seat time has been behind the wheels of cars equipped with the optional air suspension, which costs $1,900. It smothers road imperfections, and when tipped into Sport or Individual drive settings with a firmer response, buttons down the CLS-Class when it’s time to play. 

Like most Mercedes’ models, the steering feel is light and luxurious in day-to-day driving, but sporty modes add weight to the wheel. We’ve carved canyons in Colorado and California behind the wheel of the CLS 53 and found that it dialed the right amount of heft. Serious performers may bemoan the lack of communication from the wheel, but serious performers will look instead to AMG’s other models. 

CLS 53 performance

The CLS 53 AMG is the jewel in the four-door coupe’s lineup, and we’ve taken a shine to it. 

The CLS 53 uses the same turbo inline-6 and integrated starter-generator as the CLS 450, but the engine has been massaged by AMG and its output is 429 hp and it dashes from 0-60 mph in 4.4 seconds. It’s quicker and more powerful than the V-8-powered CLS 550 and we don’t mind, either. The V-8 comparisons don’t stop there: the CLS 53’s power is progressive and predictable, unlike some turbocharged engines that can deliver peaky punches at (sometimes inopportune) times. 

The integrated starter-generator spools up the compressor quickly; just 1,800 rpm is needed to hit the fattest slice of the torque’s ample curve and the power builds in a progressive way toward the CLS 53’s peak horsepower, right at 6,100 rpm.

Air suspension and all-wheel drive are standard on the CLS 53, which we appreciate. 

If we must, we’d recommend the optional AMG exhaust for the CLS 53, which costs $1,250. That’s an investment on fun, by the way; the exhaust rips, snorts, and scatters overrun in pure driving bliss.

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8

2020 Mercedes-Benz CLS Class

Comfort & Quality

Good for four, but best for two, the Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class has style on the inside too.

The 2020 CLS-Class doesn’t compromise much comfort for its handsome looks. 

Despite the sloped roofline, rear-seat riders won’t gripe for head room unless they’re starting in an NBA backcourt. The front seats? Wonderful. Even better with nappa leather, heated armrests, massage, and adjustability in more directions than we have fingers. The CLS-Class cuts short its trunk for that rear roofline—cargo space is secondary, if we’re being honest with each other. It’s an 8. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The CLS-Class puts leather and soft materials in all the touchable places, which is so totally typical Mercedes. The CLS-Class is related to the E-Class sedan, which means the CLS won the parent lottery from the beginning. 

We’d grab the keys first, or at least call “shotgun” quickly. The front two seats are comfortable and adjustable in dozens of ways and can be heated, cooled, or set to massage away workday traffic blues. 

The rear seats have enough leg room for most adults, but tall bodies will want to ride up front to take advantage of a little more head room and a lot more leg room. On paper, the CLS-Class has 35 inches of rear-seat leg room, but deep front seats pushed all the way back can make that feel much smaller. Also on paper: The rear bench can seat up to three across. We’ll call shenanigans on the former claim but four adults can fit just fine. Unlike crossovers, the seating position in the CLS-Class is low, so sore knees and tricky backs may want to look for a taller-riding vehicle from Mercedes’ stable if entry/exit are daily concerns. 

In the trunk just 11.9 cubic feet of cargo will fit, which is small for a mid-size luxury car. Two golf bags can fit fine, maybe a couple suitcases too—just not all at the same time, please. 

The CLS-Class is shod with leather upholstery everywhere, but upgradeable nappa leather or synthetic suede is on the options list. 

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2020 Mercedes-Benz CLS Class

Safety

The 2020 CLS-Class is too pretty for testers to crash. We don’t advise you do either.

Federal and independent safety testers don’t regularly ruin high-dollar luxury cars in the name of safety ratings. Until they change their minds, which isn’t likely soon, we’ll withhold our ratings here. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The CLS-Class is loosely related to the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, but not enough to draw meaningful conclusions about the CLS’ safety. For reference, the E-Class was named a Top Safety Pick+ by the IIHS and earned a five-star rating by the NHTSA. 

Absent official crash-test data, every CLS-Class is equipped with automatic emergency braking and blind-spot monitors, the latter of which was almost mandatory due to compromised outward vision in the coupe. 

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8

2020 Mercedes-Benz CLS Class

Features

The best looks of the 2020 CLS-Class are on the outside, but the inside’s not bad either.

Luxury bona fides in place, the 2020 Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class is a crowd-pleaser all the way around. Sure, the exterior is pretty, but the interior is a pretty nice place too. 

Every CLS-Class is equipped with 19-inch wheels, leather upholstery, heated seats, a 12.3-inch display for infotainment with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility, navigation, blind-spot monitors, Bluetooth connectivity, and remarkable interior lighting. Automatic emergency braking is standard too, which we cover above. 

The CLS-Class aces in standard equipment, optional extras, and its infotainment screen. It’s an 8. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

To be frank, the CLS-Class wears its best looks on the outside so whatever we add on the inside is extra credit. We wouldn’t stray far from the base version, but wouldn’t begrudge anyone who opts for the top model either.

Starting from the base model, the CLS 450 is a sumptuous bucket for well-heeled buyers to pour more money into, everything from upgraded tech to softer hides to better performance is available. The starting price is $70,945, including destination, but doesn’t stay there for long. All-wheel drive, which Mercedes-Benz calls “4Matic,” adds $2,500 to the bottom line. 

A driver-assistance package adds much-needed safety gear including automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and active lane control for $2,250. Acoustic glass serenely quiets the cabin for $1,100. Add premium sound ($1,500), a heated steering wheel and armrests ($1,050), and sporty exterior accents and premium paint ($970 and $1,080, respectively) and our ideal 2020 CLS 450 4Matic ducks under $80,000, out the door. 

The AMG CLS 53 spares little in its pursuit of performance. 

It adds uprated AMG seats that are more snug and grippier, a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster (that’s optional on CLS450 versions), standard all-wheel drive, an air suspension, and racy accents and wheels for $82,195. We can skitter through the options list for our CLS53 and add licks of vibrant paint to the outside, deeply black piano trim in the inside, soft nappa hides to swaddle our tochuses, Burmester sound, cooled and massaged front seats, heated rear seats, and a performance exhaust to shotgun overrun into our favorite roads and end up with a $108,000 tab. Nice things are nice.

Mercedes infotainment

The CLS gets a standard 12.3-inch display for infotainment that uses Mercedes’ older software, called COMAND. 

As a result, the CLS-Class isn’t as slick and polished as the MBUX systems found sitting across showrooms in the GLE-Class, A-Class, or other models—but the news isn’t all that bad. 

The CLS-Class uses the touchpad and clickwheel controller that’s mounted on the center console, within easy reach of the driver and passenger. It can be dizzying at first, tapping through menus, swiping for songs, or reaching for a volume knob (it’s actually a roller) but the system can be mastered in just a few hours of use. 

Our tips? Skip Apple CarPlay or Android Auto and use the Mercedes system for day-to-day driving. The clickwheel controller makes those touch-based systems a pain to use and it’s counterintuitive. Also, use the three buttons below the touchpad regularly—home, skip, and back—they make the system much easier to navigate even if it takes a few to figure out how they’re used. 

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5

2020 Mercedes-Benz CLS Class

Fuel Economy

The 2020 CLS-Class balances performance with efficiency well.

The 2020 Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class cuts a sleek hole in the wind—a boon to style and fuel economy. 

The EPA rates the 2020 CLS 450 with all-wheel drive at 23 mpg city, 30 highway, 26 combined. That’s a 5 on our fuel-economy scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Among mid-size luxury cars, that’s just average. But compared to CLS-Class models from just a few years ago, the new CLS class is much more efficient. 

The rear-drive CLS 450 is rated 24/31/26 mpg by the EPA. Compared to V-6-powered CLS 400s from just a few years ago, that’s an improvement of 4-5 mpg across the board without sacrificing any performance.  

Opt for the CLS 53 AMG and the efficiency drops to 21/27/23 mpg, according to the EPA. Compared to the outgoing CLS 550, which had a thirsty V-8, the new version is not only more powerful but it’s also more efficient. 

Both the CLS 450 and CLS 53 use a small electric motor integrated into the 3.0-liter inline-6 that slightly boosts fuel economy and performance. 

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7.2
Overall
Expert Rating
Rating breakdown on a scale of 1 to 10?
Styling 8
Performance 7
Comfort & Quality 8
Safety N/A
Features 8
Fuel Economy 5
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