Mercedes CLS review
The sleek and stylish Mercedes CLS combines head-turning coupe looks with four-door practicality
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When the original Mercedes CLS hit UK showrooms in 2005 it caused an instant stir. By mixing four-door versatility, sleek coupe styling and a luxurious cabin, the CLS was a true trendsetter. Now in its second generation, the latest model adds sharper driving dynamics and efficient new diesel and petrol engines to its list of desirable attributes. All versions are well equipped, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be able – or want – to avoid the expensive options list.
The flagship Mercedes-AMG 63 S is a true performance icon, with a mighty 5.5-litre twin-turbo engine ensuring it has the firepower to match its looks.
The first-generation Mercedes-Benz CLS made its debut at the 2004 New York auto show, following a long period when there hadn’t been a ‘proper’ E-Class sized coupe.
The popular W124 version had been axed in 1995, and its follow-up was the CLK-Class – a C-Class saloon in drag, pretending to be a luxury model. It hung around for a while, but didn’t really convince buyers of the previous car.
A rethink was required, and the 2004 CLS was the result of Merc’s continued belief that the ‘classic’ two-door coupe format was too outmoded and too impractical to be a viable volume seller in the E-Class segment.
So the CLS was an immediately eye-catching new saloon with practicality playing second fiddle to sleek coupe-like styling, and it quickly forged a new niche for Mercedes. Copycat rivals like the Audi A7 Sportback and BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe piled-in later, but the CLS in its various guises can also be seen as a rival to models as varied as the Jaguar XFR and XJR, Maserati Ghibli, and the Porsche Panamera.
The first CLS was replaced in 2010 with a new model that shared the previous version’s sweeping profile and proportions, but brought an added dash of aggression with an SLS Gullwing-inspired front end and a beefier stance.
The CLS saloon – or ‘CLS Coupe’ as Mercedes prefers to call it – was joined in 2012 by an estate version called the CLS Shooting Brake, which again places style ahead of practicality in its chosen sector.
The first AMG-powered example was the CLS 55 AMG with around 470bhp in 2004, swiftly followed by the 507bhp CLS 63 AMG in 2006. The latest generation – now boasting 577bhp and badged the Mercedes-AMG CLS 63 S – has helped cement the CLS as one of the Mercedes-Benz brand’s iconic performance flagships.
There are two petrol and two diesel engine options in the CLS line-up today, offering a decent range of performance options. The trim levels have been simplified too, with the two diesel models offered in base AMG S Line trim, the more powerful twin-turbo petrol version offered with slightly better equipment in the 400 AMG S Line trim, and the AMG 63 S as a stand alone model with all the bells and whistles.
Engines, performance and drive
Drivers wanting the ultimate in sporty driving dynamics should look elsewhere. However, the Mercedes CLS’s fine ride and handling set-up strikes the right balance between fun and comfort. Adaptive damping is standard on all models, which means the Mercedes copes effortlessly with poorly surfaced roads.
Yet the direct and well-weighted steering, good body control and decent grip make the Mercedes a surprisingly agile choice – in fact the nimble handling responses and cocooning roofline can give the impression you’re driving a smaller car.
Along with a four-cylinder turbodiesel version, the most UK-relevant CLS is the CLS 350 BlueTEC V6 diesel, which now uses a nine-speed gearbox for greater fuel efficiency. It’s all the CLS you could ever need, but for ardent power freaks, look no further than the 577bhp CLS 63 S, with its brawny 5.5-litre bi-turbo V8. This beast of a car features AMG’s faster-shifting MCT 7-speed automatic transmission, but the rest of the line-up gets the standard 7G-Tronic Plus auto with start/stop which shifts smoothly and efficiently.
The Mercedes CLS range kicks off with the 220d entry model, featuring a 2.1-litre inline four-cylinder engine that makes 175bhp and 400NM of torque. Performance is swift rather than quick, with 0-62mph arriving in 8.5 seconds and a 138mph maximum speed.
Next up is the 350d, which runs a 3.0-litre V6, offering a considerable power advantage over the 220d with 255bhp. There’s masses of torque too, at 620Nm, and we think it’s the overall package that suits the CLS best. 0-62mph comes up in 6.5 seconds, and the car is limited to 155mph.
If you want to drive a petrol, the options start with the CLS 400 that packs a 4.0-litre twin turbocharged V6 offering 330bhp and 480Nm. 0-62mph takes 5.3 seconds, and again the maximum speed is 155mph.
The range-topping AMG CLS 63 S is a stupendous performer, thanks to its 577bhp V8 that churns out an equally monstrous 800Nm of torque. 0-62mph is 4.1 seconds, and the maximum is again an electronically limited 155mph – although many owners opt for the £785 AMG Driver’s package that raises the limit to 186mph.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
Owners who want all the flash without forking out lots of cash should stick to the CLS 220d. Introduced at the last facelift for the CLS, the 220 variant is a 175bhp four-cylinder diesel engine that also appears in the C-Class. The engine is quieter in the new CLS than in the equivalent C-Class, but still feels spritely and will be the cheapest CLS to run as well as buy.
That’s thanks to a claimed 57.7mpg and 128g/km of CO2 output. It’s a real pity, however, that Mercedes only offers the car with a seven-speed automatic gearbox in the UK. Left-hand drive markets get the new nine-speed gearbox as fitted to the 350d, which shifts faster and more smoothly, making the car quicker and reducing fuel consumption at a cruise.
In fact, the official combined test cycle figures for the 350d aren’t far behind the smaller 220d with Mercedes claiming 51.4mpg. CO2 emissions jump up to 142g/km though, so there’s an impact on company car tax rates too.
Switch to petrol models, and the economics start to look a little more challenging. The V6 petrol in the CLS 400 returns a claimed 39.2mpg in the combined cycle, while the big AMG-engined 63 S returns 28.5. The reality is likely to be much worse though, and anyone using the AMG’s performance even fairly modestly is likely to face an mpg number in the late teens.
Emissions levels for the CLS 400 and 63 S are 167g/k and 230g/km respectively, so both will be costly to run as company vehicles – although the 63 S much more so.
As you’d expect for a premium car, servicing costs are likely to be pricey. And while the level of standard equipment is decent, it will be hard not to hit the expensive options list. For instance, you’ll have to dig a little deeper in your pocket for ambient lighting and heated seats – kit we’d expect to be standard at this price.
The lowest performer in the range is the 220d, but even that is classified in group 39 for insurance purposes. The AMG 63 S is group 48E.
All CLS variants suffer from poor residuals compared to rivals such as the Audi A7 and Porsche Panamera. The worst offender is the AMG CLS 63 S, which retains just 40 percent of its £85k new cost over three years/36,000 miles – but there are only a few percentage points in it, whichever model you choose.