Car reviews - Mercedes-Benz - CLS-class
Creamy new six-cylinder engine, smart and well-integrated EQ Boost tech, S-Class safety kit, classy interior, solid standard spec
Room for improvement
No MBUX system, no Shooting Brake, diesel or AMG 63, ride a bit firm on 20-inch wheels, poor rear headroom
Mercedes-Benz ups tech and design in savvy new CLS four-door range
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27 Jul 2018
WHEN the original Mercedes-Benz CLS arrived in Australia in 2004, it created waves for its unique styling and segment-busting design and dimensions.
Now the CLS is back in third-generation guise, with a completely new design language, new high-tech powertrains and new variants for the car described by the brand as the most design-focused vehicle in its range.
The CLS is the first vehicle to arrive in Australia powered by the new M256 inline six-cylinder petrol engine, as well as the first model to gain EQ Boost mild-hybrid technology across its line-up.
Mercedes says that CLS buyers want a blend of styling, technology and performance, and following an afternoon driving the mid-spec CLS450, customers should be pleased by the latest offering from the three-pointed star.
Mercedes has trimmed down the third-gen CLS range to just three variants, removing the entry-level diesel variant as well as the top-spec CLS63 AMG and Shooting Brake body style.
The range now consists of the entry-level twin-turbo four-cylinder CLS350, inline six-cylinder turbo CLS450 and the all-new nameplate CLS53 AMG, which is the only model in the AMG range to employ electrified technology.
Of the three variants, only the CLS450 is available from launch, while the other two versions will arrive Down Under in November.
As such, the only variant driven at launch was the CLS450, featuring the new inline six-cylinder engine which pumps out 270kW/500Nm, while the EQ boost start/alternator can momentarily add 12kW/250Nm.
The inline-six engine will eventually replace the 3.0-litre V6 found across a number of Mercedes models, and following an afternoon driving around outer Melbourne, we think that is definitely a positive move for the brand.
It is a beautifully smooth engine that is equally as capable with sporty or relaxed driving, offering linear power delivery and a beautiful straight-six engine note, particularly as the tachometer climbs towards redline.
With 270kW on tap, performance is lively for a vehicle of the CLS’s size, with the EQ Boost system able to supplement torque low in the rev range while the engine’s turbo is spooling up.
The powerplant is mated to Mercedes’ familiar nine-speed 9G-Tronic automatic transmission, which is smooth and competent, apart from the occasional jerky gear changes when accelerating hard.
Unlike the CLS350, the 450 is fitted with 4Matic all-wheel drive, with a fixed 45:55 front/rear torque split that helps effectively transfer power to the road. Grip is ample and handling sprightly, particularly for a vehicle longer and wider than an E-Class.
Steering feel is also sharp and sporty, making for confident driving through twisty roads and city environments alike.
The EQ Boost technology, set to also grace the entry-level C200 when the new C-Class range arrives in August, works wonderfully and unobtrusively in the CLS450, so much so that it is difficult to notice that it is even working.
The way the EQ Boost operates the idle-stop system is impressive. It re-starts the engine almost instantaneously once releasing the brake, making it arguably the snappiest idle-stop system on the market.
We hoped that the EQ Boost would result in sharp fuel economy, however a return of 10.4 litres per 100km (up from the official 8.7L/100km) through mostly freeway and country road driving was not as miserly as we would have hoped,
All third-generation CLS variants are offered with air suspension as standard, which is generally plush and comfortable, however the 20-inch rims that are also standard, made for a jarring thud over rough surfaces. Customers can option 19-inch hoops at no cost if they feel the 20s are too harsh.
The interior has received a considerable update for the new generation, with much of its design borrowed from the E-Class.
Open-pore wood, soft perforated and stitched leather upholstery and classy ambient interior lighting all give the CLS interior a sense of luxury, while cabin quietness is excellent – a hallmark of Mercedes-Benz vehicles.
The CLS gains the E-Class’ widescreen cockpit consisting of two adjoined 12.3-inch display screens, projecting the multimedia system and instrument cluster. The move to a digital set-up is a good one, with both screens easily navigated, while the instrument cluster can be customised for a number of different appearances.
One change we would make is to integrate the screens a little better into the dashboard, as well as curving the screens slightly toward the driver to alleviate the slab-like look of the two displays.
We would have also liked to see Mercedes’ new-generation MBUX multimedia system rolled out on the CLS, however the first vehicles to receive the new technology will be the all-new A-Class arriving next month, and the Sprinter van in October.
The updated steering wheel with touchpad controls sits comfortably in the hands, while the well-supported seats and solid road vision add to overall cabin comfort.
A big boon for the range is the introduction of the active safety equipment borrowed from the S-Class as standard, which is some of the slickest in the business. The active lane-keep assist and active cruise control work particularly well, and provide extra peace-of-mind.
Interior dimensions are generous for front-seat passengers, however rear headroom leaves a little to be desired for anyone over six feet tall. As expected for a swooping coupe-style sedan, boot length is ample, and can comfortably swallow a pair of golf bags.
The CLS is a niche vehicle in the Mercedes line-up, filling a gap between the E-Class and S-Class for customers looking for something more cutting-edge than its more traditional stablemates.
As such, it is not expected to set the world on fire with its sales performance, but fans of the model should be pleased with the new generation.
The new six-cylinder powerplant is excellent (we expect the 53AMG to be even better), and the rollout of EQ Boost across the range is a smart decision.
Even the harshest reality TV home-renovation judge would be impressed with the improvements to the interior, which helps to justify the circa-$140,000 entry point to the range.
We would have liked to see the Shooting Brake and 63AMG variants return to the range, however there is not much you can do if the business case does not stack up.
Benz has marketed the new CLS at a specific buyer that enjoys performance, design and technology, and with those three points in mind, the third-generation model should find some success, even if it is at low volumes.
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