Car reviews - Mercedes-Benz - CLS - CLS350
Comfortable ride and cabin, stylish inside and out, smooth EQ Boost powertrain, direct and communicative steering
Room for improvement
No Linguatronic feature, rear headroom not great, underwhelming power delivery down low, less obvious point of difference vs E-Class, S-Class
Comfortable and classy Mercedes-Benz CLS350 struggles to stand out in new-gen form
29 Apr 2020
*Note: Images are of the CLS450.
WHEN the Mercedes-Benz CLS first launched in the mid-2000s, it stunned pundits with its unique, coupe-style body profile blended with a luxurious interior and potent set of powertrains.
Now in its third generation, the CLS flies the flag as the design flagship for Mercedes while also appealing to tech-centric owners.
Sitting somewhere between the E-Class and S-Class sedans in a slowly diminishing segment, does the CLS have what it takes to stand out against other large luxury sedans?
The arrival of the third-generation CLS saw a big change in styling for the swoopy sedan, with the influence of global chief design director Gorden Wagener clearly evident in the more streamlined and sleek look.
The new design gives the CLS a strong and imposing road presence, which combined with the matte grey paint finish on our test car, causes more heads to turn than would be possible in an E-Class or S-Class – so a big tick on the design front.
Moving into the cabin, the CLS – even in base-level CLS350 guise – has an equally stylish and well-equipped interior, dominated by the beautiful, sweeping wood trim that stretches from the doors all the way across the dashboard, outlined by a coloured LED ambient interior lighting strip.
At night, the ambient lighting is one of the prettiest we’ve seen of any vehicle, framing the wood dash while also being integrated into the turbine-style air-conditioning vents.
The wood trim continues on the centre console, while abundant stitched leather on the seats, steering wheel and door trim ensures that premium materials are aplenty in the CLS’s interior.
Like many other Mercedes models, the CLS350 makes use of a pair of 12.3-inch digital screens controlling the instrument cluster and MBUX infotainment system.
While we are not completely sold on the stuck-on tablet style of screen, the system gets a tick for usability and customisation, particularly with the instrument cluster which can be configured in a range of different layouts.
Mercedes’ new MBUX infotainment system is well laid out and intuitive to use, however the absence of the Linguatronic voice control system – it arrived in Australia mere months after the CLS – is disappointing, given it is marketed towards tech-savvy buyers.
The car’s centre console is cleanly organised with clutter kept to a minimum, while the scrolling thumb pads on the steering wheel add an extra level of usability when navigating the car’s infotainment systems.
For long journeys, the CLS350 makes for a great vehicle of choice, with comfortable, heated and highly adjustable leather seats and a quiet, roomy cabin to enjoy them in. A colour head-up display also makes driving easier.
With an overall length of 4988mm, rear legroom is generous, as expected. However due to its sloping roofline, rear headroom is slightly disappointing.
It’s a similar story with the boot, which features impressive length but the loading height is slightly compromised due to the body shape.
The CLS350 is the only variant in the CLS range to be powered by a four-cylinder engine, namely a 2.0-litre unit capable of developing 220kW/400Nm, driving the rear wheels via a nine-speed automatic transmission.
Mercedes’ EQ Boost hybrid starter-alternator system can also momentarily kick in an extra 150Nm, while assisting with coasting and low-speed acceleration.
Power delivery from the four-pot engine is smooth and linear, which provides adequate acceleration without being hair-raising.
Burying the right foot gets the 1775kg CLS350 up to speed in no time, and the 2.0-litre engine sounds pretty impressive while doing so.
The EQ Boost system mostly works in the background, going unnoticed while providing the extra torque. It does help make the idle-stop system smoother, but by and large is it the type of system that you probably wouldn’t notice if it wasn’t pointed out, with the exception of the lightly-felt regenerative braking.
Our only gripe with the engine was that it sometimes had a slight dead spot for power from standstill, which could be a problem when in a situation such as trying to exploit a tight gap in traffic through an intersection.
The CLS powerplant makes for a quality around-town option, with good performance that does not become over-the-top at any point. It also makes for a great highway cruiser, easily able to briskly overtake other cars when travelling at 100km/h.
No complaints can be had of the nine-speed auto, which shifts smoothly and intelligently, holding onto gears when required.
During our week with the car, we recorded an average fuel consumption figure of 8.7 litres per 100km, a solid figure for a car of its size, however it should be noted that the week included at least six hours of highway driving, which always brings the average figure down.
The engine will be more than adequate for most, however if owners are looking for a properly sporty and engaging driving experience, the 3.0-litre, six-cylinder CLS450 is worth a look.
As a large and expensive Mercedes-Benz, ride quality is unsurprisingly soft and supple, with a well-settled quality that helps eat up the road despite its large alloy wheels.
The ride quality is certainly no downgrade on the E-Class and S-Class, so if standing out from the crowd while remaining in premium comfort is a priority, then the CLS may be the car of choice.
This combines with excellent noise, vibration and harshness levels to create a serene cabin environment for short and long trips alike.
The driver-assistance systems also make long journeys easy, with the adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assist systems working well on the highway. The automatic lane change feature, which works at the touch of the indicator stalk, is also a nifty addition.
One of the highlights of the CLS350 is its excellent steering, which is communicative and direct, and helps to give a very wide and long car a sharp and pointed feel. The CLS’ turning circle is also commendable for a car of its size.
This leads to good handling characteristics, but even the steering can’t prevent the car’s size and weight being felt.
Particularly in the wet, the rear-drive set-up can sometime struggle to get power down appropriately, and oversteer is a real proposition when attempting to drive in a sporty manner.
It is safe to say that dynamically the CLS350 is no slouch, but is certainly better suited to being a comfortable grand tourer than a focused and razor-sharp sportscar.
Warranty and servicing
All new Mercedes-Benz models come with a three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty with three years of complimentary roadside assistance.
Service intervals are marked at every 25,000km or 12 months, whichever comes first.
The CLS350 will appeal to a lot of buyers – it is comfortable, well-specced, luxurious, relatively sporty and certainly unique-looking.
However we don’t see the CLS selling in large numbers – not least because of its $143,200 pricetag, or the fact it competes in a dying segment – but because apart from its design, there is not really a lot that would make you choose it over the more established E-Class and S-Class.
Combine the fact that the new generation saw the removal of the full-fat 63 AMG and 220d diesel variants and the Shooting Brake body style, and there are even less unique selling points to for the CLS.
Make no mistake, the CLS is a quality car, but is it a crucial member of Mercedes-Benz’s line-up?
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Model release date: 1 July 2018
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