The Mercedes CLS was introduced a decade ago, and since then, the company’s rivals have been trying to catch up with its trendsetting ‘four-door coupe’ proposition.
Not one to rest on its laurels, Mercedes has now face-lifted the current model, with a new engine and new gearbox on offer. Brighter LED headlights are now standard across the range.
The smart styling has had some subtle revisions, including new front and rear bumpers with larger air intakes, and the ‘studded’ grille from the S-Class Coupe.
What’s the 2014 Mercedes CLS like to drive?
In the outgoing model, the entry-level CLS250 diesel was the big seller. This engine will no longer be offered in the UK, though. Instead, we get the new CLS220 – an efficient 168bhp 2.1-litre diesel that returns a claimed 61.4mpg.
In the UK, this engine will be mated to Mercedes’ seven-speed 7G-tronic Plus gearbox. However, we tested a left-hand-drive CLS, which had the company’s new nine-speed transmission. Unfortunately, Mercedes is unable to fit this to right-hand-drive CLS220s, although it will be available on larger-engined versions.
The 2.1-litre engine pulls well enough from low revs, and is more refined than the CLS250 it replaces. It is still rather gruff, though, and things only get worse if you accelerate hard. That said, once you’re up to motorway speed, the engine fades into the background.
While the smaller diesel is perfectly capable of hauling the swoopy executive around, the 3.0-litre V6 diesel in the CLS350 is even better. It’s a seriously punchy and smooth engine, which suits the sporty feel of the CLS down to a tee. There’s none of the low-speed gruffness that you can hear in the CLS220, either.
The nine-speed gearbox feels well matched to both diesel engines we tried. It shuffles between gears efficiently at low speed, but it still doesn’t shift as smoothly or quickly as we’d like when pressing on.
The CLS handles well, giving you light and precise steering at low speed, and a well weighted, natural feel through the rim when going faster.
Our test cars were both on air suspension. It gives the CLS a supple and cosseting motorway ride, and it’s pretty comfortable everywhere else. The standard steel springs in the outgoing model made it feel a little more agile, but were disappointingly firm.
Overall refinement is excellent, helped largely by the two diesel engines that are hushed at high speed. Wind noise is also well suppressed, and only the tyre roar kicked up by the 19-inch alloy wheels intrudes on patchy motorway surfaces (the standard wheels are 18 inches).
What’s the 2014 Mercedes CLS like inside?
The CLS is essentially a lower, sleeker E-Class so, unsurprisingly, it’s not as roomy as that car. That said, the differences are barely noticeable in the front; there’s plenty of adjustment for the driver, and fine visibility over the front of the car.
In the rear, however, taller passengers may be left wanting for headroom when compared to the space in the E-Class. What’s more, you can only accommodate two in the back of the CLS saloon, because the transmission tunnel runs down the middle of the rear bench. In theory, the CLS Shooting Brake estate can accommodate three in the back, but the middle seat isn’t very generous.
Boot capacity is decent in both saloon and Shooting Brake variants, with a useful square shape and cubbies either side. Don’t go expecting large estate levels of practicality from the wagon though, because there’s only 1550 litres with the rear seats folded – that’s less than you get in a VW Golf Estate.
The face-lifted CLS is absolutely loaded with standard kit. AMG Line is now the default specification for both models, and comes with DAB digital radio, dual-zone climate control, sat-nav, Bluetooth, cruise control and electrically adjustable heated leather seats. Collision Prevention Assist Plus is also now standard. You can add an electric sunroof, memory seats, a reversing camera and split-folding rear seats as a pack for around £2000.
A new eight-inch tablet-style screen sits at the top of the dashboard, which looks smart and feels more solidly built than similar types of monitor in smaller Mercedes models. The Comand infotainment rotary controller is now flanked by two extra shortcut buttons that speed up certain actions. In truth, it’s still a fiddly system much of the time, and simply isn’t as intuitive as BMW’s iDrive or Audi’s MMI.
The rest of the dashboard remains button-heavy compared with rivals’, and some of the materials aren’t quite up to the standard you’d expect in a car that costs around £50,000. For the most part though, the plastics and leathers feel top-notch, which makes the CLS’s cabin feel genuinely luxurious.
Should I buy one?
Mercedes says that the CLS’s extra standard equipment and price cuts mean that it’s better value than ever, but it's still significantly more expensive than conventional executive cars.
If you’re looking for a fast six-cylinder diesel, BMW’s 530d – in either saloon or Touring guise – has performance that rivals the CLS350, but it costs about the same as the CLS220.
The new CLS220 isn’t an especially impressive company car, either. Audi’s A6 Ultra and BMW’s 520d might not be as stylish as the Mercedes, but both offer lower CO2 emissions and lower P11D values, so will cost around £80 less a month for those on the 40% income tax band.
However, the CLS350 – our favourite version of the outgoing model – makes a lot more sense, because it offers superb pace and refinement, and is more economical than the car it replaces. What’s more, the new nine-speed automatic, while not a giant leap forward, does improve the overall package.
We’d suggest test driving this version of the CLS back to back with a Jaguar XF Sportbrake 3.0D V6 S. You won’t need to add any trick suspension to make the Jag ride beautifully, although its cabin does now look dated compared to the one in the Mercedes.
Ultimately, there’s lots to like about both cars, but the V6 diesel CLS is more appealing than ever.
What Car? says…
Specification CLS220 Bluetec
Engine size 2.1-litre diesel
Price from £46,500
Torque 295lb ft
0-62mph 8.3 seconds
Top speed 140mph
Fuel economy 61.4mpg
CO2 emissions 122g/km
Specification CLS350 Bluetec
Engine size 3.0-litre V6 diesel
Price from £49,950
Torque 457lb ft
0-62mph 6.5 seconds
Top speed 155mph
Fuel economy 52.3mpg
CO2 emissions 140g/km