Priced from £56,995 Release date April 2018
It seems hard to believe to us, but the Mercedes-Benz CLS is now in its third generation. It doesn’t seem very long ago that it invented the category of executive five-door coupé, with a mix of stylish looks, enough room for a family and a high level of luxury.
Anyway, here it is, the new CLS, which, as ever, sits on shared large Mercedes-Benz underpinnings, which means it’s able to offer all of the technology and all of the engines of the brand's other models. At 4.98m long, it’s truly executive car-sized, and it still has those dashing frameless windows that seamlessly add a touch of glamour.
Similar in length to the Mercedes-Benz E-Class though it is, the CLS will need those touches – like the A7 and 6 Series do compared with the A6 and 5 Series they’re respectively based upon – to justify its higher price. The CLS range starts at £57,000, which will rise, presumably, to around £70,000 for the AMG 53 performance model.
The AMG 53 and a four-cylinder petrol-engined model won’t arrive until the autumn. At its April launch, the CLS is offered in three flavours: all are three-litre, six-cylinder engines; two are diesels, one is a petrol and all are priced in the high £50,000s. All CLS models are four-wheel drive.
The 350d has 282bhp and 50.4mpg performance, while the 400d (which we’ve driven) offers 336bhp from the same 50.4mpg.
The petrols are less sparkly on the consumption front, as you’d imagine, but they're also quite clever. The 450's engine has 362bhp, but that’s boosted by an extra 21bhp thanks to an integrated starter motor/generator that sits on the back of the engine, between it and the standard nine-speed automatic gearbox. This mild hybrid system isn’t just there to boost power, but also to make engine response better while you’re waiting for the turbocharger to get going properly, and to handle the stop/start function smoothly.
2018 Mercedes-Benz CLS on the road
While the CLS has an automatic gearbox and four-wheel drive as standard, lots of the rest of how it drives is rather more open to your wallet’s resources. Entry-level CLSs come on steel springs and regular shock absorbers – we haven’t yet been able to try a car like this – although you can upgrade that to adaptive suspension – we haven’t tried that yet, either.
The top AMG Line trim has air suspension, which is available elsewhere as an option, too. It was fitted to all of the cars we’ve so far been able to try. They give the CLS a really good ride quality, absorbing lumps and bumps effectively, while retaining excellent control of the cars’ body movements.
Our test cars were on 18in wheels and winter tyres, mind, which will have a more absorbent ride than the 20in and 21in wheel and tyre combos that most owners will specify. Winter tyres tend to numb a steering system’s response a bit, but if that’s true, the CLS will have really responsive steering on regular tyres – particularly the AMG 53 model.
The 400d is a good engine; it's quiet, responsive and really brisk. But the ever-decreasing appeal of diesels might play into the forthcoming petrol four-cylinder engine’s favour, although Mercedes is holding technical details – even power outputs – about this back until it has been certified at a fuel efficiency rating.
But being lighter than the diesel, the car feels more agile, and it revs more freely, if slightly noisily at the moment.
Most rewarding to drive, though, is the AMG 53, whose six-cylinder engine spins as freely as a great BMW unit, while having bags of power all the way through the rev range. A big turbocharger is assisted by an electric supercharger as well as the 21bhp ‘EQ Boost’ electric motor, so it’s terrifically quick. It steers sharply and, for a car of its weight, is highly entertaining without sacrificing anything in the way of ride quality or refinement.
2018 Mercedes-Benz CLS interior
Regardless of which engine you’ve specified, the CLS's interior is constructed from top-class materials, and fit and finish is superb.
The driving position is spot-on, with a hugely adjustable steering wheel – which has pretty funky touch-sensitive pad controls for some of the CLS’s myriad safety and convenience features. And, if you spec the right seat option, not just the seats are warmed, but also the doors and centre console armrests.
The instrument panel is digital but finished in such high resolution and colour that it’s as clear as any anologue dial and yet more versatile, while the big central infotainment display handles the rest of the CLS’s systems. Obviously, this being an executive car, exactly what you specify and get depends on how much you’re prepared to pay for. Our test cars usually get supplied with most bells and whistles, but the amount of standard safety kit in particular is excellent, and convenience and entertainment kit are pretty darned high too.
As for practicality, the CLS can seat five people, although taller rear-seat occupants might find that head room is at a bit of a premium – that’s why they still sell the E-Class – while the boot volume is 520 litres, 15 litres shy of the A7's. The CLS will never be quite as practical as the Audi, though, because that car's tailgate and rear opens right up, hatchback style, and while the CLS’s 40/20/40-split rear seat bench is useful, it’ll always be at the front of a saloon-style boot.
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