BMW M4 VS Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class
- Adaptive suspension
- Ripping dual-clutch auto
- No AEB
- Awkward access to tight rear seats
- So-so warranty
- Sleek styling
- Beautiful cabin
- Ride and handling
- Limited rear legroom
- Higher entry price into range
- No diesel variant
When it comes to cars, the letters B, M, and W carry huge credibility. But the extra letters and numbers that follow make all the difference.
A second M for example, means the hot rodders in the Munich maker's performance and racing skunkworks have played with everything from the drivetrain, aero and suspension, to the rims, rubber and interior design.
The number sitting next to it then determines whether you're looking at a compact firecracker (M2), fast-lane monster (M5), or bruising family truckster (X6 M). But every now and then some additional letters find their way onto even a BMW M car's bootlid.
In this case, a C and an S are significant additions to the already impressive M4 badge. They stand for Coupe Sport and were famously applied to BMW's achingly beautiful (E9) coupes of the late 1960s and early '70s.
So, with the howling echo of that all-time classic's in-line six ringing in its ears, the new M4 CS stands up as a proper high-performance coupe, pitched against the likes of Audi's recently reborn RS 5, the Lexus RC F, and Merc-AMG's soon-to-arrive C 63 S Coupe.
Does the CS legend live? Read on to find out.
|Engine Type||3.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
There are people who probably wish the Mercedes-Benz CLS would just go away. Call security, have it escorted off the premises. That’s probably because they don’t agree with its styling. For them, it’s not how a large four-door Mercedes-Benz should look, with its ‘rude’ coupe roofline.
“You don’t surrender a segment… a vehicle has to do 100 units to justify bringing it – this will do 100 units no problem sat all,” were the exact words from Benz’s head of communications David McCarthy.
You could say Benz created the four-door coupe segment when it launched its first-generation CLS 14 years ago, triggering its rivals to fire back with their own four-door coupes - the Audi A7 and BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe.
Far from surrendering, the CLS has evolved again with this third-generation bringing new engines and styling. So, what do you gain and what will you have to surrender (for lack of a better word) if you choose to go down the non-traditional route of the CLS?
I found out when I drove the new CLS 450 4Matic for the first time on Australian roads at its recent launch.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
The BMW M4 CS is every bit as fast and engaging as you'd expect it to be. But be prepared for the day-to-day compromises that go with its pared back interior layout. It's beautifully engineered and dynamically excellent, but will have its hands full when Merc-AMG's similarly sized and priced (updated) C 63 S Coupe arrives shortly to rattle its cage.
Is the BMW M4 CS your kind of four-seat sledgehammer? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.
BMW offers the 'Service Inclusive' program, a one-off advance payment to cover scheduled costs at the 'Basic' or 'Plus' level.
The Mercedes-Benz CLS has proven to be a niche hero, creating a segment and then evolving into something even more elegant, while keeping its unique appeal. A beautiful, modern cabin and the new engine in the CLS 450 provides the swiftness to match those looks.
Do you wish the Mercedes-Benz CLS would just go away or do you think it's just perfect? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
Also, check out Matt Campbell's video review from the CLS's international launch:
The M4 in either entry-level Pure, or next-step-up Competition spec already looks like John Cena in a 10-year-old's t-shirt, with muscular bumps, curves and cuts extending aggressively in all directions. From its bulbous 'power dome' bonnet, to the pumped-up guards and gaping vents, the M4 screams 'don't argue'.
But this CS version borrows heavily from the track-focused M4 GTS (phased out earlier this year) and dials the aggro up a few notches.
A Matterhorn-sized bulge in the centre of the lightweight CFRP (Carbon-Fibre Reinforced Plastic) bonnet descends towards a broad air extraction vent that could double as a stormwater drain in bad weather.
The front, exposed carbon splitter is a slightly less accentuated version of the GTS's race-ready set-up, and the signature kidney grille is finished in menacing gloss black.
That black finish, part of the standard BMW Individual 'Shadow Line' package, also extends to the side-window trim, window recess covers, and vents on the front wings.
CFRP (unpainted this time) reappears on the roof, and an exposed carbon Gurney flap-style spoiler adds a touch of flash and aero efficiency to the bootlid. A nice match for the carbon diffuser below.
Suitably wide black alloy rims (19-inch front, 20-inch rear) further enhance the intimidating look, with twin LED headlights and an 'Organic rear lighting system', the latter another lift from the GTS, delivering an impressively vivid display.
The interior is familiar BMW territory, but it does feel like you've had a nasty break-up and your significant other has filled the moving van with all the luxury bits.
The leather and Alcantara trimmed sports seats are classy and racy enough, but the door cards are made from a natural-fibre composite BMW calls 'Nawaro'. There are no storage pockets, and you get a webbing strap to help pull the door closed.
Super lo-fi, and bafflingly, the 'armrest' slopes downward at an angle that, despite an Alcantara-trimmed pad, makes it just about impossible to actually rest your arm on it. Perhaps it adds some wheel-twirling elbow room, but for the other 99 per cent of the time it's just annoying.
Although trimmed in contrast-stitched Alcantara, the centre console is also a rudimentary affair, with no storage box between the front seats or adjustable air vents for rear-seat passengers. It might be good for weight saving, but it's not so great in terms of day-to-day practicality (which we'll get to shortly).
There's more Alcantara on the M Sport steering wheel (a leather wheel is a no-cost option) and dash-panel insert, with the CS designation neatly called out in mosaic-style lettering near the centre stack.
The new-generation CLS has arrived looking slipperier than a cake of soap on the bottom of the bath. This model has always had svelte styling, but things have become even smoother with Benz’s design chief Gorden Wagener insisting more lines be removed in the creation of this latest version.
So, while there’s the familiar profile of that roof tapering down into the boot lid, the long rear overhang and that sliver of a window opening arching and turning down sharply at the rear, it's a more flowing design now that there are less edges to break it all up.
A new ‘shark nose’ grille opening, and broad bonnet adds a hunk of muscle car toughness to the CLS’s face. But it’s refined thuggery, with that single-louvered ‘diamond studded’ grille flanked by flush-mounted headlights. The tail-lights, too, are so contoured to the body around them they look painted on.
As CarsGuide senior editor Matt Campbell pointed out in his review of the CLS at the international launch, the car looks far better in the metal than it does in any photo.
The CLS is based on the E-Class, sharing its platform and technology, but it’s about 20mm longer (at 4988mm) end-to-end. That’s almost 50mm longer than the previous generation CLS, too. At just over 1.4m tall the CLS is low-slung but wide at 1.9m across (almost 2.1m including mirrors).
The CLS’s cabin mirrors that of the E-Class, too, with a sweeping dashboard which flows through into the doors, two large landscape displays for your instruments and media, an oversupply of air vents and some darn sexy lighting. It’s a luxurious, stylish, comfortable, but snug setting cocooned by padded leather and polished surfaces.
The Australian CLS has been fitted standard with the AMG interior and exterior packages.
You can pick from 11 colours – eight of which are no-cost options and include, 'Polar White', 'Obsidian Black', 'Iridium Silver', 'Citrine Brown', 'Graphite Grey' and 'Cavansite Blue'. Optional colours include 'Hyacinth Red' and 'Selenite Grey Magno'.
When it comes to cars, practicality is a subjective area. The M4 CS offers plenty of space for the driver and front-seat passenger, with room for two more in the back, as well as a decent boot. Practical, right?
But day-to-day details make all the difference and the drive to simplify the CS's cabin and reduce the car's overall weight has seen many common interior-storage options deleted.
The price CS owners pay for racy minimalism is a complete absence of door bins, no lidded box between the front seats, and no oddments tray in the middle of the centre console. Just a pair of cupholders ahead of the gearshift, and a shallow tray beyond that.
If you and a friend get into the car each carrying a standard load of personal junk like a phone, keys, wallet, and a beverage of some description, capacity is immediately exceeded.
Yes, you can shove all that 'stuff' into the (medium-sized) glove box, and that's probably the safer option anyway. But it's not as convenient as slipping things into strategically placed bins and boxes.
In terms of charging/connectivity there's a 12-volt outlet between the cupholders, and a single USB port oddly placed towards the rear of the centre console.
And while there are two seats in the back, getting to them requires the flexibility of a side-show contortionist, and the patience of a Tesla Model 3 reservation holder (the electric system that slides the front seat forward is glacially slow).
Even once you've managed to thread the needle through to the back, headroom is tight, so it's fine for kids and an occasional-only option for grown-ups. There are no cupholders or even a fold-down centre armrest back there, but there is a small, open oddments tray between the seats.
A cargo net is standard, there are four tie-down anchors, a small netted storage section behind the passenger side wheel tub, a cubby on the opposite side, shopping-bag hooks and conveniently placed handles, which release the 60/40 split-folding rear seat backs to liberate more room.
Don't bother looking for a spare wheel of any description. A repair/inflator kit is your only option.
Remember how I said you were going to have to surrender something if you wanted a CLS? Well, yes, you’ve have to surrender your hard-earned money, but you’ll also have to give up quite a bit of practicality.
That swooping roofline makes entry into the front seats a bit precarious for people of my height (191cm) trying to swing themselves into the cockpit without clocking their heads on the A-pillar.
The impracticality only gets worse with entry into the back seats, and legroom in there for me is tight, too.
I can only just sit behind my driving position thanks to the contoured seat backs. Headroom is also limited.
It’s worth pointing out that this time the CLS is a five-seater – the previous generation sat just four.
Storage isn’t bad, running to a deep centre console bin with a split lid, there are two cupholders up front and another two in the rear fold-down armrest along with another covered drawer, and all doors have small bottle holders.
The CLS’s boot capacity is 520 litres, and the rear seats fold 40/20/40 to provide extra space.
Price and features
In a classic less-is-more (money) scenario, the $189,529 BMW M4 CS cops a decent serving of standard features, but misses out on some of the luxury trimmings included on the next-rung-down M4 Competition ($156,710).
Standard inclusions run to adaptive LED headlights (including 'BMW Selective Beam' anti-dazzle tech), adaptive M suspension, combination 'Merino' leather/Alcantara seat trim, Alcantara-wrapped 'M' sports steering wheel (with blue/red stitching), a configurable head-up display, a 'BMW Individual' Anthracite roofliner, 'Comfort Access' (keyless entry and start), plus the 'iDrive6' multimedia system (managed via controller, touch or voice) running through an 8.8-inch, high-definition screen.
There are also big 10-spoke forged alloy rims, front-seat heating, sat nav, automatic headlights, rain-sensing wipers, front and rear park distance control, 'Surround View' parking assist, and the 'BMW ConnectedDrive' suite ('BMW Connected+' smartphone app, real-time traffic info, concierge services, and more).
That's a heavyweight equipment list for a car that's all about lightness. Inside, besides the basic door and centre console arrangement, the other significant concessions to kilo stripping are a 'specially adapted' 12-speaker version of Harman/Kardon's 'Surround Sound' audio system with DAB+ digital radio (16-speaker in the Competition), and a simplified, single-zone climate control set-up (dual-zone in the Competition).
Kind of like the CEO wearing a Swatch watch; they're wealthy and powerful, but 'all about performance', so they wear a functional, conspicuously un-flashy timepiece. They still live in a $10m penthouse apartment, though.
Benz has dropped the 250d grade, which means you can no longer have your CLS with a diesel engine. That also means the new entry fee is higher with the CLS 350 kicking the line-up off at $136,900 (list price).
You’ll be rewarded with a decent amount of equipment for the outlay, though. Coming standard on the CLS 350 are those two 12.3-inch screens, a head-up display, a 13-speaker Burmester stereo, sat nav, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, digital radio, surround view camera, leather upholstery, heated front seats, 'Brown Ash' wood trim on the centre console, wheel-mounted shifting paddles, AMG exterior and interior packages, auto-parking, 20-inch AMG wheels, air suspension, proximity key and privacy glass.
The CLS 450 4Matic lists for $155,529 and adds air filtering in the cabin, power closing doors, a sports exhaust system and all-wheel drive.
At the top of the three-grade range is the Mercedes-AMG CLS 53 4Matic+ for $179,529. The extra money buys you nappa leather upholstery, wireless charging, the ‘Night’ body kit, an AMG exhaust system, and of course, a lot more grunt which you can read about below.
Engine & trans
Like its E9 coupe forbear, the M4 CS is powered by an in-line six-cylinder engine, but things have moved on over the last 50 years, and the current (S55) engine offers a mechanical case study in the marriage of high-performance and efficiency.
The all-alloy unit features direct injection and twin turbos, the key drivers behind a stonking 600Nm of maximum torque (50kW up on the M4 Competition), available from 4000-5380rpm, and peak power of 338kW (+7kW), arriving at 6250 rpm.
It also features a 'charge air' (air-to-air) intercooler, 'Double Vanos' variable cam timing, and 'Valvetronic' variable valve lift (inlet and exhaust side).
The sleeveless cylinders use 'Electric Arc Wire Spray' technology to form a thin coating of iron on the cylinder walls, to save weight (no cast-iron liners) and reduce manufacturing complexity. And the engine's closed-deck design increases the block's torsional rigidity, enabling a substantial 10.2:1 compression ratio and use of a lightweight, forged crankshaft.
Transmission is a seven-speed 'M Double-Clutch' (M DCT) dual-clutch auto, complete with dedicated oil cooler, and drive is distributed across the rear axle via an electronically controlled, multi-plate 'Active M Differential'.
If you’ve skipped straight to this bit you’ll have missed news that there’s no longer a diesel engine in the CLS line-up. Instead you have a choice of three petrol engines – one for each grade and all of them are new to the model.
The CLS 450 4Matic has a 270kW/500Nm 3.0-litre in-line six-cylinder engine with a twin-scroll turbo and like the Mercedes-AMG 53 above it has an integrated electric motor called an EQ Boost. While it’s a hybrid system of sorts the electric motor doesn’t drive the wheels, instead it recuperates kinetic energy and charges the battery.
The CLS 450 uses the nine-speed auto, as well, and is all-wheel drive.
The Mercedes-AMG CLS 53 4Matic has the same transmission and engine as the CLS450 but has been given a heftier twin-scroll turbo charging system and tuned to produce even more grunt at 320kW/520Nm. The 'EQ Boost' performs the same function as in the CLS 450, but also provides power to an electric turbocharger. The Mercedes-AMG CLS 53 4Matic is also all-wheel drive and uses a nine-speed automatic.
Claimed fuel economy for the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle is 8.3L/100km, the twin-turbo six emitting 194g/km of CO2 in the process.
Over roughly 350km of city, suburban and freeway driving (much of it 'enthusiastic') we recorded 10.9L/100km (at the bowser) An impressive number for such a strongly performance-focused machine.
Minimum fuel requirement is 98 RON premium unleaded, and you'll need 60 litres of it to fill the tank.
This is a good place to remind you (again) that only one CLS grade was available to drive at the Australian launch – the CLS 450, and we were only given the claimed fuel economy figures for that model.
After 197km through, on a route that bumper to bumpered its way out of Melbourne CBD and headed the long way to the airport via Woodend. our car’s trip computer was reporting close to an average of 10.0L/100km.
Let's get it out of the way. The M4 CS is fast. Anything running 0-100km/h in less than four seconds gains admission to a seriously rapid club, and BMW claims 3.9sec for this car (an exact match for the soon-to-arrive Merc-AMG C63 S Coupe).
We might have given the standard launch-control system a go, and may be able to confirm straight-line acceleration from step-off will compress your chest like an over-zealous lifesaver at CPR practice.
But just as impressive is the in-gear thrust, with 80km/h to licence loss (120km/h) covered in only 3.4sec. Which plays to the twin-turbo six's strength, with maximum torque arriving at a relatively high 4000rpm, and remaining on tap until 5380rpm.
Power doesn't reach its peak until 6250rpm, with the rev ceiling sitting at 7600rpm; impressively high for a twin-turbo engine.
Everything from the DSC, ABS, and active suspension to the active diff, electrically assisted steering and seven-speed, dual-clutch transmission has been tuned specifically for the M4 CS.
The 'M DCT' auto is agreeably civilised at parking speeds, yet shifts positively and rapidly, especially in manual mode, under pressure at higher pace.
An M Sport exhaust system features electronically controlled flaps sitting directly in front of the rear mufflers, and varies the intensity of the accompanying soundtrack according to drive mode and level of aggression. It sounds suitably angry, but those hoping for the soaring purity of say the (S54) naturally aspirated in-line six found under the bonnet of the E46 M3 will be left hankering for the good old days.
Front suspension is a modified MacPherson strut design, with a five-link set-up at the rear, and data from wheel-acceleration sensors on each corner is used to recalibrate each damper's setting every 2.5 milliseconds.
The drivetrain, suspension and steering can each be dialled into 'Comfort', 'Sport' or 'Sport+' modes, and the CS's ride changes markedly in the switch from Comfort to Sport; the former proving compliant and smooth rolling over rough city surfaces, and the latter keeping things reassuringly buttoned down on a B-road blast.
Although BMW says that, unlike the M4 GTS, it has deliberately steered the M4 CS away from a focus on the circuit (no roll cage, no adjustable splitters or spoilers) we'd suggest it's best to keep the Sport+ suspension setting for track days unless you're already planning on replacing some of your older fillings.
Speaking of track days, BMW says the M4 CS's dynamics were “honed on the Nurburgring Nordschleife” where it's recorded a best lap time of 7:38, which is as fast as a Ferrari 458 Italia and Lexus LFA. That's very, very impressive.
At 1580kg the M4 CS is 35kg lighter than the M4 Competition (1615kg), and just five kegs under the Pure (1585kg), so despite all the light-weighting hype it's worth remembering we're still looking at a car tipping the scales at just under 1.6 tonnes.
The electromechanical steering can also be tuned through the three performance modes, and Sport delivers the best combination of quick turn-in, agreeably linear assistance and decent road feel.
But putting the CS's power down out of even moderately quick, tight corners is less convincing. The big forged-alloy rims (19-inch front, 20-inch rear) are shod with ultra-high-performance Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 rubber (265/35 front – 285/30 rear).
Squeezing the power in smoothly but quickly, the semi-slick tyres feel like they need more heat in them. Without going anywhere near the DSC's more taily 'M Dynamic' modes, and despite the active diff, the rear of the car will squirm when fed full throttle acceleration on corner exit, unsettling overall balance. Less edgy Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres are a no-cost option.
The standard M sport front seats look the part (the M4 logos in the backrest illuminate!) and grip firmly without any discomfort for this 183cm tester.
And when it comes to slowing everything down, the standard brakes run to big ventilated discs front and rear, clamped by four-piston calipers at the front, and two-piston at the rear.
Our test example was optioned with the $15,000 'M carbon ceramic' package featuring humungous carbon rotors, thumping six-piston calipers up front, and four-piston rear. For that money you'd expect Le Mans-style braking performance, and while we didn't exactly put them to a 24-hour high-speed test, firm application of the left-hand pedal will consistently stand the car on its nose.
A reminder again, folks – Mercedes-Benz only had the CLS 450 available to drive. Okay? On with the review…
Nobody likes a traffic jam, apart from maybe taxi drivers. But sitting in a CLS deep in Melbourne’s CBD, stuck in road-work-infested roads, choked with cars going nowhere was as pleasant as the experience could be.
Plush seats, pretty lighting, air filtered and fragranced, air suspension cushioning the patchy tarmac underneath as we wriggled our way north towards Mount Macedon and country roads.
If you read another review calling out a large degree of wind noise filtering into the cabin, they’re right and wrong. See, the weather was apocalyptic as we hit the motorway. Trees doubled over kind of windy, and sure you could hear it rushing past the windows when we were at 110km/h, but you could also hear it clearly when we were at 30km/h.
I like gadgets and so it was about 15 seconds into the motorway stint that I tested out the active cruise control, and automatic lane changing, which works near perfectly.
As the roads became more winding, I switched drive modes to 'Sport', firming up the suspension and steering, at the same time prompting the transmission to kick back into a lower gear.
This is a stable-feeling car, well balanced and effortless to steer. Smoothness is a word for everything it does, including covering the ground quickly.
While that acceleration is rapid, it’s not quite exhilarating, and the engine note under load is a little high pitched for a thug like this.
CLSs of the past were known for being a bit more aggressive and feistier, but this one seems to have mellowed in its third generation. I don’t see any issues with this. There are other angrier Benzs if that’s your thing.
The BMW 4 Series (and by extension the M4 CS) hasn't been assessed for crash safety by ANCAP or EuroNCAP, but boasts a solid array of active and passive safety tech, with several notable omissions.
To help you avoid a crash the M4 CS features ABS, brake assist, EBA, EBD, 'Cornering Brake Control' (CBC), Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), Dynamic Traction Control (DTC) and dry braking, 'Emergency stop signal', lane-departure warning and a tyre-pressure-monitoring system.
M4 owners also receive a complimentary BMW Intensive Driving Experience course (one person per vehicle purchase), which is arguably the best crash prevention measure of all.
But significantly, there's no AEB (Auto Emergency Braking) or other, more recent safety bits and pieces (found on other current BMW models) like blind-spot monitoring, forward-collision warning, fatigue detection, reverse collision avoidance, or speed-sign recognition and warning.
If all else fails and a collision is unavoidable passive safety tech runs to head and side airbags for the driver and front passenger, as well as curtain airbags covering front and rear. But again, things like an active bonnet and active front head restraints, fitted elsewhere in the BMW world, are MIA.
There are ISOFIX child-restraint anchors with top tether points in each of the rear seat positions.
The second generation CLS was never crash tested and this new one has yet to be as well. So, while it hasn’t been given an ANCAP star rating, given it shares so much with the five-star rated E-Class we’d expect it to score nothing less than that, too.
Along with nine airbags, ABS, and traction and stability control the level of advanced safety equipment onboard the new CLS is seriously impressive. There’s the 'Driving Assistance package Plus' which brings AEB with cross traffic function, evasive steering, blind spot warning with an active function and lane keeping assistance.
For child seats you’ll find two ISOFIX mounts and three top ether anchor points.
Warranty cover is three years/unlimited km, with 24/7 roadside assistance included for three years, and additional support from BMW 'Servicemobiles' (07:00 – 23:00 every day) staffed by trained techs and stocked with key service parts.
Maintenance on all BMW 4 Series models is controlled by a 'Condition Based Servicing' system which piles real-time data (mileage, time since last service, fuel consumption, and how the car has been driven) into a specific algorithm to determine whether an annual vehicle inspection or (oil) service is due.
The CLS is covered by Mercedes-Benz’s three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty. Servicing is recommended every 12months/25,000km for the CLS 350 and CLS 450, while the CLS 53, like all AMGs needs to visit at 12month/20,000km intervals.
Mercedes-Benz says a capped price servicing plan will be available, but has yet to release the prices. We’ll update this as soon as the costs have been announced.