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Mercedes-Benz CLS 2018 review

EXPERT RATING
8
The new-generation Mercedes-Benz CLS looks slipperier than a cake of soap on the bottom of a bath, but what's the point of it?

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. 

But for some of you those looks are exactly why you want it, and there’s enough of you out there for Mercedes-Benz to tell us at the launch of the new-generation CLS that the model is here to stay.

“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.

Mercedes-Benz CLS53 2019: 4MATIC+
Safety rating
Engine Type3.0L turbo
Fuel TypePremium Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency8.9L/100km
Seating5 seats
Price from$179,529

Is there anything interesting about its design?   9/10

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 has a more flowing design. (image credit: Richard Berry) The CLS has a more flowing design. (image credit: Richard Berry)

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'.

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?   8/10

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 Autodigital 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-parking20-inch AMG wheels, air suspension, proximity key and privacy glass.

The CLS 450 comes with 20-inch AMG wheels. (image credit: Richard Berry) The CLS 450 comes with 20-inch AMG wheels. (image credit: Richard Berry)

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.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?   8/10

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 350 has a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine producing 220kW/400Nm. That grunt is delivered to the rear wheels via a nine-speed automatic.

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 4Matic has a 270kW/500Nm 3.0-litre in-line six-cylinder engine. The CLS 450 4Matic has a 270kW/500Nm 3.0-litre in-line six-cylinder engine.

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.

How practical is the space inside?   7/10

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.

Coming standard on the CLS 350 are two 12.3-inch screens. (image credit: Richard Berry) Coming standard on the CLS 350 are two 12.3-inch screens. (image credit: Richard Berry)

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.

The impracticality only gets worse with entry into the back seats, and legroom in there for me is tight, too. 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.

The CLS’s boot capacity is 520 litres. (image credit: Richard Berry) The CLS’s boot capacity is 520 litres. (image credit: Richard Berry)

What's it like to drive?   8/10

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.

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?   9/10

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 & Safety Rating

Basic Warranty

3 years / unlimited km warranty

How much fuel does it consume?   8/10

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.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?   7/10

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.

Verdict

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: 

Pricing Guides

$183,829
Based on Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)
Lowest Price
$179,529
Highest Price
$188,129

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
4MATIC+ 3.0L, PULP, 9 SP AUTO $179,529 2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS53 2019 4MATIC+ Pricing and Specs
4MATIC+ (HYBRID) 3.0L, Hyb/PULP, 9 SP AUTO $179,529 2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS53 2019 4MATIC+ (HYBRID) Pricing and Specs
4MATIC+ EDITION 1 3.0L, PULP, 9 SP AUTO $188,129 2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS53 2019 4MATIC+ EDITION 1 Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
8
Design9
Price and features8
Engine & trans8
Practicality7
Driving8
Safety9
Fuel consumption8
Ownership7
Richard Berry
Senior Journalist

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