There are some cars that don't need to try very hard to justify their place in the overall scheme of things. Other rivals might do things better when you examine the numbers, but this rare cadre of vehicles thrive merely because they're beautiful things to own. On the face of it, there's nothing a Mercedes-Benz CLS does that's significantly superior to a garden-variety E-Class, but just look at the thing. It's a car most would love to own.
The first generation CLS appeared in 2004 and lasted for six years, pioneering the 'Gran Turismo' part of the executive segment later taken up by five-door rivals like the Audi A7 Sportback and the BMW 5 Series GT. The second generation CLS model launched in 2010 didn't look quite as extreme, but was better in virtually every other regard. The pace of development at Mercedes is utterly breathtaking and many of the systems developed for the latest C, E and S-Class models found their way into this MK3 model CLS-Class line up when it was launched in 2018. A light update in mid-2021 kept this car looking and feeling current.
As expected, both the 300d and 400d CLS models both come with the in-line six-cylinder diesel engine that Mercedes first launched in later versions of the last generation S-Class saloon. It produces 265hp and 550Nm of pulling power in the 300d and 330hp and 700Nm of torque in the 400d. The 300d variant can sprint from rest to 62 mph in 6.4 seconds, while the 400d takes five seconds. Both have an electronically limited top speed of 155mph.
The Mercedes-AMG CLS 53 features a six cylinder petrol unit putting out 435hp and 520Nm using the brand's clever EQ Boost technology, includes a 48 volt inline starter generator offering an extra 22hp boost for overtaking. It can travel from standstill to 62mph in 4.5 seconds and has a top speed of 155mph. 4MATIC+ all-wheel-drive comes as standard across the range. More technology is provided by the optional autonomous driving set-up that when activated, allows the car to pretty much drive itself, working with the adaptive cruise control and active steering systems to keep this CLS rolling in its chosen lane at any chosen speed up to 130mph.
All models get 9-speed auto transmission and Mercedes' 'DYNAMIC SELECT' driving modes system. Twisting secondary roads don't really sit in this car's comfort zone - the steering's not especially feelsome but the brilliant ride quality and superb refinement offer ample compensation.
Design and Build
The CLS has always been a looker. There was a certain delicacy to the styling of the very first version of this model, launched back in 2004. It was almost as if a basic shape was decided on early in the design process and then all the details and extraneous gewgaws were pared back. Less really was more. The second generation model of 2010 (which gained an extra 'Shooting Brake' estate body style) decided that more was, after all, more. The styling was busier with a more muscular bulge to its wheel arches and a front end that was more pit bull than its slightly feline predecessor. This MK3 model launched in 2018 (offered only in four-door coupe form) turned out to be classier and more desirable, its character marked by a forward-slanting front section and a grille contour that widens towards the base.
Other MK3 model features include wide, low-set headlamps and two-section tail lights. This lightly updated version gets a re-styled radiator grille with three-dimensional star patterns, chrome-gloss surfaces, a louvre in high-gloss black with chrome inlay and the integrated Mercedes star. Further down, there's an AMG-specific front apron with A-wing in black, a front splitter in silver chrome, sporty, distinctive air intakes with vertical bars and aerodynamically shaped flics in high-gloss black. Other features include AMG sill trim on the side and AMG spoiler lip on the boot lid.
Otherwise, things are much as before. At first glance, you'll take in the arching waistline, the flat side window lines and low roofline, all contributing to a Cd value of 0.26 that's positive proof of this design's sleek aerodynamics. Inside, it feels surprisingly spacious for a model proporting to be a 'four-door coupe' and the high end cabin feel has been enhanced in this revised model by a newly designed capacitive multi-function steering wheel and new trim finishes, plus a wider range of upholstery options. As with the E-Class, the brand here delivers a 'widescreen cockpit' design that sees two 12.3-inch displays arranged beneath a shared, continuous glass cover. Move to the back and you'll find that this CLS Coupe is a five-seater for the first time. When required the backrests can be folded down in a 40/20/40 ratio, expanding the generous 520-litre luggage compartment.
Market and Model
Let's start with the diesels. Prices start from around £59,000 for the entry-level CLS 300d 4MATIC variant. The CLS 400d 4MATIC derivative is priced from around £68,500. The petrol-powered Mercedes-AMG CLS 53 4MATIC model costs just under £79,000. Across the range, 'Night Edition Premium Plus' is the only trim level available and comes with comprehensive standard equipment including 20-inch alloy wheels, a parking package including a reversing camera, full leather upholstery and 40:20:40 split folding rear seats. Up-front, there's a 12.3-inch infotainment screen with MBUX Augmented Reality navigation, a Burmester Surround Sound System and a fully digitalised 12.3-inch cockpit instrument display. Plus you get ambient lighting with a choice of 64 colours, Agility Control suspension with selective damping, an electric sliding sunroof and a 'Night' dark styling package.
A 'Driving Assistance Plus' package is optionally available for around £1,700 if you want the elements of semi-autonomous driving that Mercedes can now offer. That includes route-based speed adaptation - meaning the vehicle can detect upcoming junctions and roundabouts and adjust its speed accordingly.
Cost of Ownership
The CLS has often been chosen by those looking for a sleek and powerful-looking car that won't break the bank to run. The reason why? You can get some very economical diesels and these days the CLS 300d offers the best economy of any CLS model to date. Compare it to the original MK2 model CLS 320 CDI and it's a bit of a revelation. Where the original CLS diesel returned 37mpg on the combined cycle and emitted 200g/km, this one (under the much stricter WLTP cycle) nets you 38.2mpg (combined) and emits 168g/km of CO2. The 400d CLS variant delivers 38.7mpg and emits 191g/km of CO2. Even the 435bhp CLS 53 petrol model returns a creditable 29.7mpg, with emissions rated at 216g/km. All variants get a 37% BiK rating.
The desirability of the CLS helps it perform strongly on the used market and the diesel-engined cars are the most sought after. Comparatively rare cars with evocative styling rarely fall out of bed by the time owners come to sell them on and this is no exception. Servicing is not cheap however and the car's coupe status hardly encourages generosity from the insurance industry.