A slew of concept cars roll onto car show stands each year, but few earn the distinction of instant hit. The Mercedes-Benz "Vision CLS" prototype was just that kind of car. When it appeared at Frankfurt two years ago, it was one of those rare projects that evoke immediate public acclaim, and Mercedes had little choice but to respond to the clamor and turn it into a striking new addition to the stable of the three-pointed star: the CLS.
The Mercedes-Benz CLS is based on the E-Class platform, but only about 35 percent of the car's components are shared with other models. There's a little SL thrown in and the rest is pulled from the company's extensive parts bins, but this is no cobbled-together "special" conspired one late night by a desperate marketing department. The CLS is not only a prime example of the company's technical acumen, but it has the looks to elevate it onto any list of the most beguiling Mercedes-Benzes ever crafted.
Let's dispel, from the start, any dispute over the car's nomenclature: Sedan, coupe, who cares what a car is called as long as it's appealing and fulfills its promise? In those respects, the CLS allows no equivocation: This swoop-roofed four-door coupe might use its handsome face to draw the eye and inflame our passions, but don't imagine the good looks render moot the qualities that make the CLS a thoroughly modern motorcar. That's not the way Mercedes builds its vehicles, no matter how pretty the wrapping. The company uses every new model to widen the application of its technology, refining systems on the run so as to ensure that the element of "newness" reflects a better automotive experience.
This extends to every layer of the CLS. Even the paint is special. Using nano-technology, the clearcoat layer was impregnated with huge numbers of tiny ceramic particles, increasing resistance to scratches, says Mercedes, by 300 percent over conventional finishes. This virtually self-healing paint covers sheet steel (70 percent of which is galvanized) that includes high-strength alloys (47.5 percent by weight) and a so-called "dual-phase" steel, used around the bumpers and suspension mounts as well as various other areas of the underbody, that was developed for high dynamic strength and resistance to extreme load forces.
The car's structure follows the current Mercedes method for all of its passenger cars, attaching separate front and rear modules to the main body structure. This both simplifies the production process and allows most accident repairs to be completed without the need for such extreme measures as welding in new components or structures. Extensive use of lightweight aluminum alloys and complex plastics are used to help keep the overall weight just below 4,000 pounds. It's also an aerodynamically efficient car despite its size, boasting a coefficient of drag of just 0.31. Helping it slip more easily through the air is a new plastic-clad underbody in place of the former PVC underbody protection. This new approach is more resistant to damage and also reduces under-body turbulence for improved high-speed stability and a quieter ride.
Lower and sitting on a wider track, the chassis is suspended by a front four-link setup that borrows heavily from the E-Class, while the rear multi-link suspension owes its heritage to the SL's axle. Airmatic DC air suspension is standard, of course, along with Sensotronic brakes, ABS, Brake Assist and ESP. In this age of egregiously overpowered automobiles (Mercedes is not innocent of this wretchedly wonderful excess), the 5.0-liter V8 is not a rocket, but it can take the big coupe to 62 mph somewhere between six and seven seconds, depending on how much more expensive you want to make the next visit to the gas station.
A new, standard seven-speed automatic transmission was designed to improve acceleration and mid-range power, lower consumption (EPA figures: 16 City/22 Highway) and increases shift comfo
The CLS500 ($64,900) is powered by Mercedes' familiar 306-horsepower 5-liter V8, but torque is sent to the rear wheels through a new seven-speed automatic transmission.
For those who want more muscle, extrovert styling and a tauter suspension, the high-performance CLS55 AMG ($86,600) is definitely worth the extra money. Its 5.5-liter supercharged V8 boasts an output of 469 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque. It's mated to a five-speed automatic gearbox.
Options include the Lighting package with bi-xenon headlamps, active curve lighting and headlamp washers ($1,220); AMG Sport with steering wheel shift buttons, AMG body cladding, AMG-style 18-inch wheels with larger 255/40 radials up front and 285/35s in back ($4,950); and Premium, with active ventilated and multicontour seats with heating, DVD Nav system, 6-disc CD changer, harman/kardon audio, power rear-window sunshade ($3,650). Naturally, we prefer all of these options.
We've now reached, with destination charge ($720) and gas guzzler tax ($1,300), just over $76,000 and have started to wonder if that curvaceous bodywork and bespoke-level interior is worth the financial reach. We suggest that the decision not be made with a calculator but with your guts, not with rational gray matter but with red-blooded emotion. If the CLS doesn't cause the aesthetic bone in your body to quiver, then there are plenty of other Mercedes-Benzes to satisfy your more mundane expectations.