The Mercedes-Benz CLS is beautifully styled, its sweeping lines giving it the look of a coupe though it is a four-door sedan. Its sleekness belies its rear-seat comfort. It only seats four, not five, but those four are quite comfortable.
The CLS is roughly the same size as the E-Class sedan, with which it shares a number of major components. Yet the CLS-Class features fewer variants than the E-Class and it occupies a higher range on the price scale, with more standard luxury equipment. What distinguishes the CLS most readily from other Mercedes sedans is its four-seat cabin and gorgeous exterior styling. It comes in two varieties: Powerful and crazy powerful.
The Mercedes-Benz CLS550 is powered by a 5.5-liter V8 that develops 382 horsepower and 391 pound-feet of torque. If that isn't enough for you, the Mercedes CLS63 AMG features a 6.2-liter V8 rated at 507 horsepower and 465 pound-feet of torque. Both engines are matched to a seven-speed transmission.
But it's styling that distinguishes the CLS. Technically, the CLS is a sedan because it has four doors, but Mercedes calls it a four-door coupe, and that's a good description. The swoop-roof, pillar-less CLS has the graceful, sensuous, feel of a coupe with the rear-seat access of a sedan. It may be the most visually appealing four-door on the market. Those great looks come with a slight penalty in terms of interior space, of course. The CLS only has four seats with four seat belts, while the E-Class cars have five.
In terms of technology, however, the CLS gives up nothing. Its air-spring suspension automatically gets firmer or softer depending upon road conditions. A vast array of Mercedes safety features come standard, including rear-passenger side-impact airbags and one of the most advanced skid-management systems in production. More than 70 percent of the steel in the body and frame is galvanized, high-strength alloy, and even the paint is advanced. The clearcoat layer is impregnated with tiny ceramic particles, increasing resistance to scratches by 300 percent compared to conventional finishes, according to Mercedes.
For 2009, CLS gets minor changes to its exterior appearance. The four-bar grille is replaced with a two-bar version, the mirrors are larger and include built-in arrow-shaped turn signals, and there are new dual-five-spoke 18-inch wheels. In back, there's a new rear bumper with trapezoidal-shaped dual exhaust outlets and arrow-shaped LED taillights. Inside is found a three-spoke steering wheel with a sportier appearance, new gauges in white with silver backgrounds, and a revised central display in the console incorporates Bluetooth for hands-free phone operation, a six-CD stacker and voice control of audio and phone functions.
The Mercedes-Benz CLS550 ($70,700) comes with leather seats three-position memory, four-zone automatic climate control, a 12-speaker harman/kardon audio system, navigation, and hand-rubbed wood trim.
Options include the Premium 1 Package ($3,950) with active ventilated front seats with heating, power rear-window sunshade, bi-xenon active light system, KEYLESS GO, iPod/MP3 media interface, headlamp washers, and electronic trunk closer; the Trim Package ($920) that includes a wood and leather shift knob; and the Sport Package ($5,090) with steering wheel gearshift paddles, 18-inch AMG wheels, Sport Bodystyling, and sport tires. Stand-alone options include Distronic radar-guided cruise control ($2,230), Parktronic park-assist warning ($1,140), and illuminated doorsills ($875).
The Mercedes-Benz CLS63 AMG ($96,300) comes with an air suspension tuned for sharper response and flatter cornering, larger Z-rated tires, and more powerful brakes. Its seven-speed automatic features Speedshift paddle shifters that allow it to work like a manual transmission without the clutch pedal.
Safety features that come on all CLS models include front multi-stage airbags, side-impact airbags for front and rear passengers, front and rear curtain-style head protection airbags, seatbelts with pre-tensioners and force limiters, ABS with Brake Assist, Electronic Stability Program, a roll-over sensor, low-tire warning system and Tele-Aid emergency telematics.