Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but for automotive designers it can also be a huge pain in the gluteal region. When your design is so cool that it provokes copies far and wide, what do you do for an encore?
The Mercedes CLS-Class is an excellent case in point. Introduced as a 2006 model, it was not only a show-stopper, it became the prototype of a whole new vehicle class: the oxymoronic four-door coupe. The term has created some confusion, with a number of unlikely four-door vehicles calling themselves coupes, but it appears to have lodged itself permanently in the automotive lexicon.
Mercedes of course can use whatever term it likes, but to our eyes the CLS-Class is a sedan, with sleek lines that may seem coupe-like to some. And in its first extensive redesign, the smooth skin of the original has acquired more sculpting. The shape is familiar, there continue to be two models, CLS550 and CLS63 AMG, but the skin is a little edgier, and the look is a little more aggressive.
The CLS-Class was created on E-Class mid-size sedan architecture, and that continues into this second generation, although all its dimensions have expanded slightly. This doesn't affect passenger capacity. As with the original, there's a permanent console between the rear seats, so the CLS-Class continues to be a four-seater.
Introduced for 2012, this latest-generation CLS-Class uses turbocharged engines for increased power and improved fuel economy. The CLS550 comes with a 4.6-liter biturbo V8 rated at 402 horsepower and 443 pound-feet of torque. Fuel economy for the 2013 CLS550 is an EPA-estimated 17/25 mpg City/Highway, while the CLS550 4MATIC is rated 16/25 mpg.
The CLS63 AMG version, from the Mercedes performance subsidiary in Afalterbach, Germany, is propelled by a 5.5-liter twin-turbo V8 rated at 518 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque. With all that horsepower, the CLS63 AMG still gets an EPA-rated 16/25 mpg.
Both V8s are paired with 7-speed automatic transmissions, although the shift controls are different for each, as are internal gearing and final drive ratios.
We found these cars feel heavy, but the pneumatic suspension handles the weight well, snubbing up and down body motions and keeping the car level during hard cornering. Ride quality is autobahn firm and the CLS550 inspires confidence in high speed corners, yet the air suspension irons the edge off gnarly pavement.
The cabin is trimmed nicely, the sound system is orchestral, and it's quiet underway, save for the refined rumble of that twin-turbo V8, sotto voce, lowering the driver's inhibitions, tempting the driver's right foot.
The CLS-Class was completely redesigned for the 2012 model year. The 2013 CLS-Class comes with the second generation of Mercedes's mbrace connectivity feature called, appropriately enough, mbrace2. Among other functions, mbrace2 provides access to internet browsing, Google Search, Facebook, Yelp, and news programming via the new MB Apps feature.
The 2013 Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class offers two engines: The CLS550 ($72,000) comes with a 402-hp 4.6-liter biturbo V8; the CLS550 4MATIC ($74,500) comes with the same engine but all-wheel drive. The CLS63 AMG ($95,900) features a 518-hp 5.5-liter biturbo V8. All come with a 7-speed automatic. (Prices are MSRP and do not include $905 destination charge.)
CLS550 comes standard with dual-zone digital automatic climate control, leather upholstery, 14-way power front seats, three-position memory, multicolor ambient lighting, COMAND system with 7-inch LCD, AM/FM/DVD/CD6, SiriusXM radio, traffic and weather, HD radio receiver, 10GB Music Register, Bluetooth, 80GB hard drive navigation with Zagat survey, harman/kardon Logic7 digital surround sound,
Premium leather upholstery is optional. Also optional: active multi-contour driver seat, heated and active ventilated front seats, split-folding rear seats, Keyless-Go, electronic trunk closer, power rear-window sunshade, iPod/MP3 interface, active LED headlights, rearview camera.
Safety features standard on all CLS-Class: 12-way air bag protection, Neck-Pro active front head restraints, Attention Assist drowsiness monitor, Pre-Safe, Hill-Start Assist, Hold braking feature, tire pressure monitor, mbrace2, ABS, brake assist, electronic brake-force distribution, electronic stability control. Optional safety features include rearview camera, rear side-impact airbags, Distronic Plus adaptive cruise control, Blind Spot Assist, Lane Keeping Assist, Active Blind Spot Assist, Active Lane Keeping Assist, Night View Assist Plus with Pedestrian Detection, Parktronic with Parking Guidance, Active Curve Illumination, all-wheel drive.