Is the CLS still the best 4-door coupe?
16 years after the CLS was originally launched I finally get to drive one...
Back in 2004 the CLS arrived in the world and created a class of its own. There was nothing else like it. Flowing, seductive bodywork draped over an interior to rival the S class coupled with range of proper big Merc engines including the laughable 5.5 litre Supercharged AMG V8. 16 years after first seeing one in the local dealership, I finally managed to get behind the wheel last week. Here’s my thoughts on living with the latest CLS for 48hrs.
Upon its launch in 2018 the third generation CLS set the template for the future of Mercedes design. Gone are the fantastically sculpted panels of the previous generations, instead smooth side panels highlight the sporting beltline and swooping roofline. Whilst I prefer the sculpted panels of previous years, mainly due to the variation in colour which the different angles created, there is no denying that the current CLS is a good-looking motor.
Power domes certainly add to front end appeal
The mini duck tail finishes of the rear nicely, tail pipes are false ends with the exhaust exiting under the valance behind the passenger side rear tyre.
Upfront the new shark nose design, incorporating the now standard diamond pattern grille and multibeam LED headlights certainly re-enforce the CLS’s road presence. New for 2019/20 all CLS’s benefit from the once AMG specific “power dome” bonnet. Whilst this certainly aids front end appeal, it does detract from the actual AMG powered model, the AMG tuned straight 6, CLS53. Judging from the number of people who gave the car a second look whilst on the road, this is great for the type of person who is inclined to stick an AMG badge on the back of a diesel, however, for those of us who respect the different model indications they feel a little out of place. Especially when the car in question only had a 2L diesel under the bonnet.
That 2L inline 4-cylinder turbo diesel produces 245bhp at 4,200rpm and 500nm of torque from just 1,400rpm, meaning the 300d has a respectable 0-62mph time of just 6.4 seconds. As you’d expect, it meets the latest EU6 emissions requirements thanks to AdBlue, fortunately Mercedes are designed by practically minded people so the filler for the AdBlue tank is adjacent to the fuel tank filler. The 300d is aimed squarely at fleet buyers and as such is the only current CLS to come as RWD, mainly to reduce fuel consumption. During my time with the car I covered 444 miles, half of these on Welsh A roads and unclassified country roads, averaging 46.3mpg. The other half spent driving up to the Wirral via the A483, A5 and along the M53 where the consumption averaged 49.5mpg. The CLS benefits from a 66-litre fuel tank, costing £70.54 to fill from empty (fuel light on). The aforementioned 444 miles took the car from full to one quarter remaining, as such a realistic motorway range of 500+ miles per tank is to be expected.
All CLS's come with the one interior choice as pictured here.
Whilst the 300d has the smallest engine in the range it benefits from the same 9G-tronic automatic that it’s 3L brethren share. The gear changes are quick and largely unobtrusive, however, when overtaking it is worth using the flappy paddles to select a lower gear in advance of the manoeuvre, otherwise the ‘box can hesitate as you go to overtake before dropping down. This results in an acceleration experience akin to old fashioned turbo-lag. Of course, this can be countered by prior selection of either “Sport” or “Sport +” via dynamic select, however, I felt leaving the car in “Comfort” was a more accurate test of how the majority of buyers will use the car.
2 metre width becomes apparent on narrow Welsh roads.
During normal cruising it becomes apparent that the ‘box has been calibrated for European road speeds. In eighth the car feels more settled at 62mph which translates to 100kmh, the speed limit of most “A” roads on the continent, careful throttle allows you to stay within our legal limit, with the engine purring at around 1,200rpm. On the motorway, the paddles are engaged to drop the car up into ninth, cruising at 1,150rpm. However, it will go back into eighth when it decides the incline is too steep. This again is due to European calibration, with ninth acting as an “overdrive” gear for maximum fuel economy at the higher European motorway speeds, especially on the Autobahn where CLS’s fly past at near to their 155mph (250kmh) limit.
Visibility is excellent with large wing mirrors almost removing the motorway “blind spot” entirely. Standard on the car are a host of safety features such as; lane keep assist, cruise control, active brake assist, rain sensing wipers and an automatically dimming interior and drivers side mirror. All alongside a reversing camera, park assist and 360-degree parking sensors which with the CLS measuring almost 5 metres long and 2 metres wide, which would be needed in a confined space. A standout feature once the sun had set where the MULTIBEAM LED headlights, as well as being automatic and with high beam assist, the high beam pattern adapts to oncoming traffic. In short, the high beam is dropped where the approaching vehicle is, but the remainder of the road is kept illuminated by high beam. This is particularly effective on A roads, and vastly reduces the eye strain of adjusting from high to low beam repeatably.
Dunlop Sport Maxx are loud over rough tarmac, easily rectified by switching to a premium tyre.
From a driver’s perspective the CLS is ideal as a mile eating motorway and A road cruiser. As a 6’4” (194cm) tall driver I was able to get the seat (heated, electro-pneumatic four-way lumbar support) in the right position relatively quickly, with enough legroom for a rear seat occupant of the same height to comfortably travel. The engine is barely audible, and wind noise is negligible thanks to the aerodynamic styling. However, the standard fitment Dunlop Sport Maxx Summer tyres on sensible 19” alloys where loud over rough tarmac, from prior experience with these on my own A class, switching to a premium tyre eliminates this issue. The 12.3” widescreen cockpit as seen in every current Merc is very user friendly, with 3 pre-set display layouts and is easily dimmed in low light. DAB and sat-nav are standard, unfortunately the AMG line misses out on the excellent Burmester stereo, but the standard Mercedes one is very capable. As much as I like the ambient lighting (64 colours, but we all know green is best,) the air vent lighting nearest the windows reflects directly onto the window and wing mirrors, as such I had to turn the vent lighting off whilst driving at night.
The new vent design is pleasing to the eye, with the aluminium in keeping with luxury origins of the CLS.
64 colour ambient lighting transforms the cockpit at night. #greenornothing
Whilst the larger displacement CLS’s are available with air-suspension, the 300d rides on old fashioned iron springs. These result in a smooth ride around 90% of the time, however when traversing poor tarmac and tramlined motorway segments the ride can be rather bumpy, the same is to be said on lumpy back roads.
Luggage space is more than adequate with a 520-litre saloon car style boot, as you can see from my Covid-19 themed test, there's enough space to panic buy loo roll whilst making a mid night dash to your holiday home with plenty of space around the cases for soft items. Unlike rivals the rear seats also fold down allowing you to transport longer items if needed. The CLS also benefits from a cavernous under floor area, where in other markets a full-size spare wheel is kept. In the UK we make do with the universal, fairly hopeless foam pump.
A capable long-distance commuter or Grand Tourer for someone who doesn’t want a saloon car but needs more space than a 2-door coupe. I’d recommend the straight six diesels, 350/400d, over the 300d’s 4 cylinder for refinement and the added benefit of the 4matic all-wheel drive. It’s a real shame that the bombastic AMG V8 was axed from the line-up, imagine what a car that would have been…
RRP from: £52,190.00
Many thanks to Mercedes Benz of Shrewsbury for providing the CLS.
Photographs © Richard Walsh