For a bit more style, stance, and swagger than a standard E-Class, look no further than the Mercedes-Benz CLS. It was introduced for 2006 as one of the first four-door coupes and got a full redesign for 2019. This year, Mercedes adds its clever but overly complex MBUX infotainment system. The CLS competes with other dramatically styled four-doors including the BMW 8 Series Gran Coupe and Audi A7 as well as the more conventional E-Class.
Upon evaluating the CLS-Class for our 2019 Car of the Year competition, we came away unimpressed. The four-door coupe is not without its strong points, but its flaws are too significant to overlook. Starting positive, the mild hybrid inline-six engines are both excellent. They provide smooth, sweet-sounding power and decent fuel economy, to boot.
Beyond that, the CLS' swoopy styling is not as elegant or interesting as the sharp lines of its competitors. We noticed some noisy body resonance on certain road surfaces, too, a rare lack of refinement we don't expect from a Mercedes-Benz. The chassis isn't great, either, with massive understeer and a lack of proper body control. Potent AMG variants feel quicker but no more sorted.
The CLS needs to be a better-looking version of the E-Class with a superior driving experience to justify its existence. With this current generation, we're not sure it pulls that off.
Unlike the E-Class with which it shares a platform, the CLS is only offered with a 3.0-liter turbo inline-six with mild hybrid tech; no four-cylinders, plug-in hybrids, or AMG V-8s here. In the CLS 450, the I-6 develops 362 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque with RWD or AWD. Mild hybrid integration means a starter-generator between the engine and transmission can add up to 21 hp and 184 lb-ft in short bursts.
If you shell out for the AWD-only Mercedes-AMG CLS 53, a version of the same six-cylinder makes 429 hp and 384 lb-ft. Instead of a starter-generator, the AMG model utilizes an electric supercharger. In either case, the CLS engines work with nine-speed automatics. We tested both models for 2019 Car of the Year. An AWD CLS 450 accelerated to 60 mph in 4.9 seconds, and the AMG did the same in 4.1, nearly a second quicker.
Buyers who choose the AMG will end up using a bit more gas for every mile travelled. The CLS 450 is EPA-rated at 22-23/29-30 mpg city/highway, and the CLS 53 gets 21/26 mpg.
If you ask Mercedes-Benz, it is. The first-generation CLS was an early example of a segment of cars now called four-door coupes, essentially sedans with less conservative styling defined by dramatic sloping rooflines. Cars like the BMW 8 Series Gran Coupe, Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class, and the modern Hyundai Sonata follow in its footsteps.
The CLS has not been rated by NHTSA or IIHS. It is light on standard driver-assist tech, but when properly equipped, it offers impressive active safety. Standard features include driver attention warning and blind-spot monitoring; options include adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist with lane centering, lane change assist, automatic emergency braking, automatic high-beams, and a 360-degree camera system.
The CLS is a true sedan with a sealed trunk, similar to the BMW 8 Series Gran Coupe but unlike the Audi A7 hatchback. Cargo capacity in the CLS measures 11.9 cubic feet compared to 15.5 cubes in the 8 Series. Hatchback cargo volume is measured differently, but the Audi can carry more than either sedan.
Unlike the previous-generation CLS, the current model seats five instead of four. Legroom measures 41.9/35.0 inches front and rear. That's about mid-pack up front, but the 8 Series and A7 offer more space in the rear with 36.6 and 37.0 inches, respectively. If you compare the CLS to the more conventionally bodied Mercedes-Benz E-Class, that car has 1.2 inches more rear legroom, 0.2 inch less front legroom, and an additional 1.2 cubic feet of cargo volume.
New for 2021, the CLS now features the Mercedes-Benz MBUX infotainment system as standard. Last year's previously optional 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster is now included on all models, and the standard 12.3-inch center touchscreen carries over.