Overall rating: 4/5
Mercedes-Benz updates its stylish CLS 'four-door coupé', but thankfully without detracting from its allure one little bit. Now there's a new entry-level diesel model too. A step too far? We don't think so.
In the metal 5/5
How do you improve on perfection? You can't apparently. Well, perhaps calling the exterior styling of the Mercedes-Benz CLS 'perfect' is stretching the hyperbole a bit but there's no denying that it is, in the words of a certain cinematic Italian villain, a "pretty car". So, Mercedes has (and it candidly admits this) left well enough alone. The exterior styling has merely been tweaked to accommodate a new grille (much more like that of the smaller CLA now) some very clever new LED headlights and new bumpers. The rear lamps are also new, but you'd never know.
Inside, all the differentiates the new CLS from the old is the new freestanding central display screen for the infotainment system, which looks like both a tablet and a touchscreen, but is actually neither. Instead, you control it with the usual Comand rotary thingy between the seats, which is now backed up by extra 'shortcut' buttons. It's a very, very slick system, probably the better of either Audi's MMI or BMWs iDrive these days.
The seats have been updated slightly and are exceptionally comfortable, although there is an option that allows the side bolsters to tighten or loosen depending on the cornering speed. It's a clever gimmick, but it soon becomes tiresome and distracting. Leave it switched off. Space in the back is, as ever, surprisingly good. Headroom is a little limited, true, but there's comfort to be found there for all but the tallest. The boot remains a useful 470 litres in volume, but you can make it more practical by plumping for the even prettier (to these eyes) Shooting Brake estate version.
Driving it 4/5
Mercedes still needs to work on the refinement of its four-cylinder diesel engines. Although our time in the car was sadly limited, it was enough to discover that 170hp and 350Nm is quite adequate even in a car as supposedly grand as the CLS. Sure, the 585hp AMG version would leave it reeling at the roadside, but for everyday driving, it's relaxed and capable. But it is noisy, admittedly slightly less so than the more powerful CLS 250 CDI model, but there is a noticeable diesel-y growl when you accelerate and that just seems out of place in an otherwise refined long-distance cruiser.
The CLS 220, as it's the base model, also misses out on the new nine-speed 9G-Tronic automatic gearbox, which means its CO2 levels are higher than you'd think. For instance, the 3.0-litre V6 CLS 350 CDI diesel has 258hp and 620Nm of torque, but thanks in part to the nine-speeder, emits just 142g/km, making it just over €100 a year more expensive to tax. If you're planning a CLS 220 CDI purchase, perhaps wait a year until it gets the new transmission.
The rest of the car is almost exactly as the CLS has always been. It's a relaxed and relaxing thing to drive, riding smoothly (unless you really ramp up the inch count on the wheels) and steering with a really lovely deft precision (Mercedes still makes better steering than BMW, trust me). Compared to its chief rival, the Audi A7, it's vastly sweeter and more communicative to drive.
The cheapest Mercedes CLS is still hardly a cheap experience, and looks every bit as good as its more expensive brothers. Still, it would be nice to get the nine-speed gearbox to drop those emissions and fuel consumption ratings even further.