Mercedes CLS overview
If you want an idea of where the Mercedes CLS sits in the German firm's extensive line-up, then bear with us. It shares running gear with the E-Class, but adds a swooping four-door coupe body, which has been updated for 2022. However, don't confuse the CLS with the Mercedes-AMG GT 4-Door Coupe, which is *checks notes* another four-door coupe. That car is the sister model to the Mercedes-AMG GT two-seater, although it actually shares running gear with the CLS. Confused? We don't blame you.
Back to the CLS, and the reason we're driving it, which is a series of updates. These follow a range of revisions for the E-Class, and see new tech added inside, with capacitive controls on the multifunction steering wheel, open-pore wood trims for the dashboard and efficiency tweaks for the engines. There's an exterior update, too, with new wheel designs, new paint options and revised bumpers and lights.
Power for the CLS comes from four-cylinder diesel or six-cylinder petrol and diesel engines, all with efficiency enhancements. Here we're testing the CLS 220 d, which is the entry point to the range. We say entry point, but it still costs more than €80,000, although to offer some perspective, the AMG GT 4-Door Coupe's starting price is more than double that.
The German 'big three' usually offer cars that go toe-to-toe with each other, but that's not quite the case here. Audi has the A7 Sportback, but BMW dropped the 6 Series Gran Turismo a while ago, while the 8 Series Gran Coupe is more expensive than the CLS in this guise. However, the Porsche Panamera is available at this price point. There are zero-emissions alternatives to the CLS, too, with the Porsche Taycan, Audi e-tron GT and Tesla Model S all worth considering.
The Mercedes CLS model range
Irish pricing for the Mercedes CLS starts at €83,090 for the CLS 220 d tested here. Power for this model comes from a 194hp four-cylinder turbodiesel with a 0-100km/h time of 7.5 seconds.
Above that is the CLS 300 d 4Matic, which features four-wheel drive and the same 2.0-litre diesel tuned to make 265hp. This sprints from 0-100km/h in 6.4 seconds. Next up is the CLS 400 d 4Matic, which uses a 3.0-litre six-cylinder diesel that makes 340hp. This trims more than a second off the 0-100km/h time, at 5.2 seconds.
If you prefer petrol power, then there's the CLS 450 4Matic, which uses a 367hp 3.0-litre straight-six and can sprint from 0-100km/h in 4.8 seconds. Finally, there's the CLS 53 4Matic+, which again uses the same straight-six, but Mercedes tuning division AMG has enhanced its performance, bumping it up to 435hp and uprating the electronics of the four-wheel-drive system for improved handling. This version has a 0-100km/h time of 4.5 seconds.
All cars bar the AMG 53 come in sporty AMG Line trim, and even the base model is very generously equipped. There are 19-inch alloys, a sporty body kit, LED headlights with adaptive beam technology, auto lights and wipers, keyless entry and starting, 360-degree cameras with park assist, LED ambient interior lighting, leather seats with heating up front and twin 12.3-inch digital displays featuring the dials and Mercedes' latest MBUX infotainment system with navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
If you need more kit, then Mercedes offers upgrade packs. The Premium Package is €3,078 extra, and adds a 13-speaker Burmester surround sound system, memory seats and auto dimming mirrors, while the €7,611 Premium Plus Package adds this and also a full colour head-up display, gesture control for the MBUX system, a sunroof and three-zone climate control. Finally, the Night Package is an exterior upgrade, with 20-inch alloys and gloss-black parts used instead of standard chrome trim.
At the top of the range, the AMG 53 is a standalone model, but it gets a similarly generous amount of equipment. The main differences between it and the rest of the range are an enhanced drivetrain, a subtly sportier look, figure-hugging sports seats inside and extra drive modes to make the most of the power on offer.
Finance packages help take the sting out of the CLS's prices, but for the latest offers, go to the Mercedes Ireland website.
The Mercedes CLS interior
The first challenge with the CLS is getting in, because that low-slung body, relatively small doors and a very low roof line means there's a real risk of banging your head. But once you're inside, the first-rate build quality quickly lets you know that this is a premium model from a premium brand.
The seats themselves will be a little on the snug side for larger drivers when compared with the Mercedes E-Class, but the extensive use of wood, leather and metal trim distract you from the fact that it's a little cramped.
The twin screens add a high-tech feel, and they're neatly integrated, giving the cabin an uncluttered look, with no high-set displays disrupting the flow of the dashboard. Everything works with precision, and the metal-finished controls add to the upmarket feel. The multifunction steering wheel is new and while its straight spokes and multiple touch-sensitive controls add to the high-tech feel inside, some of the switchgear is trickier to use than on the old car.
Head for the back seats, and access to these is actually easier than for the fronts, because the rear doors have wider openings. Unlike previous generations of the CLS, there's a three-seat layout in the back, although the middle seat is a very temporary affair that won't be comfortable for anything longer than a brief trip. Think of the CLS more as a four-seater, and the room on offer is decent.
At the back of the car, the long rear overhang creates a big 520-litre cargo area, but it's not very well shaped. The saloon-style boot lid has a high and narrow opening, so bulky items will be tricky to load, maybe even impossible in some instances due to the shallow boot floor. It's a shame that the CLS Shooting Brake hasn't made a comeback with this generation, because the old model added some versatility to the CLS without upsetting its luxury grand tourer feel.
The Mercedes CLS driving experience
We said grand tourer previously, and that's where the CLS's driving talent really lies. It's not a car that you would push to its limits like a keen driver might in a 5 Series or Panamera, for example, but if you want a car that is comfortable, refined and has a bit of a sportier edge, then it's ideal. The sporty character is helped by the low-set driving position, and that sporty roofline helps, too, but it's a car that's better suited to driving at 7/10ths, rather than flat out.
Light controls and standard-fit 360-degree cameras help with low-speed manoeuvring - the latter being especially useful, considering the CLS's small windows - while electronic assistance in the form of blind-spot recognition and lane assist are useful additions, too.
On a tricky road, the front suspension will bottom out before the rear, while that set-up at the back delivers a good balance between performance and comfort.
The standard nine-speed automatic gearbox is great, too, delivering seamless shifts and ensuring that the engine is in its power band irrespective of your speed. That power delivery is high in the rev range, though, so there's no risk of overwhelming those grippy rear tyres with too much torque. There's a Sport mode that sharpens the gearbox shifts for a sportier drive, but Mercedes' usual bias towards safe understeer means there isn't as much fun to be had here as you would find in an equivalent BMW.
That's not to say that the CLS is a disappointment, though, it's just that its talents lie in its ability to cruise comfortably at any speed, while offering a premium cabin that complements the grown-up driving experience.
Our verdict on the Mercedes CLS
In essence, the Mercedes CLS takes the formula of refined cruising comfort that has been developed over the decades by the E-Class and adds a much less practical body. It's a self-indulgent car for those that don't want to go for a full coupe. It feels sporty enough and it looks good (other opinions are available), but if you're looking for driving thrills, try elsewhere. Perhaps the car's saving grace is that this entry-level 220 d model offers decent fuel economy to go with the sporty looks.