Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class Review

2008 Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class CLS550 Sedan

When it comes to shaking up the luxury car world, no amount of power, technological sophistication or supple leather in the cabin can top an alluring design. More stunning in person than even the most flattering photography might suggest, the coupelike Mercedes CLS-Class has a visual presence that few other luxury sedans can match. And that is something that's not likely to change for some time to come.

The Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class offers a level of athleticism and sumptuousness that in the past has been difficult to find in one car. Although it makes use of a number of unique pieces throughout, a lot of the underlying structure and hardware comes from the well-regarded E-Class. The engines in the CLS550 and CLS63 AMG, for example, are shared with its brethren and are connected to Mercedes' excellent seven-speed automatic transmission with manual-shift capability.

While its rakish visage does wonders for the CLS' image, it also reduces interior dimensions in several key areas. Up front, the effects are minimal as the CLS feels every bit as accommodating as Mercedes' full-size luxury flagship. But in back, its dimensions are tighter in nearly every direction when compared to more mainstream sedans. Additionally, the small rear windows can make occupants feel closed in.

But these are pretty minor complaints. The Mercedes-Benz
CLS-Class isn't really a case of form over function; rather, it's a rare combination of the two that makes them satisfyingly complementary. For the luxury car buyer who desires distinctive styling, strong performance and a sumptuous interior, the CLS is easy to recommend.

Current Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class

The Mercedes-Benz CLS is available as the CLS550 or the CLS63 AMG. For both models, expect all the typical powered controls and luxury accoutrements. Mercedes' Airmatic suspension system comes standard, too, giving the CLS enough adjustability to suit every type of driver. Left in its standard comfort mode, it responds with typical luxury car motions -- soft when it needs to be and stiff enough to maintain sufficient control at all times. Additional settings programmed for more aggressive driving are available should you desire more precisely controlled handling.

As the rear-wheel-drive CLS is meant to be a relatively exclusive and upscale car, Mercedes hasn't bothered to offer a V6-powered model. Rather, the lineup starts with the CLS550. It's equipped with a 5.5-liter V8 developing 382 horsepower and 391 pound-feet of torque. The CLS63 AMG has a 6.2-liter V8 that makes 507 hp and 465 lb-ft. A seven-speed automatic with Sportronic manual-shift capability is the sole gearbox for both trims. Paddle shifters are standard on the CLS63 and optional on the CLS550.

With so many gears at its disposal, the CLS is never far from its sweet spot -- making the sizable luxury sedan feel just as quick as its horsepower number might suggest. Response from the advanced, world-class transmission is satisfyingly quick. Mercedes says the CLS63 AMG needs only 4.5 seconds to hit 60 mph.

Inside the cockpit, sweeping wood panels, chrome trim surrounds, premium materials and beautiful detailing set the CLS apart. However, the car's coupelike roof line and tighter door openings can make getting in and out of the rear seats more difficult. Once in place, the aft quarters are surprisingly accommodating. Six-footers might brush their heads, but plenty of leg and shoulder room keep it otherwise comfortable. The short windows make it feel less airy than a typical sedan, but compared to a traditional two-door coupe, the Mercedes-Benz CLS is legitimately comfortable in back rather than merely tolerable.

Although it's about 5 inches longer than its midsize stablemate, the CLS550 weighs only a few pounds more. Transitioning from one curve to the next makes it obvious that this is no full-size land yacht. Unlike its larger sibling that reminds you of its size when pushed, the CLS550 invites spirited driving at every turn thanks to its quicker steering and reduced body roll. The CLS63 AMG, meanwhile, pushes the envelope even further thanks to its sport-tuned suspension, more powerful brakes, and bigger wheels and tires.

Past Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class models

Mercedes-Benz introduced the stunning, performance-oriented CLS500 sedan in 2006. As the CLS500's name suggests, it came with a 5.0-liter V8 rated at 306 hp. In that first year, Mercedes also offered the 469-hp CLS55 AMG. These models were superseded by the CLS550 and CLS63 AMG for 2007.


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