While until a few years ago Mercedes-Benz sat so comfortably at the top of the automotive pyramid that it could seemingly afford to pursue its theme of conservatism and solidity forever, these days the reality is rather different. BMW and Audi are both serious threats to the luxury crown, and are increasingly nabbing especially younger customers from the thee-pointed star’s grasp. What’s needed then, is to loosen the tie a bit. To show some flair. That’s where this, the most dramatic Mercedes-Benz CLS500, comes in.
Four-door… coupe?Based on the underpinnings of the E-Class, which will continue to cater to the needs of more traditional Mercedes customers, the CLS is positioned as a “four-door coupe”. This description in itself has been the cause of much debate, but in reality Mercedes’ argument does carry some weight. The sweeping roofline is pure, classical coupe, as are the frameless door windows. The way the curvaceous sides taper towards the rear and merge with the most un-Mercedes-like rear end in ages is particularly striking. Not to mention those big-bore exhaust outlets… Overall, the Mercedes-Benz CLS500 looks muscular, even sinister or “bad-ass” as a younger onlooker suggested. Call it what you will, it certainly has succeeded in one of its main tasks already – getting people talking about Mercedes design.
But the style does come at a cost, and we’re not talking money…
Even though the Mercedes-Benz CLS500 runs on the same wheelbase as the E-Class, the cabin is noticeably less spacious. The low roofline has impacted headroom, especially at the rear, and although legroom is not poor, Mercedes has tailored the rear seats exclusively for two. The CLS is therefore strictly a four-seater. Somehow Mercedes has managed to package a decently sized boot into that sloping rear end but keep in mind that it is not possible to fold the rear seats forward to accommodate bulky items.
But that’s really as far as the criticisms of the interior go. The facia design is also quite unique (for a Mercedes) and continues the theme of sweeping curves. Even the application of traditional materials such as wood comes with a twist – the panelling curves around the sporty three-dial instrument cluster and stretches across the facia. Other nice touches include circular ventilation outlets on the outer edges of the facia, and a starter button incorporated on top of the gear lever (the Mercedes-Benz CLS500 features keyless go). As is to be expected, Mercedes has not sacrificed quality in its pursuit of style – the CLS is as well-built as any other of its siblings.
Needless to say, the Mercedes-Benz CLS500 is a very sophisticated motorcar, and comes loaded with standard luxury and entertainment features, including climate control, auto lights, a sunroof, auto wipers, heated seats, radio/CD shuttle, cruise control, park assist, fabulous leather upholstery and xenon headlamps. And impressively, Mercedes has managed to pack no fewer than eight airbags into that tight cabin.
Strong powerUnder that bulging bonnet is a 5,0-litre V8 engine that delivers 225 kW and 460 Nm of torque, transmitted to the rear wheels via Mercedes’ new 7G-tronic automatic transmission that also offers the option of manual shifting in addition to its Comfort and Sport settings. The maximum torque, by the way, remains available from 2 700 to 4 250 rpm, promising excellent flexibility. For a car that weighs more than 1,8 tonnes, the performance is sizzling, and certainly a match for the CLS’s “sinister” looks. It scorches to 100 km/h in just over six seconds and tops out at an electronically limited 250 km/h. But it’s the flexibility that impresses most. Flex your right foot and the transmission will skip a gear or two (it can bypass four!) to find the optimum ratio for maximum acceleration. A minor criticism is that 7G-tronic can at times be a bit clunky, especially on those downshifts, but this depends very much on how aggressive you are on the throttle.
As mentioned before, the Mercedes-Benz CLS500 makes use of E-Class underpinnings, which is certainly a good base in terms of providing comfort and stability, but perhaps not at the class best level in terms of entertainment. For the CLS, the requirement is for a balance of both. To this end, Mercedes has widened the track widths and fitted an air-suspension system with three modes, including a very stiff “Sport” setting. Furthermore, there are stabiliser bars at both ends, including anti-dive/squat. Consequently, the CLS boasts excellent stability and much better resistance to bodyroll during hard cornering. Unfortunately the steering remains a bit too numb for the car to feel as agile as a BMW 5 Series, but it offers a good balance overall. It will surprise existing Mercedes customers with its sportiness, as much as it will do so for those that are new to the brand.
Mercedes-Benz CLS500 - VerdictTrying to be “cool” or to act younger than one’s age can often end in disaster – see any of a number of Hollywood actors as examples. For Mercedes the development of the CLS must have been as stressful as it was exciting. Get it wrong, and it could end up doing major damage to the brand… However, Mercedes has come up with a finely judged, very individualistic offering that adds a large dose of spirit and character to the Mercedes line-up, without negatively affecting the overall image. It may just represent a stroke of genius.
- Individualistic looks
- Dynamic balance
- Standard specification
- Build quality
- 7G-tronic could be smoother
Engine: 5,0-litre, V8, petrol
Power: 225 kW @ 5 600 rpm
Torque: 460 Nm @ 2 700 rpm
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic
Wheels: 18-inch alloy
Top speed: 250 km/h
0-100 km/h: 6,3 seconds
Fuel economy: 17,2 litres/100 km
- BMW 545i Sport Steptronic: Of course, the BMW lacks the Mercedes’s oddball styling, but if you want an entertaining luxury sedan, the Five can’t be overlooked. The engine is a peach, endowing the 545i with superior performance at a cheaper price.
- Jaguar S-Type R: Often forgotten, but the Jaguar is not without its charms. The old-school looks (inside and out) hide a car that is surprisingly fun to hustle. This is a very sports-oriented model, and ultimately it can’t match the sophistication of the Mercedes-Benz CLS500.
- Audi A6 4,2 Quattro Tiptronic: The most powerful versions of Audi’s impressive A6 have thus far failed to capture the imagination of the South African public. But for those looking for a “sleeper”, this A6’s powerful V8 engine and quattro drivetrain combine to deliver an exceptionally swift, effortlessly comfortable sedan.