Before the Audi A7, the Porsche Panamera, and the BMW 6 Series Grand Coupe, there was the Mercedes-Benz CLS. The CLS-Class, introduced 15 years ago, spawned a new genre of contemporary four-door sportbacks with low rooflines and sweeping, coupe-like silhouettes. Since then, many competitors have copied the formula, confirming the existence of a sporty-yet-roomy car. This year, Mercedes-Benz has revised the CLS-Class with a cleaner design, an updated cabin, and a new engine that adds electric power for increased performance and efficiency.
The look of the new CLS reflects the next step in the brand’s “sensual purity” design language, which focuses on simplified, reduced lines. A forward-slanting front end gives the look of a longer hood, while the new front grille hints at a family resemblance to the AMG GT coupe and roadster. Gone are the sharp creases and prominent bulges found on the previous car, replaced by taut and subtle sculpting. The rear of the CLS is simpler and flatter compared with the outgoing car, yet it keeps its gently curved shape.
In New York City’s borough of Brooklyn, which has been setting its own trends in the past few years, we slide into the seats of a CLS 450 4Matic, equipped with all-wheel drive (it’s also available in a rear-wheel-drive version) and a brand-new engine. The new power plant does not use the V-6 layout we’ve grown accustomed to in the Mercedes-Benz lineup, but rather, a turbocharged inline-6, along with a 48-volt electric starter-generator that works in tandem with the gasoline engine and can give a temporary boost of up to 21 hp when needed. Shifts are via a 9-speed automatic transmission, with the option to shift manually with the steering wheel paddles. Off the line, the electrified power train delivers instant torque and a steady increase in power—until we hit morning traffic on the approach to the Brooklyn Bridge. But Mercedes’ adaptive cruise control does the stopping and going for us, so we can take in the views, both outside the car and inside the beautiful interior.
Along with the latest S-Class and E-Class sedans, the new CLS gets the latest Mercedes-Benz interior design, which includes two widescreen displays, controlled by the traditional rotary knob or thumb pads on the steering wheel. We’ve said before that Mercedes-Benz interiors are some of the best on the market right now, and that holds true with the CLS, from its sculptural seats with stitched leather and a divine massage function to elegant illuminated air vents.
When we hit open road, I put my foot down and find that Mercedes’ new system is so smooth that I’m hard-pressed to know just exactly when the turbochargers kick in. In fast corners, the 4Matic all-wheel-drive configuration gives us grip, and the chassis is well controlled considering the car’s size and weight (it’s slightly longer than the S-Class coupe and convertible, but shorter than the sedan). The six-cylinder engine’s 362 hp and 369 ft lbs of torque are more than enough in practically any driving situation in the tristate area—perhaps barring a track day upstate at the Monticello Motorsports Club. For that, we’d take the new Mercedes-AMG CLS 53, with an amped-up version of the same engine that delivers 429 hp and 384 ft lbs of torque, along with sportier driving dynamics and AMG-specific design cues.
Because of its sleek roofline, the CLS sacrifices some headroom for style. Yet, the newest incarnation feels more spacious, and, unlike the previous generations, can be ordered with an optional third seat in the middle. For those few but loyal fans enamored with four-door coupe, the CLS is hard to beat.