Throughout the history of Mercedes-Benz, its designers, engineers, and executives rarely have introduced a car to the market before pondering every angle—the divergences of planes that form the car’s shape and the circumstances that could determine how the car’s release will affect the company’s bottom line. But barely a year after the introduction of the CLS Vision concept car at the 2003 Frankfurt auto show, the production version of the coupe-styled four-door became available for purchase. The arrival of the $65,000 CLS500 follows one of Mercedes’ fastest show-to-showroom progressions ever.
From the outset, Mercedes had considered the possibility of the CLS Vision’s becoming a production car, but the decision to move forward with those plans was cemented by its reception at Frankfurt, where observers were smitten with the car’s ability to incorporate the styling of a sport coupe and the comfort of a luxury sedan.
The CLS designation is a reference to this melding of characteristics from Mercedes’ CL coupe and its flagship S-Class, yet the new car’s closest sibling is the E-Class, with which it shares a drivetrain and more than one-third of its other parts. This arrangement made the CLS relatively inexpensive to launch, further convincing Mercedes to proceed with the project at this unusually accelerated pace.The CLS500 is powered by a 5.0-liter, 302 hp V-8 engine that generates 339 ft lbs of torque and is mated to a 7-speed automatic transmission. On the narrow, twisty, rural roads outside Rome—where Mercedes introduced the car to the automotive media—the big sedan never felt awkward. On straighter stretches, it ran effortlessly and eerily silent. The adjustable air suspension enables the CLS500 to cruise as smoothly as you would expect a Mercedes sedan to do, but the suspension also can be adjusted for sportier handling, and the steering response is among the best that the carmaker offers.
The car rides on a wheelbase similar to the E500’s, but the CLS’s roofline, which slopes toward the rear bumper, offers slightly less headroom and legroom in the rear seats. The CLS’s interior includes leather-and-fabric seats, burl walnut trim with a matte finish, and chrome accents.
With the release of the CLS500, Mercedes believes it has introduced a niche vehicle for those who would prefer to drive a coupe but require a sedan’s sensible rear seating. Consider the CLS Mercedes’ single answer to BMW’s 6 Series and 5 Series.