The Mercedes-Benz CLS350 is the absolute definition of smooth. Gorgeous profile, stacked with stuff, it’s a car for those who like to drive art.
Fifteen years ago boring, dependable Mercedes-Benz invented a whole new niche – the four-door coupe. The CLS-class came out of nowhere and redefined the idea of a luxury sedan. The idea was first presented in 2001 as the Vision CLS and then sent into production in 2004.
This car is the third-generation CLS, the C257. The idea of a less-practical E Class has survived the onslaught of SUVs and continues to be one of the brand’s most recognisable cars.
Words: Peter Anderson
Co-pilot: David Sharpe
Images: Matt Hatton
How much is the CLS350 and what do I get?
Mercedes-Benz CLS350: $139,941
Mercedes-Benz CLS450 4MATIC: $158,343
The CLS350 opens a three-car range consisting of the 350, 450 and 53AMG. The 350 is a turbo four-cylinder with 220kW while the 450 and 53 AMG pack the twin-turbo straight-six.
A lot of people asked how much the CLS350 was worth and were surprised at the cost. Under $200,000 for a car like this was a surprise for everyone and I’ll admit, I was too. I guess it’s the kind of car that projects expense.
If you buy a CLS350, you start with a 13-speaker stereo, 20-inch AMG-branded alloy wheels, dual-zone climate control, ambient lighting, keyless entry and start, front and rear parking sensors, active cruise control, leather and wood trim, electric front seats, sat nav, active LED headlights, head up display, leather trim, auto parking (steering), power everything, auto wipers, sunroof, air suspension and run-flat tyres.
There is a bunch of cameras – front, side and reversing cameras give you an excellent view around the car.
The 13-speaker system is run from the utterly fantastic central screen. The new interior architecture is lifted from the lovely E-Class (reviewed here in E63 AMG form) so has the two massive 12.3-inch screens. The central one run Mercedes’ COMAND system which is…well, it’s alright, but it’s no iDrive. The speakers are branded by Burmester and you can pump usual AM/FM signals as well as DAB+. If you’ve got Android or iPhone, you can use Auto and CarPlay via USB. The latter looks brilliant on that big screen. Did I mention how great those two screens are? They’re great.
Colours include Obsidian Black, Vansite Blue, Magno Selenite Grey ($4300!), Graphite Grey, Selenite Grey, Hyacinth Red ($2990), Iridium Silver, Diamond White Bright ($4300 again) and Polar White.
You can get Nappa leather trim for $3490, Comfort Package (funky front seats with cooling as well as heating and heated rear seats, $7100), Exclusive Line (old man stuff like wood trim on the steering wheel and 19-inch alloy wheels, NCO).
Safety: 5 stars (EuroNCAP, 2016)
ANCAP has awarded the E-Class a five-star rating but unlike EuroNCAP, does not mention the CLS.
From the EuroNCAP site: Data reviewed by Euro NCAP, together with additional tests, demonstrate that the rating of the E-Class also applies to the CLS-CLass.
The CLS ships with seven airbags (including driver’s knee), blind spot detection, active safety bonnet, high and low-speed forward AEB with pedestrian detection, active cruise control, lane keep assist and lane departure warning.
Sadly missing is reverse cross-traffic alert, which would be nice, particularly in a car that is difficult to see out of.
Warranty and Servicing
Warranty: 3 years/unlimited kilometres
Three years isn’t long enough, but there you are. BMW and Audi are also guilty of this and I’d go so far as to say Lexus’ four-year warranty isn’t enough either. I reckon you should expect five years from a premium manufacturer, especially if everyone else (not German) can manage it.
You do get three years roadside assist, which is nice.
Servicing: 12 months/25,000km
While I don’t like the warranty, the servicing intervals are generous, Jaguar Land Rover generous, in fact. Some intervals are 12 months/10,000km and that’s silly given most of us exceed 10,000km in a year. 25,000km covers pretty much everyone.
You can choose pay-as-you-go (PAYG) service pricing (sort of like capped-price servicing) or pay up front. The program covers three services either way.
On the CLS350, you’ll pay $2350 for the first three services if you pay upfront ($783 average), saving you $600 or $200 per year. You can also pre-pay for two more services, taking the total to $3200 for four services ($800pa) or $4950 ($1000pa) for five. Those last two services seem pricey and aren’t listed on PAYG, so if you know you’re going to keep your CLS that long, you know what to do to control your costs.
Mercs seem to have a habit of being expensive to service after three years.
Look and Feel
You can’t deny that this CLS350 has presence. From the front, it’s properly low and that funky grille with the over-sized three-pointed star leaves you in no doubt what sort of car is bearing down on you.
Mercedes has dialled back the blobby headlights in recent years, which is awesome. These are nice, crisp little units and with the daytime running lights on, they look terrific.
The CLS’s real party trick is the coupe profile. Since day one, the CLS has had that racy roofline. It’s still obviously a four-door sedan and in this iteration is, I think, more resolved.
As it’s based on the E-Class, it makes sense that it takes on that car’s interior. It’s mostly great – the big screens, lovely materials and those air vents are super-cool. They look like turbines from a big turbofan engine. Mint.
The front seats are massively comfortable and you can’t overstate how the whole experience is all about comfort. You sit very low, obviously, it’s much lower and racier than the E-Class. The steering wheel is almost Subaru-busy and not as ergonomic as perhaps I’d like, but owners seem to like them.
The rear seats are pretty tight if you’re over about 180cm or around six-feet tall. Like an 8-Series Gran Coupe, its falling roofline limits headroom and the low position of the front seats mean tight foot room. Legroom is good, though, and for the first time you can fit three across, but two is lovely. Vision for rear-seat passengers is also limited by the roofline.
The boot offers up 490 litres, which is just a little more than a C-Class, but you can’t have it all, I guess. It’s still a fair bit of space. You have a pair of cupholders in the centre console and rear seat passengers get them too in the centre armrest. They also score air-conditioning vents. Each door will take a mid-size bottle in the pockets.
Long story short, the Granddad Express vibe of the old E and CLS is well and truly gone. It’s super-modern and genuinely cool inside and out.
The CLS350’s motivation comes from a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol with 220kW and 400Nm. Those are very healthy figures but the CLS needs them to push 1775kg of kerb weight along. That cracking torque figure is available between 3000 and 4000rpm while peak power arrives at 6100rpm.
Power goes to the correct end of the car, the rear, via Mercedes’ very clever nine-speed MCT (multi-clutch transmission). Despite the name, it’s not like a normal twin-clutch but is more like a motorbike’s gearbox. Several clutches sit in an oil bath acting as a single clutch but, wow, is it smooth.
The slightly startling 0-100km/h figure of 5.1 seconds is quite something given it’s a little four-cylinder turbo and a lot of car.
As this isn’t a performance version, the air suspension is definitely set up for comfort. Along with that, you can lift the car on the air bags at each corner. That’s a handy feature given how low the car is.
The standard 20-inch wheels have 245/35s up front and 275/30s at the rear. With low profile rubber like that, the standard air suspension is a must. You can down-size the wheels to 19-inch units for a bit more sidewall either individually or part of the no-cost option Exclusive Line.
Peer through the big alloys and you’ll see perforated discs, which work a treat.
The CLS350 is a whopping 4988mm long, 1890mm wide and 1427mm high, riding on a 2939mm wheelbase.
The CLS350 is all about hushed, comfortable progress. It’s difficult to remember a car so calm, cool and collected while also showing such a decent turn of pace.
You’d think the four-cylinder would struggle with the car’s weight and girth, but it doesn’t. It’s almost dead quiet, you have to sometimes check the engine is on. It spins swiftly and quietly to the redline and the transmission keeps you in the power band when you need it.
When you’re just doddling along in town, it’s all beautifully calibrated, with easy torque to keep you moving. Out on the freeway, there’s almost no noise of any kind, which is remarkable given the amount of rubber beneath you.
The air suspension is responsible for much of the credit. It really soaks up the road, feeling more like a ship carving through calm waters than rolling over tarmac. You won’t be having a great deal of fun on a curving road if you want to push on, though – the weight and setup just aren’t built for cracking on. The suspension will stiffen up and flatten the car’s roll, but it doesn’t try too hard.
The steering is direct and light but feel isn’t what you’d call abundant.
And that’s okay – you didn’t buy a CLS350 for that. You’ll be looking up the range for that.
There isn’t a lot around like the CLS. Audi’s A7 is stunningly pretty and packed with technology. Now in its second generation, you can have one with a 180kW 2.0-litre turbo 45 TFSI ($115,000) or a 250kW/500Nm 3.0-litre V6 quattro 55 TFSI for $133,600. Servicing is way cheaper at $1870 for three years and $3170 for five years, irrespective of engine type.
Perhaps closer in concept and stature is the BMW 8 Series Gran Coupe. It’s way more expensive than the CLS, starting at $199,900 for the 840i M Sport rear-wheel drive 3.0-litre twin-turbo straight-six. The M850i xDrive is a whopping $272,900 but does have a lovely 4.4-litre V8 twin-turbo. You can’t get a V8 CLS anymore.
Neither of these cars is quite the same as the CLS. You could, I guess, consider a Jaguar XF? But really, the CLS lives out on its own.
The CLS350 is genuinely lovely. Every person who looked at it, drove it, photographed and rode in it said it was a damn fine automobile. And it is. It’s missing some bits and bobs, mainly around safety. The warranty is too short and the service pricing really starts to climb after three years, but I guess it’s not excessive.
It’s not a sports car, despite looking like one, so be warned. If you want something quicker and more lively, you’ll have to step up to the higher-spec or stick around for the Audi S7.
But if you’re after a gorgeous car that pretty much floats along, the CLS350 smashes those KPIs out of the park.
Peter Anderson is the Editor and founder of the theredline.com.au. He’s been writing about cars for years and finds it difficult to talk about anything else.