Mercedes CLS Review
The Mercedes CLS is a good compromise between a coupe and a saloon. If you want something sleeker than a typical saloon, but need more space than in a regular coupe, the CLS is the car for you
This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car
- High-class cabin
- Very quiet and comfortable
- Strong performance
What's not so good
- Not the five-seater Mercedes claims
- Cheaper four-cylinder models not available yet
- Some alternatives have bigger boots
Mercedes CLS: what would you like to read next?
The Mercedes CLS is the kind of car that will appeal to people who want to have their cake and eat it. After all, it’s described as a four-door coupe, and sets out to do something that sounds almost impossible: to combine the best bits of both types of car.
On the one hand, in the interior, you get something approaching the high-class cabin and practicality you’d expect of a Mercedes executive saloon, such as the E- or S-Class; and, on the other hand, it’s all dressed up in a body that’s very deliberately designed to include features that are typical of Mercedes coupes.
This is a relatively new sector of the market, but Mercedes can claim to have created it with the first generation of the Mercedes CLS, which was launched back in 2003. This is the third generation of the car and it follows very much the same recipe as the previous versions, offering an alternative to the likes of the Audi A7, Volkswagen Arteon and BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe, as well sportier posh cars, such as the Jaguar XF.
Where this third-generation model differs from the old Mercedes CLS models is that its body is much smoother, with fewer lines and creases in the metal. However, you don’t have to look far to see features that are reserved for Merc’s coupes, such as the ‘diamond’ grille, the two-section tail lights and the Mercedes badge on the boot lid.
When it comes to choosing the colour of your leather upholstery, Mercedes clearly follows the Henry Ford principle: you can have any colour as long as it’s black. As are the steering wheel, dashboard, door trims, parcel shelf, roof lining and carpet...
Engine choices are a couple of six-cylinder diesels (350d and 400d), a 2.0-litre petrol (350), a 3.0-litre 299hp petrol (450) and the CLS 53, which is powered by a 3.0-litre, 435bhp petrol engine. All petrol engines are supported by a small electric hybrid system.
You don’t have to spend a lot of time driving the CLS to realise that it excels as a very safe high-speed cruiser that will cover huge distances in complete comfort, with very little apparent effort from the engines. Stick to motorways and main roads, and you’ll really be playing it to its strengths. Only if you expect it to behave like a genuine sports car along a tight B-road will you be disappointed with the way it drives. Ultimately, there’s no getting away from the fact that this is a big car.
Likewise, you’ll be disappointed if you’re expecting the same degree of space and practicality you’ll find in, say, an E-Class, but the CLS is still a decent four-seater, and you can fit a reasonable amount in the boot, too.
The CLS has inherited lots of bits and piece from the Mercedes E- and S-Class, and that gives it a really high-class look and feel
The Mercedes CLS isn’t too bad for a coupe – it’ll take four people in comfort and the boot is reasonable – but those sleek lines do mean that it’s neither as spacious nor as practical as a saloon
Mercedes will proudly tell you that this is the first five-seat CLS, but you can't really use it as any more than a four-seater in everyday use
You certainly won’t have anything to complain about in the front of the Mercedes CLS. There’s enough leg and headroom for a six-foot driver, even if you have the optional panoramic sunroof fitted.
However, it’s in the rear seats where you pay the price for that swooping roofline. Whereas a proper saloon would be able to take two – and perhaps three – six-footers, that’s not quite the case in the Mercedes CLS.
For a start, the roof is quite low, so any rear-seat passenger over six feet tall will find their head brushing the roof. And, while Mercedes proudly claims that this is the first five-seat Mercedes CLS, you almost certainly won’t agree. The centre seat is much narrower than the outer two, while there’s a big lump in the floor, all of which means it’s best to regard this as no more than a four-seater in practice.
You might expect an elegant coupe to sacrifice some practicality and everyday usability, but in fact the Mercedes CLS is pretty decent in this respect. There are a couple of decent cupholders in the centre console, the door bins are large and the lidded cubby that sits behind the two front seats is very big.
Compared to the alternatives, you’d have to say the Mercedes CLS looks no better than reasonable. True, its boot is bigger than you’ll find in the BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe, but it’s a bit smaller than what you’ll find in the Audi A7 and Volkswagen Arteon – although there should still be enough room for most families’ luggage.
What’s also helpful is that the rear seats are split three ways (40:20:40) as standard, so you can easily extend the boot space if you need to carry larger or longer items. And, if you want to carry skis, for example, you can drop the centre rear seat, leaving the outer two seats in place.
The only slight issue is that it’s not terribly easy to load and unload the boot, because the opening is a little narrow and you have to lift things over quite a high lip. The Mercedes CLS also has a saloon-style bootlid, with the glass staying fixed in place rather than moving with the bootlid (as it does on the Audi A7), and that means it’s harder to get large boxes in and out, while taller boxes may not fit at all.
Smooth, quiet and comfortable, the Mercedes CLS is a wonderful car for covering long distances at high speed, but it’s no sports car on tighter roads
The CLS accelerates so effortlessly its a bit like being picked up by the crest of a tidal wave
There’s no such thing as a slow Mercedes CLS. Even the least powerful model, the 350d, can dash off the benchmark 0-62mph sprint in less than six seconds. By the time you look at the range-topping Mercedes-AMG CLS 53, you have a car that hits 62mph in just 4.5 seconds. That puts it on a par with a Porsche 911 sports car. It’s all very dramatic too, with pops and bangs accompanying every blip of the accelerator or shifts from the steering-wheel mounted paddles.
The beauty of the Mercedes CLS is that it’s so effortlessly fast. Having twin turbochargers on an engine is nothing too unusual, but in this AMG unit, the smaller one is driven electrically, so that it can respond really quickly when the driver wants some serious acceleration. And, as the car also has four-wheel drive for extra traction, you don’t waste any of the engine’s power spinning the wheels. Instead, the Mercedes CLS just concentrates on putting all that power down onto the road and getting you to the other end of it very quickly.
It’s a similar experience in the 400d – also a four-wheel drive car, as is the full Mercedes CLS range – which pulls at its strongest from an amazingly low 1,200rpm. The result, again, is super-quick responses as soon as you put your foot down, although what impresses you is not so much how fast the car can go, but how easy it is to get the car going very fast.
In some cars, you need thousands of revs to get the best from an engine, but in the Mercedes CLS, the swift responses of the engine and the nine-speed automatic transmission mean you never have to work it too hard. Whether you’re in the CLS 53 or 400d, it’s wonderfully easy to get past slower-moving traffic.
As you would only expect, that flagship AMG model is the least economical version of the Mercedes CLS; but, given how fast it can go, the official economy of 32.5mpg and CO2 emissions of 200g/km aren’t too bad. Mind you, if you make regular use of the full performance, you can expect economy in the 20s.
Both the 350d and 400d diesel-engined models have official economy of 50.4mpg, which is very impressive. And, while you’ll struggle to get that much in everyday use, upwards of 40mpg is perfectly possible.
You might expect the coupe-like styling of the Mercedes CLS to be reflected in a sporty drive and suspension that lets you feel every bump in the road, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Instead, when you drive a Mercedes CLS, your abiding memory will be of just how comfortable it is. Mile after mile can pass on the motorway without you noticing any lack of comfort – and that impression is helped by just how quiet it is inside the car.
Admittedly, you will feel a few more bumps in the CLS 53, which has a slightly firmer suspension, but even so, it’s much smoother than you would expect of such a quick car.
Whichever version of the Mercedes CLS you drive, it feels tremendously sure-footed in even the worst conditions – something that is helped hugely by the car’s standard ‘intelligent’ four-wheel drive system that ensures that all its prodigious power is sent to the most suitable wheel.
Overall, although the Mercedes CLS is certainly more agile than a regular saloon, it’s most at home on fast, sweeping, open roads; and, if you’re expecting a full-on sports car, you might be a little disappointed. Truth is, this is a big car and once the road gets too tight and twisty, it’s out of its comfort zone.
But, as long as what you want is something that’s a little more sporty than a standard saloon, but doesn’t sacrifice too much in the way of comfort or practicality, then this car hits the spot perfectly.
You shouldn’t have any worries about safety. Although the CLS hasn’t been tested by Euro NCAP, every Mercedes tested since 2014 has scored the full five-star rating – and we’d expect the CLS to follow suit.
There’s certainly no shortage of safety kit, with an Attention Alert system, Lane Keep Assist and the Pre-Safe system (which takes precautionary action, if the system thinks an accident is imminent) on top of the usual selection of airbags, ABS and stability protection systems.
If you want more than that, go for the optional Driving Assistance Plus pack, which costs £1,695 and adds a whole host of extra features. This includes several ‘active’ functions, which will automatically steer or slow the car, if the system thinks an accident is imminent. There’s even an Active Lane Change Assist, which will automatically steer the car into the adjacent lane on the motorway when the driver activates the indicators, as long as car detects the lane is clear.