My partner thinks the CLS is sexy – he calls it the “moon car” – while I appreciate its accentuated rear fenders, a throwback to mid-century Mercedes-Benz “Adenauer” sedans, and grille lifted from any number of sporting Mercedes since the 1955 300SL Gullwing. It looks smokin’ on its set of 18-inch AMG alloys. Some people don’t understand the CLS, but the ‘four-door coupe’ bodystyle has been copied for cars as diverse as the Porsche Panamera, Audi A7, Volkswagen CC, and Hyundai Sonata.
The real point of the sleek roofline is to slide a little sportiness under the radar of a practical four-door layout. Family and friends can get cozy in the console-divided rear buckets for short trips, while you and your partner snuggle into the front compartment. Heated and cooled leather seats, polished wood trim, thick carpets, and traditional gauges instill tradition and comfort. Mercedes has also installed a crystal-clear 14-speaker Harman/Kardon surround sound audio system with HD Radio, 6-disc changer, and SiriusXM Satellite Radio.
Telling your neighbor you owned a Mercedes-Benz ‘550 used to mean your sports sedan had a 5.5-litre V8 under the hood. The numbering remains, but this new version comes packed with a (smaller) 4.6-litre twin-turbo V8. Don’t let size be an issue, since this engine given puts out 402-hp and 443 lb-ft. of torque. Power is routed to the wheels through a seven-speed paddle shift transmission. Optional is Mercedes’ 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system. Fuel economy isn’t bad at 17/26 mpg city/hwy.
Being a modern ‘Benz, the CLS550 flaunts an incredible load of safety tech. Our test car came with Attention Assist to keep you alert, Active Blind Spot Assist to keep you informed, and Active Lane Keeping Assist to vibrate your hands when you stray from your given lane without signaling. Distronic Plus with Pre-Safe Brake is available to monitor the road ahead of you, maintain a safe distance on the highway, and apply the brakes if necessary. The CLS550 also comes with anti-lock brakes, traction control, and ESP electronic stability control – all are good to have when piloting a 400+ horsepower German luxury sedan.
All of this electronic wizardry is great, but it’s more fun to drive a car than read the owner’s manual. Direct steering and an adjustable air suspension gives drivers the solid Mercedes feel they covet, along with the ability to personalize their ride. I don’t always love the artificial feel of air suspension, but the CLS’ is better than most. Track jockeys will go for the Sport tuning while long-time Mercedes owners will likely prefer touring mode for its highway demeanor.
Truth be told, if cabin room is a priority, you might do better to look at the boxier E-Class sedan. The rear of the CLS is adequate, but not much more than that. However, you can’t deny the CLS has style and performance, even if it appeals more to the fabulous amongst us.
2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS550
Four-passenger, RWD sedan
Powertrain: 402hp 4.6-litre turbo V8, 7-speed automatic transmission
Suspension f/r: Semi-active ind. air
Wheels: 18”/18” alloy f/r
Brakes: Disc fr/rr with ABS
Must-have feature: Style, efficiency
0-60mph: 5.2 seconds
Top speed: 130 mph
Fuel economy (city/hwy.): 17/26 mpg
As tested price: $83,560