2006 Mercedes CLS

Coup de Grace

By Steve Siler

Designed to woo style-focused coupe buyers who might think Mercedes’ skinny CLK-Class lacks presence, while the grand CL-Class coupe perhaps has presence in excess, the CLS-Class fills the gap between them. And boy does it fill it: with a low roofline, slim, frameless side windows and fabulously swoopy bodywork, the CLS coupe is a stylophile’s dream, looking like a “designer’s sketch on wheels,” according to one admiring automotive designer (that does not work for Mercedes-Benz).

Funny thing is, this “coupe” has four doors.

Four doors? Wouldn’t that make the CLS a sedan? Not according to Mercedes-Benz, which vehemently asserts that the CLS is the world’s first “four-door coupe.” Nevermind that Saturn and Mazda and a few others have made similar claims with their “coupes” in the past. Just who is right depends on how you define “four-door,” and “coupe.” But I digress.

Mercedes-Benz CLS

What we do know is that the CLS is gorgeous, easily one of the prettiest four-door, um, vehicles ever. The headlights form unusual “L-shapes,” a first for Mercedes and easily one of the signature identifying marks of this new breed of Benz. From there, the front fenders swell wide of the hood, beginning a contour that peaks way back behind the rear doors and ends after dropping a bit into the pinched tail. The tiny, triangular rear LED lights are also a departure for Mercedes, which usually does stacked, straked lighting elements in back. It’s a passion-infused design that turns heads everywhere it goes. With the possible exception of Maserati’s inebriating, $100K Quattroporte, no four-door, at any price, coupe or sedan, can touch the sheer sex appeal of Mercedes-Benz’ sassy CLS.

The “four-door coupe” thing makes more sense once you look inside the CLS’ intimate cabin. There you’ll find just four cozy bucket seats, each with individual climate controls, separated front and rear by a flowing wood-paneled center console. No rear bench is available…anyone needing room for five bums can choose the E-Class, Mercedes’ mechanically similar sedan (as in, a real sedan) that also donates many of the controls housed within the curvaceous slab of wood trim also known as the CLS’ dashboard. As such, the low-roofed, legroom-limited, decidedly impractical CLS is clearly aimed at people who prioritize style over utility and intimacy over interior space. In other words, coupe people. See the connection?

At least the trunk is reasonable in size in spite of that pretty, sloping tail, which you’d think might have eaten up valuable space back there but didn’t. That said, make sure you pack soft luggage that can be squashed if necessary; the space isn’t all that tall, so you’re gonna have to leave the steamer trunk at home, girls.

Since coupe people usually demand performance, too, the “base”—if you can call it that—$65K CLS500 comes with a muscular 5.0-liter V-8. Another 22 large get you the more exclusive and much faster CLS55 AMG with its hand-built, supercharged 5.4-liter V-8 capable of catapulting you and your three friends to 60 mph in just 4.5 seconds. Few cars in the world can accelerate so quickly—only a handful of those cost under $100K, and even fewer look so good while doing so.

Handling is pretty stellar, thanks to rear-wheel drive, a road-reading air suspension and truly excellent steering. All CLS-Classes come with automatic transmissions with manual shift control, the AMG featuring steering wheel controls to help you cycle up and down its five speeds, the CLS500 directing you to the shift lever to play with its seven (yes, seven) gears.

The inevitable fly in the ointment becomes clear after a few stops, when Mercedes’ somewhat artificial feeling “Sensotronic” brakes call attention to themselves with an overall weird, inconsistent braking behavior. Fully electronic (but with a mechanical backup system if they fail), Sensotronic brakes make it very difficult to brake smoothly in spite of having a fabulous name. Pride yourself on your ability to execute perfect limo stops with grandma aboard? Forget about it.

Still, that’s not enough to sour our attraction to this drool-worthy automobile. It has presence, luxury, performance and loin-stirring beauty on its side. Likely is that no one shopping for a BMW 545i or Lexus GS430 sedan would ever consider it, but those in the market for, say, a BMW 645Ci or a Porsche Carrera might find it rather interesting—the latter, of course, being coupes. Go figure.

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