They panned the 7 speed transmission!
The new Mercedes CLS breaks the mould, says Chris Thorp
By definition, a coupé has two doors. The somewhat selfish notion
behind a car that is intended to attract attention to the owner
dictates that to provide rear-seat passengers with their own means of
entry is superfluous. Or so we thought… At last year's Frankfurt Motor
Show, Mercedes broke all the rules and pulled the covers off a concept
that has now become a production reality. Originally called the
VisionCLS, the road-going car is one of the typically conservative
marque's most daring models for years, and aims to break new ground in
what can only be described as a sector misnomer. Enter, the striking
new CLS four-door coupé.
While the new model can easily be recognised as a Mercedes, it's as
though the stuffy, squared-off shapes that constrain other models in
the line-up have been pushed aside to create a truly stunning,
curvaceous saloon. And the CLS wears its rear doors well; without
them, the sleek rise and fall of the design simply couldn't achieve
the same balance. Only at the rear could the appearance be
significantly improved, where the drooping tail and lengthy overhang
make the car look overweight.
However, it's a fact that keeping an eye on the scales wasn't a
priority in this project. The new model falls in between the E-class,
with which it shares many of its mechanical parts, and the luxury
S-class, with a minimum weight of 1,730kg. No two-door model will be
produced for fear of treading on the toes of the CL-class.
Once inside, it's clear that the elegant lines applied to the exterior
continue into the cabin. While the switchgear will be familiar to
owners of the current E-class, the dashboard is beautifully curved and
trimmed in matt-finish walnut veneer. The overall feeling is one of
However, take a seat in the rear and the compromises demanded by that
elegant roof line are obvious. Headroom is clearly restricted,
although tall passengers can still find a comfortable position. The
good news is that there is space for their luggage as well - the boot
is quite shallow, but offers a 505-litre capacity, which is only 35
less than the E-class saloon.
When the CLS is launched next March, customers will have the choice of
268bhp, 3·5-litre V6 and 302bhp, 5·0-litre V8 engines, while a hot,
469bhp AMG version will join the range next summer. Although not
officially confirmed, we can also expect to see a V6 diesel variant on
the price lists at a later date.
Whether you opt for V6 or V8 power, there is ample performance on tap,
but it's the rest of the driving experience that sets it apart from
other models in the range. Attack a series of bends and the sleek CLS
grips and handles with confidence, giving a far more direct and
rewarding feel through the steering than run-of-the-mill Mercedes
CLS side view
Thanks to AIRMATIC suspension (standard on the CLS 500, optional on
the 350) the driver can control the vehicle dynamics from behind the
wheel. Select "Comfort" and the adjustable air suspension enters its
softest setting, perfect for long-haul motorway cruising. Don't expect
the same unruffled progress available to E-class and S-class owners,
but the CLS rides well for a sporty coupé. Venture on to a more
challenging road and the option of two "Sport" modes take all of the
slack and body roll away, permitting surprisingly brisk cornering
The only disappointment is the seven-speed automatic transmission,
which is fitted as standard. In everyday conditions it hunts for gears
and never seems to settle, only coming into its own when the driver
takes manual control via the steering wheel-mounted sequential shift
buttons. Unfortunately, only the CLS 55 AMG will come with the
smoother five-speed auto.
It seems that not even Mercedes bosses are certain about the appeal of
this unique four-door. The CLS is expected to attract those who are
used to the practicality of a saloon, yet no longer need masses of
space. With prices starting at about £41,000 for the CLS 350 and
rising to approximately £50,000 for the 500, buyers will have to turn
away from some tempting rivals.
But is there really any need for a car that falls somewhere between
coupé and saloon? The bottom line is that it really doesn't matter how
many doors it has: the CLS is beautifully designed and involving to
drive. For many buyers there will be no better way to enjoy graceful
Price/availability: to be confirmed; about £41,000 for the entry-level
CLS 350 and £50,000 for the CLS 500. On sale March 2005. Flagship CLS
55 AMG due next summer, V6 diesel model expected later.
Engine/transmission: 3,498cc V6 petrol with 24 valves; 268bhp at
6,000rpm, 258lb ft of torque at 2,400rpm. 4,966cc V8 with 24 valves;
302bhp at 5,600rpm, 339lb ft at 2,700rpm. Seven-speed automatic
transmission with sequential manual function. Rear-wheel drive.
Performance: 3·5 V6: top speed limited to 155mph, 0-62mph in 7·0sec,
EU Combined fuel consumption 28mpg, CO2 emissions 241g/km. 5·0 V8:
155mph, 6·1sec, 25.0mpg, 268g/km.
We like: Sleek styling, beautifully crafted dashboard, sharp handling
characteristics, weighty steering, decent boot capacity.
We don't like: Questionable merits of seven-speed automatic gearbox
with no alternative on 350 and 500, price difference between V6 and V8