The Mercedes CLS500 - sculpture that scoots
09:42 AM PDT on Friday, August 19, 2005
By TOM VOELK / Special contributor to NWCN.com
Some people think cars are simply devices to get you from point A to
point B. Pity. Life's too short to drive dull cars. They're more
than transportation, they're art. Public art, really. Like any
creation, some are easier on the eyes than others.
The CLS has head-turning looks.
This week's subject, the Mercedes CLS500, may go down as a
masterpiece. Those are strong words but then this is strong design.
This car is sculpture that scoots. Clean, elegant and seductive, there
isn't a wasted line on it. Starting at 66 grand, this statuesque
beauty is not a bad deal considering Michelangelo's Venus is
currently off the market.
I'll admit, sometimes in my reviews I use the phrase "styling is
subjective." While that can be true, normally it's my code for "the
designer should really be creating blenders, not cars." People may
disagree on whether Andy Warhol's Campbell Soup Can painting is a
really art, but everyone who sees the CLS thinks it's drop-dead
In parking lots, people stop me to gush about it. Co-workers offer to
pay for lunch to get a ride. Mornings find neighbors with noses pressed
against the windows. This is a car that you look back on when you walk
away from it.
Fortunately, beauty isn't just skin deep here. The 5.0-liter 24-valve
V-8 engine that pumps out 302 horsepower has a great voice. With gobs
of torque (339 lb-ft of it), it's a sprinter as well. 0-60 comes up
in just under 6 seconds according to Mercedes-Benz. I don't doubt
that. Drinking premium gas, I averaged 17 miles to the gallon with
driving skewed toward highway miles.
Talk about your moving sculpture. For a larger car, it can dance pretty
well on twisty country roads if you firm up the adjustable shocks. I
like "Sport 2" personally though some might find it a bit stiff.
Height is adjustable as well. Active Body Control (or ABC for those who
love three letter monikers) makes sure the CLS looks even better by
eliminating body roll, dive and squat. The 7-speed transmission is
velvety smooth and sports manual shifting buttons on the back of the
Patrons of the arts sit deep behind the wheel in the CLS. There's
enough wood on the dash to make a small end table. Warm and cool air
flows through the perforated leather seats. The side bolsters can be
adjusted to hug upper torsos, keeping the pilot secure when cornering
Simple things like height adjustable cup holders and a clever storage
door on the center console that opens both ways are fun to play with.
My kids love the remote sunshade that rises to diffuse the rear window.
The arts pertain to music too. The Harmon/Kardon sound system is
terrific and an optional cable connects to an Apple iPod's dock port.
Stowed away in the glove box, you can access it using buttons on the
steering wheel. The display appears between the tach and speedometer.
Keyless Go allows you to keep the "key" which is a transponder in
your pocket or purse. The CLS will unlock as you approach and a push
button starts the car. Also available (yes, optional) is Distronic
cruise control that senses traffic ahead and adjusts speed accordingly.
The center console runs from the dash to the back seat meaning this
vehicle seats four, max. At 5'9" I have just enough headroom. Legroom?
It's fine, but hardly luxurious. Mercedes calls this a coupe even
though it has four doors and the rear seating feels more like a two
There's plenty of safety to keep all four occupants at ease. Airbags
all around including full curtain devices are part of it. ESP stability
control is there to help you on the road, avoiding the unpleasantness
of the bags going off in the first place.
Gripes are the usual for a Mercedes. The cruise control stalk is easy
to mistake for the turn signal. The Command interface that controls
things like navigation, sound system Bluetooth phone system and a whole
host of other functions has a bit of a learning curve (though what
luxury auto doesn't these days). To be fair it's not as bad as
With its clipped tail styling and intruding hinge arms, the CLS500
sacrifices cargo room in the trunk. It scores a 5 in the patented
Toilet Paper Test. OK, so it's not patented. I'll distract you on
that point by stating a sixth package of TP just won't fit. The rear
seats don't fold to expand the trunk either. Most CLS owners probably
have other vehicles better suited to hauling large quantities of bath
tissue so it's not much of an issue here.
Owning a CLS500 is probably a little like having a supermodel or
heartthrob as a spouse-They both look so terrific you'd forgive then
for anything they might do. Fortunately you can rest assured the
Mercedes won't be unfaithful. Hopefully Billy Joel and Jennifer
Aniston are reading this.
Opening the garage door every morning to find this car would be like
waking up to admire Van Gogh's Starry Night hanging on your bedroom
wall. Appearing as lithe as a dolphin and menacing as a crouching
tiger, the CLS500 seems to appeal to most everyone. Mercedes may call
this four door a coupe, but I'd call it a work of art.