2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS Review

The Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class had a huge impact on the industry. Fifteen years ago, the idea of a four-door coupe was born with the first CLS and the industry has was inspired, as almost every four-doored vehicle now has a coupe-like profile that was pioneered by the CLS-Class.

The CLS set the standard for style, but it delivered it in the typical Mercedes way: with amazing quality and brilliant features. Today, the Mercedes has a more difficult time standing out, thanks to the proliferation of the four-door coupe design and the fact that we’re seeing a Mercedes-Benz that’s in transition.

Mercedes itself has helped make the four-door coupe commonplace, taking the slinky look of the CLS and shrinking it for the mass-market CLA. Then, of course, there’s the fact that nearly every automaker has some kind of four-door coupe in its stable, from Honda to Hyundai to Volkswagen. The look has lost its luster. And while the new CLS certainly looks sharp and continues using the lines that helped it gain success in the first place, it isn’t doing enough to differentiate itself today. The CLS has a new grille and front end that is shark-like with a steep dive at the front. The rear roofline slopes into a short rear deck, which gives the CLS a lovely profile. To my eye, the taillights lack distinction, which is a shame because other Mercedes taillights offer a unique signature that’s identifiable from a long distance.

I don’t normally dwell on the design of cars because it’s so subjective, but it’s justified with the CLS because it was an icon that established itself with an emphasis on style. In the past, its brilliant style made it feel like a bridge between the E and S-Class, which was also evident with its interior. It featured a no-compromise approach to being a coupe — it had rear seats, but just two of them, the usual limit for a two-doored vehicle.

The interior of the new CLS deviates from the formula that made it successful. There are now three seats in the rear, and the materials used the cabin skew more towards the E-Class or even C-Class in terms of how luxurious it feels. It’s a clean look though, with a limited number of buttons and classy looking toggle switches filling the dash. The circular vents that open and close as you twist them are a nice touch, and our tester featured a wood and aluminum trim.

It’s also interesting to see Mercedes move its infotainment system down into the dashboard, as opposed to fixing it on top of the dash like a big iPad. The old setup was within your line of sight, but this new setup looks more integrated. Unfortunately, the new system doesn’t use the MBUX operating system, so some of the usability feels out of date compared to newer Mercedes products, even the affordable A-Class.

Still, the CLS has many little details to brighten up the experience. I dig the customizable ambient lighting, as well as the digital gauge cluster that is loaded with information. I hate having to customize or operate it through the steering wheel touchpad, but that’s a small nit to pick. Taller passengers likely won’t be too comfortable in this car. Anyone over 6”2 will probably complain and potentially hit their head. Shorter drivers, however, will find the seats comfortable and supportive.

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The CLS pretty much succeeds with its under-the-hood hardware, although there are some hiccups. The turbocharged straight-six-cylinder engine is augmented with a 48-volt mild hybrid system, which means it’s smooth, powerful, and fuel efficient. Highway speeds pop up in under five seconds with this all-wheel-drive version of the car. Rear-wheel-drive versions of the car do the deed in just over 5 seconds. The engine with its 362 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque is paired to a nine-speed-automatic that can occasionally act a bit unrefined, typically on hills, clunking into gear at times. On the other hand, you’ll barely notice the engine start-stop system, and this motor is satisfyingly smooth.

The CLS makes for a great cruiser. It can cover ground quickly and somewhat efficiently, as the 26 MPG rating combined seems a bit conservative. The ride is the impressive part, especially since this model was equipped with an air suspension. It floats over potholes and absorbs road imperfections so they’re never felt in the cabin. And while the drive mode selector can be flipped into the sport setting to stiffen up the ride, the CLS seems at its best with its suspension in the comfort modes. The steering is a bit light at low speeds, yet confidently heavy and stable at high speeds, furthering the sense that this car is at its best on the highway.

The CLS-Class features all the same high-tech driver’s aids and safety features that almost all Mercedes offer. There’s a great adaptive cruise control system that can lock you in your lane and help you soak up the miles. The lane departure warning and blind spot monitor warnings are a bit aggressive, however. I love the parking sensors and camera setup, which provides a great view of the car’s surroundings and make it easier to place in a spot.

Mercedes commands a steep asking price for the CLS, with a base price of $70,195 for RWD models, and $72,695 for AWD models. There are a number of optional extras to choose from that will quickly increase the asking price of the car too, and an AMG model that features the same straight six with sportier bits to make the vehicle more fun. It doesn’t yet have a model that has a V8 or a hand-built AMG motor.

The Verdict: 2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS Review

The Mercedes CLS feels like it’s lost between time. It has a great powertrain and a smooth ride, but its design has lost its punchiness. The interior is missing the ever-important MBUX infotainment system and the vehicle seems a bit more mainstream than past generations. It’s still a good car, just not the iconic car it used to be.