Luxury cars

2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS450 first drive review: Fashion-forward

Mercedes' "four-door coupe" might look a little softer, but it feels better than ever.

Mercedes-Benz

The Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class has always stood as a flashier alternative to the E-Class sedan that shares its platform. Now in its third generation, the story remains the same, and while the CLS may not be as visually over the top as in generations past, it remains more than a bit flamboyant. And thankfully, all that bark still has some bite behind it.

We already took a spin in the hot-to-trot Mercedes-AMG CLS53 variant earlier this year, so now it's time to focus on the volume model CLS450. It's the more sedate version of the new CLS, to be sure. But don't worry, it's hardly a snooze fest.

When is a coupe not a coupe?

When it's a car with four doors. Despite Mercedes-Benz's determination to call this a four-door coupe, it's just a sedan with a more steeply raked rear roofline. While it certainly makes the car look more aggressive, it eats into rear-seat headroom and door space, and just like in years past, things get a little tight in the back for taller passengers. The rear seat now accommodates a third person, but they'll need to be on the smaller side.

The third-generation CLS wears Mercedes-Benz's latest design language. I really like the lack of creasing and other distracting lines along the side. I'm also a big fan of the new triangular headlights, as well as the AMG-look front bumper that comes standard on all US-spec CLS models, but the rear end seems a little weak to me -- it's like a bargain version of the AMG GT four-door that's coming soon. The strongest lines on the car are on the hood, which hints at the interesting new powertrain hiding beneath it.

Mild hybrid, but not too mild

All three variants of the CLS available at launch -- the rear-wheel-drive CLS450, the all-wheel-drive CLS450 4Matic and the sporty AMG CLS53 -- carry Benz's new straight-six 3.0-liter gas engine. Both CLS450 variants are rated at 362 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque. The engine has a raspy little note to it as the car hustles smoothly through its nine forward gears, but the cleverest part of the powertrain operates in complete silence.

The CLS also wields an electric motor nestled between the engine and transmission, connected to a 48-volt mild hybrid system with a 1-kWh lithium-ion battery. It provides up to 21 horsepower and 184 pound-feet -- enough to scoot the AWD CLS450 to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds, one tenth quicker than the outgoing V8-powered CLS550. I never really noticed the electricity at work. Everything feels smooth at all times.

The electro-trickery isn't limited to boosting performance. The mild-hybrid setup also allows for extended stop-start engagement, and the starter-generator always brings the engine back to life with nary a shudder in the body. In Eco mode, the hybrid system also disengages the engine during downhill driving and highway coasting, adding some green credential.

On the road, the CLS450 feels composed, its standard non-air suspension soaking up road inconsistencies and returning a smooth ride that has the makings of a great road-trip machine. While its sub-5-second scoot is sporty enough, it doesn't feel as nimble as the AMG CLS53, thanks to number steering.

Aside from a small gauge on the cluster, you'd be hard-pressed to realize there's a mild hybrid system at work.

Mercedes-Benz

Tech for drivers and passengers alike

If you're keen to let the car take the wheel for a while, the new CLS-Class adopts many of the semi-autonomous driving aids seen on the flagship S-Class sedan. It can hold its position in traffic, follow the flow and even help change lanes. Mercedes has been honing this tech for years now, and it shows, operating the vehicle smoothly to help reduce the tedium I face in traffic. I also like that the controls for these systems have finally moved from a half-hidden stalk on the steering column to the wheel itself.

The car I drove is equipped with dual 12.3-inch displays, the same you'll find on the E-Class and S-Class. The left screen acts as the gauge cluster, while the right screen takes care of infotainment duties. The CLS has the latest version of the outgoing COMAND system; while it's not as flashy as the new MBUX system debuting on the A-Class, it's still plenty capable, packing a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and embedded navigation. The screen isn't touch capable, but it can be manipulated using thumb pads on the steering wheel or the giant dial-and-touchpad combination in the middle of the center console.

There's also plenty of clever tech on offer that focuses entirely on creating a pleasant atmosphere. 64-color ambient lighting covers just about every inch of the car, including the insides of the air vents, which cleverly change color when you adjust the temperature. There's also this thing called Energizing Comfort, which lets you select from different "moods" that adjust all manner of things -- lighting, music, climate control, massaging seats -- to create a specific kind of ambience. It's neat, if a bit kitschy.

It's like a Miami nightclub in here, except the cover charge is way higher.

Mercedes-Benz

Down to brass tacks

Fashion doesn't always have to make sense. That's the 2019 CLS-Class in a nutshell -- there's plenty to enjoy, and it will give its driver everything they're after. But there's an underlying weirdness, whether it's in the Energizing Comfort system or the rear roofline that looks good but makes the car a bit less usable. Sure, you could buy a standard E-Class, which has most of the same goodies, but it won't make a statement like the CLS will.


Editors' Note: Roadshow accepts multi-day vehicle loans from manufacturers in order to provide scored editorial reviews. All scored vehicle reviews are completed on our turf and on our terms. However, for this feature, the manufacturer covered travel and hotel costs. This is common in the auto industry, as it's far more economical to ship journalists to cars than to ship cars to journalists.

The judgments and opinions of Roadshow's editorial team are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.