2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS 450 review: A beaut with some trade-offs
During a week with the 2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS450 4Matic, it's difficult to find much to grumble about. The new, third-generation model is beautiful inside and out, packs a hearty helping of technology and is brilliant to drive. That's not without some caveats, of course. But in general -- and especially if you'll never use those back seats -- the CLS450 is a great luxury cruiser.
Form over function
The CLS' steeply raked roofline is without a doubt one of its most appealing design traits -- certainly more so than the conventionally shaped E-Class with which it shares a platform. However, that's of little consolation to the people who actually have to sit in the back seats. They complain about the compromised headroom and oddly-shaped door openings that make getting in and out a chore. I know Mercedes technically calls the CLS a coupe, but if it's got four doors, people will assume it's made to carry people.
With that out of the way, did I mention that the CLS is a looker? It's cleaner and more mature than its predecessor, with a front fascia I'll call "AMG Lite." If there's a sore spot to the outside design, it's the rear end -- given how sharp the front is, the CLS' rump looks a little soft by comparison.
No such design complaints can be filed on the inside, where you'll find a gorgeous layout trimmed with two tones of stitched brown leather and open pore wood trim. There isn't a cheap looking or feeling surface to be found, with even the door panel pockets lined with fabric. Deep bolstering and support in all the right places are further reasons why the front seats are the best ones in this car -- and that's before you get to the heated massage functions.
Further raising the passenger coddle factor is an Energizing Comfort system that offers selectable moods that adjust things like the climate, air fragrance, lighting, music and massaging seats in an attempt to create a certain ambience. It can be a little gimmicky at times, but some of these prearranged settings are actually quite enjoyable. At night, the 64-color ambient lighting is quite a sight, covering a good amount of the car's interior. There are even lights inside the air vents that turn blue if you adjust the temperature to be cooler, changing to red if you crank up the heat.
The more normal tech
Beyond parlor-trick tech, infotainment features are in high supply. My test car is outfitted with dual 12.3-inch digital displays. The one in front of the driver serves as the gauge cluster offering different design themes, while the center screen handles the latest iteration of the COMAND infotainment system. It's understandable if some people are bummed about the CLS not getting the new MBUX system as seen in the A-Class, but COMAND is far from terrible. Years of refinement have it in top form being responsive and intuitive to work through, whether using the center console dial and button controls or steering wheel thumb pads. It's also rich with features like an insane 25-speaker Burmester audio setup, navigation, 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
There's no shortage of power, either, with a wireless charge pad and three USB ports easily accessible for people in front. For rear passengers, there's a single USB jack, 12-volt outlet and two-prong plug on the back of the center console.
Like the S-Class , the CLS can be outfitted with a variety of semi-autonomous driving systems that can hold it steady in traffic and change lines. Other safety features include adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring and head-up display.
Mild hybrid wizardry
Probably the most impressive bit of CLS technology is the mild hybrid drivetrain. It starts with a new, 3.0-liter, inline six-cylinder engine that makes 362 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque. To that, Mercedes adds a 48-volt alternator and electric motor that provides an additional 21 horsepower and 184 pound-feet, to help get the car moving off the line and power accessories when stopped. Combined with a nine-speed automatic transmission, this combination gets the CLS450 4Matic moving to 60 miles per hour in just 4.8 seconds. The package seamlessly integrates electric propulsion for linear power delivery as the gearbox rips off well-timed and imperceptible shifts.
The other benefit of the mild hybrid system is efficiency, allowing for quicker and longer engagement of the stop-start system. I'm on record as not being a huge fan of stop-start systems, as most aren't very smooth or quick to refire the engine. That's not the case here, with the inline-six always waking up from stoplight slumbers immediately with hardly a hint of body shudder. The efficiency efforts also help the all-wheel drive CLS450 return an estimated 23 miles per gallon in the city and 30 mpg on the highway.
Around town and on longer expressway jogs, the optional air suspension is cushy in Comfort mode, easily gobbling up impacts from Midwest road ruts. There's little doubt that this would be great candidate to cover some miles for a weekend road trip. When you're feeling racy, Sport Plus puts the engine in full attack and the suspension tightens for flatter cornering, the 19-inch Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric 3 (245/40 front, 275/35 rear) tires providing substantial grip.
The only dynamic complaint is numb on-center steering response even with in the Sport setting. This makes for slightly less sharp turn in, but it does firm up as you dial in more input.
How I'd spec it
For my CLS450, I would stick with a standard rear-wheel drive model that starts at $70,195, including $995 for destination. Like my test car, I'd tack on a $720 Lunar Blue Metallic paint job and $970 AMG Line package, mostly for the 19-inch, 5-spoke wheels.
For the inside I'd equip the $1,500 Premium Package for its 13-speaker Burmester sound system and wireless charger. Decking out the front seats with massage, rapid heat for winter and cooling functions for muggy summers will cost another $2,200. And finally, a Parking Assist Package adds a 360-degree camera and rear cross-traffic alert for $1,290. All of that brings the sticker price of my car to $76,875, drastically undercutting the $93,880 4Matic tester pictured here.
A worthy style statement
If you're someone who needs to carry passengers often, then the CLS may not be the ideal vehicle for you. In that case, a regular E-Class will likely serve you better. But if you mostly stuff two people in the back when on shuttle duty and appreciate extra styling flair, the CLS is definitely the ticket, offering performance, looks and a quality and comfortable cabin. It may have four doors, but this is a wonderful Mercedes best experienced by one or two.