The verdict: The new CLS450 is a technological tour de force and an unimpeachable grand tourer that makes it easier than ever to travel in both comfort and style.
Versus the competition: Competitors might offer more performance and sharpness on the road, but they can’t hang with the CLS’ combination of supreme comfort and luxury.
The sleek 2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS450 is almost an ideal luxury vehicle. It’s a technological, stylistic and material testament to the finer things, but never dips into ostentatiousness; it’s what I call “restrained luxury.” It slips by on the road barely noticed, but inside, it’s a serene cocoon that blocks out the rest of the world.
The CLS is redesigned for 2019, with a new powertrain and new styling (compare it with last year’s model, the CLS550). This marks the third generation of the CLS, which debuted as a 2004 model. When it was launched, it was the first of the so-called “four-door coupes” that sought to combine the sleeker look of a coupe with four-door practicality. All those low-slung four-doors you see these days — like the BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe, Audi A7 and Porsche Panamera — owe a debt to the CLS for paving the way. Those three vehicles also represent the CLS450’s closest competitors; see them compared.
Smooth on All Sides (Including Inside)
The CLS450’s distinguishing visual characteristic is its smoothness, from the exterior to the cabin. I find the CLS450 to be understated in a good way. It’s not quite as big or dramatic as the S-Class, opting instead for subtlety – but not subtlety without beauty. The lines flow cleanly from front to rear. This is most readily seen in profile, where the unique shape, long hood and short rear decklid can all be seen at the same time. Up front, the grille is the highlight, with attractive detailing featuring small “pellets” that radiate out from the large Mercedes logo in the middle.
Inside, the cabin is similar in styling, with a curved dashboard that wraps around front occupants. My test vehicle included subtle LED lighting running from door to door in a seamless line. Everything about the interior feels intentional, from the materials to the ergonomic placement of the controls and even the air vents. The backseat features outboard seats with plenty of sculpting for passengers to nestle into.
The highlight of the car’s dashboard is a pair of 12.3-inch screens: one for the multimedia system (which is standard) and one for the instrument gauge cluster (which is optional). Both sit behind a single pane of glass that makes the two displays appear to be one large screen. You can control the multimedia system via a round wheel between the front seats or a pair of touch-sensitive controls on the steering wheel. There’s definitely a learning curve when it comes to getting the steering-wheel controls to highlight the feature you want, but I was able to figure it out over a few days behind the wheel. The multimedia system is good, if a bit complicated at first; everything is very responsive, and the screens are beautiful. There are just a lot of menus and screens to navigate, in part because the car has so many features. I can see new owners spending about an hour really getting the car set up the way they want, but it would be an hour well spent.
It’s not just the multimedia technology that shines; the driver assistance features are also exemplary. My test vehicle was outfitted with both the Parking Assist Package ($1,290) and the Driver Assistance Package ($2,250), which added a long list of safety technology to the car, including an automatic parking system, 360-degree camera system, adaptive cruise control, lane-change assist, emergency stop assist, lane keeping and active blind spot steering assist. Each of these systems is well-integrated, and over the course of the week I spent in the CLS I tested most of them (save the emergency stop assist, which is designed to stop the car if it thinks the driver is incapacitated). None of them had adverse effects on the driving of the CLS; they just made it easier and helped lessen fatigue, especially on the highway.
The only drawback is that the standard safety features list is a little thin for a car this price: it includes just automatic forward emergency braking and blind spot warning (without steering assist). The rest are part of option packages.
How It Drives
Under the hood of the CLS450 is an all-new powertrain, starting with a 362-horsepower, turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six-cylinder engine that makes 369 pounds-feet of torque. On top of that, there’s also an integrated 48-volt electric motor/generator system with a lithium-ion battery pack that can add 21 hp and 184 pounds-feet of torque in bursts, when called upon. This light electrification system aids acceleration and can also help the car “glide” at times, when it’s already under way. The integration of this system is seamless; if it weren’t for a graphic in the instrument panel, you likely wouldn’t notice it.
All CLS450s come with a nine-speed automatic transmission and standard rear-wheel drive. All-wheel drive comes on the CLS450 4Matic for an extra $2,500, but it’s also the quicker of the two – it runs from zero-to-60 mph in 4.8 seconds, versus 5.1 seconds for the RWD car. Fuel economy figures are very close: RWD gets an EPA-estimated 24/31/26 mpg city/highway/combined, and the AWD version is right behind it at 23/30/26 mpg. (The EPA has explained in the past that the rounding of raw values can result in the same combined mpg figure even when city and highway numbers are different, as in this case.)
The smoothness of the car’s styling extends to its driving experience; it doesn’t roll on the road so much as glide over it in a nearly silent cocoon. There are three available suspension options: a comfort suspension with steel springs and conventional shock absorbers, a “dynamic body control” suspension that adds adjustable shocks, and an “air body control” suspension that combines multi-chamber, self-leveling air springs with the adaptive shock absorbers.
My test vehicle came equipped with AWD and the most advanced suspension, as well as an acoustic comfort package that added more sound insulation as well as windows with acoustic laminate on them. This is the setup for maximum quiet and the smoothest ride, which the CLS450 delivers in spades. The setup creates a sense of isolation that feels downright eerie at times. The car glides on the highway with only a light touch on the steering wheel, creating a sense of utter placidity. In a hustle-and-bustle big city, the CLS450 offered a sense of peace I usually have to drive somewhere else to find; with this car, it was the drive itself that proved relaxing.
The CLS450 has enough engine to give it a luxury feel, and while the suspension works hard in corners to keep the big car flat, I detected a fair amount of body roll. There’s more of an emphasis on comfort and stability than sporting intent with the CLS450, and it shows. Even in its more aggressive drive modes, which do heighten accelerator pedal response a degree or two, the CLS450 feels like it’s feigning athleticism for you: “Silly Rabbit, those tricks are for kids.” Though this is the most refined vehicle among its competitors, the others offer a higher performance ceiling and a better experience on bendy roads (particularly the Panamera). But I’d call this one the best day-to-day car of the bunch.
If you do want more fun, Mercedes offers an AMG CLS53 version of the car, complete with a 429-hp, turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six-cylinder that provides more hijinks. But the CLS450 seems rather content with its preference for comfortable cruising over sporty performance – and I appreciated that, as well.
Do You Get What You Put In?
I’ve been avoiding one figure this whole review: price. The CLS450 starts at $70,195 and the CLS450 4Matic at $72,695, and things escalate quickly after that. I mentioned a few of the option packages on my test vehicle, but that was only the tip of the iceberg: It also added a Burmester 3D sound system ($4,550), Premium Package ($1,500, Warmth and Comfort Package ($1,050), Macchiato Beige and Magma Grey Nappa leather ($1,370), and the list goes on and on. In all, 22 features/packages were added to the CLS450 I tested, totaling $22,895 just for options. Add that to the base price, and it came to $95,590
Does the CLS450 live up to that price tag? I’d argue yes; sitting in it, surrounded by all that fine cowhide, technology and even your choice of fresh scents from the climate system, it absolutely feels the part of a nearly $100,000 sedan. But what can’t be ignored is that the competition offers a lot more fun at that same price: BMW has the 650 Gran Coupe and its bananas twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V-8 starting at $94,095, and the Panamera 4S, with its superior handling and gaudy horsepower figures, starts at $105,250. Those cars can also be optioned into the stratosphere, but at that same roughly $100,000 price, they offer explosive performance that the CLS450 simply can’t match.
If your chief aim, though, is to find the car that’s best to sit in and drive in everyday situations, the CLS450 delivers.
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