Merc’s defining four-door coupé offers even more in return for its compromise on rear cabin space

What is it?

Mercedes' second-generation four-door coupé, the CLS – but also Merc’s first car to get a number of interesting mechanical ingredients, from engines to steering systems to headlamps.

First, let’s deal with the styling makeover. Designing a new, even better-looking CLS must have been a difficult brief. Merc’s design team attempted to meet it by adding an extra dose of visual muscle into the CLS’s bodywork.

“This is our James Bond car,” one company man explained. “And if the last one was Pierce Brosnan, this new one’s Danny Craig.”

Leaving the Brosnan vs Craig debate to one side, the new car certainly looks more contemporary, but there’s little doubt that some of the outgoing CLS’s grace and elegance has been sacrificed on the altar of visual athleticism. Which, to these eyes at least, seems a shame.

But now to less subjective considerations. The new CLS’s body is lighter than the old car’s, with aluminium doors that save 24kg each, and it’s 10 per cent more aerodynamically efficient, too.

This is Mercedes’ first proper production model to get automatic engine stop-start, its first to get electromechanical power steering, and the first road car in the world, Merc claims, with directional LED headlamps.

The 3.0-litre diesel version, which will account for most UK sales, gets a new turbo and a lower compression ratio for improved refinement.

The CLS 500 petrol, however – the car we’re testing – uses a brand new 4.7-litre twin-turbo V8, which produces 20bhp more than the old naturally aspirated 5.5, 52 additional pounds of torque, and is also 25 per cent more fuel efficient.

What’s it like?

This is a five metre, near two-tonne four seater, capable of better than 30mpg on the run, and yet that also has 402bhp and can hit 62mph in under five and a half seconds.

In those respects, it’s a very modern and appealing sports saloon indeed.

Mercedes is proud of this powertrain, and with every right. The V8 is perfectly insulated under the long bonnet of the CLS. It has immediate throttle response.

There’s no compromise on mechanical refinement for the addition of the turbos. The engine even sounds great, making a soft-edged gargle around idle that becomes a gentle but melliflous howl later on.

It’s great to be back in a Mercedes sports saloon with forced induction. This car’s generous mid-range swell of torque makes rapid ground-covering effortless.

The engine’s very happy to be revved, but there’s no need to go after the redline now just to pull off that overtake safely. Credit to Mercedes for an excellent software optimisation on its 7G-Tronic gearbox too, which kicks down only when you need it to.

The V8 500 is the only version of the CLS available from launch, with Airmatic air suspension as standard. It gets 20mm wider tracks than the old CLS, as well as MacPherson strut/multi-link chassis hardware borrowed from the current E 63 AMG saloon.

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The CLS 500’s chassis rates are lower than those of the AMG E-class, but still high enough for good body and wheel control during quicker driving on testing roads. That electro-mechanical steering is precise, responsive and direct.

All of which means that, while it’s easy to stray beyond the comfort zone of many ‘ordinary’ Mercedes models when you up the pace, the new CLS has got real poise and agility in its locker.

It’s an accurate and willing device when you want to stretch its legs, and yet it’s still a superbly quiet, comfortable and compliant machine the rest of the time.

If you were being picky, you might say that the CLS 500 could do with a natch more steering feel. You might also say that the ESP system, which has been modified to respond to the car’s quicker steering rack, could be a little more subtle and less intrusive. But these are very minor criticisms of a car that both handles and rides very capably indeed.

Should I buy one?

Mercedes has pulled off something very special with this car. It has created a saloon with dynamism to spare, but that also has all the refinements you expect from Mercedes.

Those back seats still feel a little confined for adults, but considering the extra responsiveness and driver entertainment that the new CLS offers relative to ordinary mid-sized execs generally, and to a standard Merc E-class in particular, you can’t really fail to be impressed by it.

You may not think it’s quite as pretty as the last CLS – this tester certainly doesn’t look it – but the new car is even more appealing underneath its panels.

Mercedes-Benz CLS 500 BlueEFFICIENCY

Price: £60,000 approx (tbc); Top speed: 155mph (limited); 0-62mph: 5.5sec (tbc); Economy: 31.4mpg (tbc); CO2: 210g/km (tbc); Kerb weight: 1890kg; Engine: V8, 4663cc, twin-turbocharged petrol; Power: 402bhp at 5000-5750rpm; Torque: 443lb ft at 1600-4750rpm; Gearbox: 7-spd auto

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

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Add a comment…
Hirem 12 July 2011

Re: Mercedes-Benz CLS500 BlueEFFICIENCY

The "BlueEfficiency" badges stuck on the front wings look so tacky and out of place on such an upmarket/prestige car

The Special One 9 July 2011

Re: Mercedes-Benz CLS500 BlueEFFICIENCY

expatcanuck wrote:
52 additional pounds of torque
Torque is not a measurement of weight. Do your homework.

MHanna 6 October 2010

Re: Mercedes-Benz CLS500 BlueEFFICIENCY

shawks wrote:
I'd imagine that the journalist didn't feel the need to be so pedantic when referring to the measurement of torque,

Or maybe he hated the clumsiness of "pounds feet" and couldn't bear to use it. Since the two are multiplied rather than divided (not something per something) then it doesn't matter which way round the unit is read. "Foot-pounds" rolls off the tongue much more easily and should be used instead. Keeps the purists happy and makes it less clumsy to say out loud.

Oh, and the Merc is hideous, since that's the thread we're in. That side view is particularly nasty. And it's not a coupe either, to hijack another thread. "Four door coupe" is a contradiction in terms, with the possible exception of the Mazda RX8.