Pros: Gorgeous exterior; sharp handling; plush ride; strong engine; world-class luxury; cutting-edge technology.

Cons: Pricey; unorthodox styling might not sit well with some; low city fuel economy.

What's New: mbrace2 telematics platform replaces first-generation mbrace.

Mercedes-Benz calls this sleek luxury tourer a 4-door coupe, and with that nomenclature comes a distinctive blend of sportiness and elegance. Furthermore, the 2013 Mercedes-Benz CLS 550 offers executive-level comfort and the amenities of a more traditional high-end sedan.

The 2012 CLS was redesigned for a noticeable shift in personality. While keeping its graceful style and flowing lines, the 2012 model received a more aggressive exterior to match its upgraded, more performance-oriented character. The CLS550 transformed into a luxury car for the driving enthusiast, complete with greater power and sharper dynamics. The ultra-high-performance CLS63 AMG model got a similar makeover, with a high quality cabin featuring new content, comforts and technology.

The 2013 CLS returns unchanged except for an update to its mbrace telematics unit. The second-generation mbrace2 platform replaces the original mbrace and offers new Internet and remote access features.

The CLS550 retains a coupe-like presence with a sleek profile and a flowing fastback roofline for a balanced combination of elegance and poise. But it also offers a serious dose of attitude. A prominent grille is flanked by mean looking headlamps available with a full LED treatment. Body creases are deeply cut, giving the CLS the sculpted physique of a world-class sprinter. Further enhancing its sporting flavor are a long hood and short overhangs. From all angles, the CLS's styling telegraphs the car's considerable level of power and performance.

Comfort & Utility

The CLS has always had a well-appointed and exclusive interior, and the 2013 model carries forward the revisions from 2012. It provides comfort and luxury at all four occupant positions and a cockpit-like driver's seat--the clear focus of the passenger compartment--with optimized ergonomics, well-bolstered sport seating and a performance-style gauge cluster.

Among the long list of standard amenities are 14-way power heated and ventilated front seats with lumbar adjustments and memory, a power tilt/telescoping steering wheel, dual-zone climate control and a 14-speaker premium audio system. Notable options include a heated steering wheel, massaging front seats, a power trunk closer, push-button start and a power rear sunshade.

Balancing comfort and performance, the cabin corresponds with a car that's intended for both high-speed driving and low-profile touring. And the leather interior is easy on the eyes, too.

Technology

The upgrade to mbrace2, Mercedes-Benz's latest telematics platform, is the notable change from the 2012 to 2013 model year. The second-generation mbrace system adds Internet and remote connectivity and allows updates wirelessly through the cloud. The platform continues to support infotainment, safety and personal assistance features. Other advanced electronics include voice-command navigation with real-time traffic, digital music storage, a USB interface, Bluetooth connectivity, a rear-view camera and Parktronic, which includes front and rear parking sensors and an automatic parking system.

Power and Performance

The 2013 CLS550 is powered by a 4.6-liter twin-turbocharged V8, yielding 402 horsepower and a super stout 443 lb-ft of torque. With this much output on tap in the CLS550, some may wonder why an über-sporty AMG model is even necessary. But for some enthusiast drivers, more power is always better.

The CLS power train channels energy to the rear wheels--or to all four wheels with the optional 4MATIC setup--through a very smooth and quick-shifting 7-speed automatic gearbox with a manual mode. The resulting power delivery is robust, resulting in a satisfying surge of acceleration. To sweeten the deal, the CLS550 delivers good estimated fuel economy from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)--17 mpg city/25 mpg highway for the rear-drive CLS--considering its size and powerful V8. The all-wheel drive CLS suffers a penalty of 1 mpg in city economy only.

Safety

The 2013 CLS550 includes front knee airbags and Mercedes mbrace2 emergency telematics in addition to the typical roster of safety features, such as ABS, traction control and stability control. Standard driver assistance technologies include Attention Assist, which monitors the driver's alertness, and a PreSafe system, which makes split-second preparations when an unavoidable accident is detected.

Options encompass an expanded suite of driver assistance and safety technologies, including Distronic PLUS cruise control, Active Lane Keep Assist and Night View Assist with Pedestrian Detection. But one of the most groundbreaking features for the CLS is Adaptive Highbeam Assist. This camera-based system will automatically lower one or both headlight beams when it detects oncoming traffic.

Driving Impressions

Living up to the identity portrayed by its exterior styling, the 2012 CLS is as much a driver's car as it is a luxury tourer. Power and acceleration are abundant, allowing the CLS550 to launch strongly from a standstill or to perform passing maneuvers at high speed with confidence. The CLS63, the car's phenomenal 518-hp AMG counterpart, provides even more stellar performance.

High-speed handling and cornering abilities are elevated to match the ample power. The CLS550 can take a fast turn with remarkable grip and minimal body roll. Adding to the driving dynamics is the car's Electromechanical Direct Steer System. It results in highly responsive steering that allows quick, precise changes in direction and makes the car feel smaller as it charges through tight curves and switchbacks.

When driven less assertively, the CLS retains its relaxed touring personality; it's compliant and comfortable as ever for long drives and the daily commute. But if the urge for performance strikes, the CLS will deliver.

Other Cars to Consider

BMW 5 Series - The BMW is known for its handling and dynamics, but the CLS550 is a strong competitor. And the Mercedes is more luxurious and better equipped with the latest driver assistance technology.

Audi A6 - The Audi and the Mercedes are both beautiful cars. Both offer a plush ride, but the Mercedes is a sharper handler. The CLS550 also brings more technology and innovation.

Cadillac CTS - The Cadillac boasts plenty of luxury, a sporting character and a compelling value proposition, but the Mercedes is more impressive on virtually all fronts: design, performance, technology, safety and comfort.

AutoTrader Recommends

For buyers in the luxury performance segment, the 2013 Mercedes-Benz CLS 550 offers an unprecedented combination of style, sophistication and strength. For those wanting to make a unique fashion statement while driving a world-class luxury sport sedan, this is the car. The only choice to make is between the rear-wheel-drive CLS and the all-wheel-drive 4MATIC model. The 4MATIC is a great choice for those living in colder climates.


author photo

Nick Palermo is an automotive writer and lifelong car nut. He follows new and late-model used vehicles for AutoTrader.com, writes about vintage cars for Hemmings Classic Wheels and blogs on all things automotive at LivingVroom. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and twins.

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