The 2018 Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class goes through a phase of rationalization before an all-new generation kicks in for 2019. The range shrinks from three engine choices to two, and therefore two distinct models. However, the 2018 CLS is far from being a lame duck.
The original CLS blazed the "4-door coupe" trail that has since become influential, not just in sedan design, but also with crossovers. This current (second) generation doesn’t necessarily push that styling envelope, but the car remains desirable with excellent engines, sumptuous interiors and accessible technology.
The CLS still cuts a striking figure with its smooth nose, muscular haunches and flowing fastback roofline. Yes, that means limited passenger space in the back, but think of this car as a spacious coupe with a little extra functionality and it becomes more attractive.
It might seem shallow to focus on styling, but that’s probably the main reason why buyers would choose a CLS over an E-Class (the CLS is based on an older E-Class platform).
What’s New for 2018?
The CLS 400 has been discontinued, leaving the CLS 550 as the new entry level model. A rearview camera is now standard.
What We Like
Gorgeous exterior; sharp handling; plush ride; powerful acceleration; world-class luxury
What We Don’t
Limited rear passenger space compared with a conventional sedan
The CLS 550 has a twin-turbocharged 4.7-liter V8 developing 402 horsepower and 443 lb-ft. This is also linked to a 9-speed automatic transmission. In rear-drive form, the EPA figures are 18 miles per gallon city/26 mpg hwy/21 mpg combined. Adding the optional 4Matic all-wheel drive system results in 17 mpg city/25 mpg hwy/20 mpg combined.
The all-wheel-drive AMG CLS 63 S deploys a twin-turbocharged 5.5-liter V8 generating 577 hp and 590 lb-ft. This model has a 7-speed automatic transmission (tuned by AMG for fast shifts) and achieves 16 mpg city/22 mpg hwy/18 mpg combined.
Standard Features & Options
The 2018 Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class is available in CLS 550 and AMG CLS 63 S versions. Both models have 4-passenger seating with a full-length center console.
The CLS 550 ($76,145) includes 18-inch alloy wheels, adaptive LED headlights, sunroof, self-dimming mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, keyless entry/ignition, wood interior trim, heated/ventilated 10-way power-adjustable front seats with driver’s-side memory, power-adjustable steering wheel, leather upholstery, multi-color ambient cabin lighting, dual-zone automatic climate control, adaptive air suspension, rearview camera, power-closing trunk lid, powered rear sunshade, automatic garage door opener, USB port, Bluetooth, navigation, satellite/HD radio, and the COMAND infotainment system with an 8-in central display screen, voice control, 14-speaker Harman Kardon audio system, 6-disc DVD/CD changer and an SD card reader.
The AMG CLS 63 S ($109,895) has an AMG body kit, 19-in AMG wheels, performance brakes, wider front track, adaptive sport suspension, limited-slip rear differential, multi-beam active LED headlights, sport exhaust, rear spoiler, AMG sport steering wheel with aluminum shift paddles, AMG front sport seats, semi-aniline leather trim and an IWC analog clock.
A Bang & Olufsen audio system with 15 speakers is optional across the range. Other options include all-wheel drive (for the CLS 550), active multi-contour front seats, front and rear parking sensors, heated steering wheel, self-parking system with surround-view camera, blind spot monitoring, lane-departure intervention, adaptive cruise control, rear traffic alert and emergency braking with pedestrian detection. The AMG model can also be ordered with carbon-ceramic brake discs.
The CLS comes standard with anti-lock brakes, stability control and 10 airbags (front, front side, front pelvic, front knee and full-length side curtain). Standard-issue assistance technologies include a driver drowsiness monitor, active front head restraints and a collision mitigation system with automatic emergency braking.
Neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has crash tested the Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class.
Behind the Wheel
There’s a depth of substance to match the high style. Naturally, the CLS 63 is absurdly fast (standstill to 60 miles per hour in just 3.5 seconds), yet the CLS 550 is close enough (4.7 seconds to 60 mph) to question purchasing the more expensive AMG model.
High-speed handling and cornering abilities are similarly up to the rest of the car’s stratospheric standards. The CLS 550 can take a fast turn with remarkable grip and minimal body roll for a luxury conveyance. When driven less assertively, the CLS retains its relaxed touring personality; it’s quiet and comfortable on long drives and the daily commute alike. But when the urge for performance strikes, either CLS can deliver.
Other Cars to Consider
2018 BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe — BMW’s reply to the CLS-Class is attractive in its own right, and there’s a potent M version to challenge the AMG CLS 63 S.
2018 Audi A7 — The A7’s hatchback profile has a beauty of its own. The V8-powered S7 and RS 7 match the CLS 550 and AMG CLS 63 S respectively. Also due for replacement in 2019.
2018 Cadillac CTS — Although it’s a traditional sedan, the CTS has plenty of style and a formidable twin-turbocharged V6 version pumping out 420 hp.
Used Porsche Panamera — Comparable models of the Panamera are more expensive than the CLS equivalents, but a certified pre-owned (CPO) example with a warranty is a different matter.
There is no wrong choice, just a question of how much power is desired. But remember, there’s a new generation coming soon.