The 2020 Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class is the luxury 4-door car for rich nonconformists. It puts styling above practicality. Which is fine. After all, how often have we made a compromise or two in the pursuit of looking good?
With its smooth nose and muscular haunches, the CLS is striking, and the flowing fastback roofline is the perfect finishing touch. Sure, that means limited passenger space in the back when compared with an E-Class midsize sedan (on which the CLS-Class is based), but this car has its own agenda.
The first-ever CLS introduced the notion of a "4-door coupe" to the world. It’s an approach that has since become influential, not just in sedan design, but also with crossovers. This generation of CLS luxury midsize sedan, the third (having debuted for 2019), now energizes its distinct look with a revolutionary drivetrain.
After decades of employing V6 engines, Mercedes-Benz has brought the inline-6 configuration back into service. A pretty good move, since this layout is inherently smoother than a V, so it saves the added weight and complexity of balancer shafts.
Turbocharging can coax V8-like power out of six cylinders without the fuel consumption penalty. The inline-6 also provides space in the engine bay for innovation. By adding an electric motor to create a 48-volt system, the drivetrain enters a different dimension.
It’s a mild hybrid arrangement of a sort that optimizes fuel efficiency, yet it’s not like any Prius. It doesn’t drive any wheels but does away with ancillary belts that drive things like water pumps, thereby reducing parasitic power losses.
It provides energy for the engine’s fuel-saving stop/start function while smoothing out that action considerably and enables a "coasting" feature. In the AMG CLS 53 variant, this system also powers the standard hydro-pneumatic adaptive suspension.
An aspect of the current CLS that makes it more conventional is that the rear section seats three instead of the previous generation’s two. Naturally, the middle position is best for diminutive types, since shoulder room is tight and there’s also the transmission tunnel cutting down on legroom, but it could be useful on occasion. Think of this car as a spacious coupe with a little extra accommodation and it takes on a special appeal of its own.
What’s New for 2020?
The 12.3-in digital driver information display becomes available in the CLS 450 as part of the Premium package. A parking damage detector is now standard along with power domes in the hoods of all CLS variants, not just the AMG model.
Speaking of which, the AMG CLS 53 gains an "Emotion Start" feature that creates a sportier experience when firing up the engine. The selectable driving modes can now include a "Slippery" setting. And there are various new cosmetic options, including 20-in alloy wheels.
What We Like
- Sleek exterior
- Composed yet supple handling
- Intriguing drivetrains
- Resplendent luxury
What We Don’t
- Options are expensive
$70,945 to $82,195
The CLS 450 has a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6 developing 362 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque. Augmenting this engine is an electric motor (Mercedes-Benz calls it EQ Boost) powered by a lithium-ion battery. The "boost" part of the description doesn’t provide an ultimately higher power figure but allows the engine to reach its peak output faster than if this was a regular setup.
The next step in the chain is a 9-speed automatic transmission with steering wheel-mounted shift paddles.
In rear-drive form, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates fuel consumption at 24 miles per gallon in the city, 31 mpg on the highway and 26 mpg combined. All-wheel drive (referred to as 4Matic) alters those figures to 23 mpg city/30 mpg hwy/26 mpg combined.
The AWD 2020 Mercedes-AMG CLS 53 uses the same drivetrain, but the AMG division has tuned it up for more output and added an auxiliary electric compressor (functioning like an extra turbocharger). Output here is 429 hp and 384 lb-ft of torque. The 9-speed automatic transmission has also been "improved upon" by AMG, likewise the 4Matic AWD system that’s standard equipment. The EPA’s fuel consumption estimates are 21 mpg city/27 mpg hwy/23 mpg combined.
Standard Features and Options
The 2020 Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class is available in CLS 450 and AMG CLS 53 versions. Both models have 5-passenger seating.
The CLS 450 ($70,945) has an impressive amount of standard equipment that includes 19-in alloy wheels, LED headlights/taillights, powered sunroof, self-dimming mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, keyless entry/ignition, remote start, selectable driving modes, adaptive dampers, heated/10-way power-adjustable front seats with driver’s-side memory, power-adjustable steering column, power-closing trunk lid, leather upholstery (simulated leather-covered dashboard), multi-colored ambient cabin lighting, dual-zone automatic climate control, 12.3-in infotainment touchscreen, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone integration, forward collision mitigation with automatic emergency braking, driver attention alert, blind spot monitoring, two USB ports, Bluetooth, navigation and HD radio.
This model is eligible for AWD ($2,500), air suspension and the Premium package that includes a 12.3-in driver information display (which connects physically with the infotainment display), wireless charging and a Burmester 13-speaker/590-watt surround-sound system.
The Parking Assist package includes a 360-degree camera system and rear cross-traffic alert as well as self-steering into and out of parking spaces.
The 2020 Mercedes-AMG CLS 53 ($82,195) adds an AMG body kit, 19-in AMG wheels, AMG Ride Control Plus hydro-pneumatic adaptive suspension, variable AWD system (4Matic Plus), performance brakes, 12.3-in digital driver information display, sport exhaust, AMG Performance steering wheel and AMG front sport seats.
Other extras include soft-close doors, heated steering wheel/front armrests, multi-contour/massaging front seats, heated rear seats (CLS 53), tri-zone automatic climate control, satellite radio and a head-up display.
Optional driver assistance features include adaptive cruise control, partially autonomous parking, evasive steering assistance and active lane changing assistance.
Trunk space is 11.9 cu ft., bigger than the previous CLS but still only as good as a Honda Civic compact sedan. Nevertheless, it will take a couple of sets of golf clubs.
The CLS comes standard with anti-lock brakes, stability control and seven airbags.
Neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has crash tested the CLS-Class, but the closely related E-Class was named a Top Safety Pick+ by the IIHS.
Behind the Wheel
Whatever the driver wants the CLS to be, the car will comply through its selectable driving modes. Choose the Comfort setting and transporting delicate antique porcelain could be accomplished without incident. Switch over to Sport Plus for more firmness and control while tweaking the engine’s responses. Here’s where the fun lives.
The CLS 450 4Matic is sufficiently fast, zipping from standstill to 60 mph in just 4.8 seconds. The CLS 53 is quicker by 0.4 of a second, if that’s important. Even the entry-level rear-drive CLS can still manage 5.1 seconds.
The 4Matic Plus system in the CLS 53 is described as fully variable, which means that power goes mostly to the rear wheels under normal circumstances, imparting the traditional sporty feel, but can send up to half the available torque to the front wheels within milliseconds when necessary. Grip and traction are superb.
There’s really no point in criticizing the CLS for limited rear headroom. That’s the nature of the car and if someone was transporting three adults every day, then they’d simply choose an E-Class instead. Accommodations up front, meanwhile, are sumptuous. The elegant frameless side windows don’t create any wind noise.
Other Cars to Consider
2020 Mercedes-AMG GT 4-Door Coupe — If anyone wanted to spend even more money on a sportier 4-door coupe from Mercedes-Benz, this model offers 577-hp and 630-hp versions from $141,245. Or the entry-level model has the same drivetrain as the CLS 53 for $100,945.
Any 2020 CLS-Class is going to be a great choice, as long as the buyer goes into it knowing the amount of rear headroom. Make sure there’s money in the budget for the driver assistance features. If we were getting the CLS 450, we’d also be tempted by the Premium package for the driver display and the Burmester surround-sound system. Find a Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class for sale