I recently had the chance to drive the all-new, fully redesigned 2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS. This is the third generation of the CLS, which is one of the cars that set off the "4-door coupe" trend when it first debuted more than a decade ago. Now, more than a decade later, this body style is much more common, and some would say the trend is starting to fade, but the CLS soldiers on.
I drove this CLS courtesy of Fletcher Jones Motorcars, a Mercedes-Benz dealership in Newport Beach, California, which is the largest Mercedes-Benz dealer in North America. As a result, Fletcher Jones had a few CLS models to choose from, and I picked the CLS 450, the base model, which starts around $70,000. The CLS 450 has 362 horsepower from its turbocharged V6, and the CLS lineup also includes an "AMG CLS 53" model, with 429 hp.
But the CLS 450 is more than powerful enough, as indicated by its 5.1-second 0-to-60 mile per hour time — and I had a blast driving it. I think the thing that surprised me most was the engine power, even though it’s "just" a 6-cylinder, and even though I often find myself disappointed by turbocharged 6-cylinders trying to fill in for previous V8 models, this particular 6-cylinder was responsive and quick — and it gave the CLS 450 an excellent driving feel, boasting good muscle and impressive power from all speeds.
Handling, too, is surprisingly sharp: the CLS is a thrilling car to drive, with a nice look on the outside that excites you before you get in it, followed by a surprisingly precise steering feel. It’s light steering, of course, like all modern cars, but it’s sharper than you’d expect given the CLS’s size and luxury positioning. You start to understand why Mercedes-Benz insists on calling it a "coupe" when, to any objective person, it’s a sedan.
The technology, also, is great. As you might expect from a newly redesigned Mercedes-Benz model, it incorporates just about everything, from massaging seats with seemingly unending functions to an ultra-quick, large-sized screen that brings you an excellent navigation system and easy-to-use menus. You can even go through a variety of different options to change the color of the lighting in the interior.
So, the CLS is an excellent car. I’m just not entirely sure it’ll be a popular one.
The main problem with the CLS, in my estimation, is that it’s getting squeezed out of existence. Like I mentioned, the base price is around $70,000 — a lot more than the starting price of a similarly sized E-Class, which is around $54,500. Even if you step up to the CLS 450’s engine in the E-Class, you’re only paying $61,000 — and while the CLS once had a huge styling advantage over the E-Class, the latest E-Class is a handsome, desirable car with a nice look — so the CLS doesn’t justify its price increase like it once did.
Then there’s the AMG GT sedan. This is Mercedes-Benz’s second entry into the 4-door coupe world — and while the AMG GT sedan will likely start north of $100,000, it will surely eat away at CLS sales on the top end, where the (presumably) forthcoming CLS63 will be positioned. With the AMG GT and the E-Class squeezing the CLS from both ends, it’s hard to imagine that the CLS sticks around forever — especially in a market so obsessed with SUVs over sedans. Does it really make sense for Mercedes-Benz to have so many similar sedan offerings in today’s SUV-centric world?
It’s hard to know, and time will tell — but for now, the CLS is certainly an excellent car, even if it may not make as much sense as it once did. It may not see another generation, but I’m happy the CLS is still around, and happy that Mercedes-Benz saw fit to redesign it — and while its buyer base may be increasingly small, I’m sure many shoppers are happy to see the new CLS as well. They’ll be even happier after they drive it.