Okay, so the V8 is gone. Let’s get that out of the way first.
Government fuel economy mandates — now and threatened — have pinched it out of existence. Not even Mercedes can sell ‘em anymore — in less than six figure cars — without those cars becoming six-figure cars, in part because of the “gas guzzler” taxes the government throws at any car manufacturer which doesn’t make the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) cut.
The twin-turbo 4.7 liter V8 which used to be standard equipment in the CLS was just too thirsty for Uncle — and so it had to go.
But don’t get depressed.
For once, the replacement isn’t a downgrade.
WHAT IT IS
The mid-sized CLS is an E-Class sedan restyled to look as much like a coupe as possible while still having four doors.
Same basic chassis as the E — but very different lines.
This thing’s as slick as a greased porpoise just 3.7 inches off the ground — and only 55.3 inches high, which is almost an inch lower than a Porsche Panamera and about three inches lower than the E-Class sedan.
It’s definitely not as practical as an E-Class sedan; headroom in the back of the CLS is tight, legroom is less, and the trunk is smaller. But it’s not as impractical as an E-Class coupe, which has back seats — but without the extra set of doors, they’re much more awkward to get into and out of.
And that’s just on the outside. Look inside.
Then under the hood.
There you’ll find Mercedes’ doubleplusgood answer to the CAFE and “carbon footprint” killjoys:
A gorgeous DOHC straight six.
Mercedes has resurrected one of the Greats to compensate for the forced retirement of another. And — arguably — it’s more than compensatory. The straight six is an elegant engine.
Jag E-types — and Mercedes 300SL Gullwings — had straight sixes.
And now the CLS does, too.
Plus, it’s not merely a straight six. This one is supplemented by more than just a turbo — like the straight six in the BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe. In addition to that, there’s a 48 Volt electrical system with a high-torque starter/generator system that serves the dual purpose of goosing the horsepower output of the Benz’s six to 383 hp and the torque output by an additional 181 ft.-lbs. to 550 ft.-lbs. when called upon.
That’s more torque than most big-block V8s make. And a lot more torque than the 2018 CLS’s V8 made (443. ft.-lbs.).
So, don’t mourn the V8’s passing.
Mercedes calls the electric-enhanced six EQ Boost — and while it helps save gas (which helps get the government off Benz’s back), it also helps the CLS to haul ass, a much more important consideration.
The ’19 CLS with the 3 liter six plus EQ Boost is just as quick as the old model with the 4.7 liter V8 — but the new model can average almost 30 MPG (I achieved 29.7 MPG during a weeklong test drive) which the old model couldn’t do unless with its engine off and its two tons being pulled by three ten-year-old Priuses.
Official pricing wasn’t available when this review was written in early September but should be in the neighborhood of $78,000 for the rear-wheel-drive CLS 450, about $80,000 for the CLS 450 with 4Matic all-wheel-drive and about $100,000 for the high-performance AMG CLS53, which gets a twin-turbo’d version of the straight six, 429 horsepower and the capability to get you to 60 in the mid fours.
Though the ’19’s prices are up (apparently) vs. the 2018 CLS 550 (base price $75,150), the new CLS costs significantly less than either of its two main — and older-design — rivals, the $85,000 to start Porsche Panamera and the $81,500 to start BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe.
They’re not as quick, either.
The 2019 CLS is essentially all-new.
In addition to the new engine and EQ Boost system — the CLS is the first Mercedes model to get it — there is also more CLS. The 2019 grows by about three inches in length and gets a bit more trunk space as well as standard five passenger capacity. The previous model was a four-seater, as the Porsche Panamera still is unless you pay extra. On top of the $85k-to-start sticker price.
The new CLS also gets an all-new interior with a driver-configurable 12.3 inch dual-flatscreen main and secondary instrument panel, very much like the layout in Mercedes’ top-of-the-line S-Class sedan — but with the additional feature of an integrated, spa-themed Energizing Comfort system that combines mood lighting, adjustable scent (yes, really) music backtracks, various types of massage and heating/cooling themes ranging from Refresh and Warmth to Vitality and Training.
Mercedes says this improves the well-being and performance of the driver.
Now if they could figure out a way to make the car cook and serve a perfect ribeye.
Straight six is an upgrade.
A bit more trunk; one more seat.
Ethereal interior. Especially at night.
Lower MSRP than rivals.
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
Mercedes hides the gorgeous straight six under an ugly plastic cover.
Lots of menus to scroll/tap/swipe through. This car needs a flight engineer.
12V power point is located awkwardly out of sight (and almost out of reach) on the passenger side footwell.
BMW 6 Gran Coupe has several inches more headroom.
UNDER THE HOOD
Mercedes — like every car company selling other-than-electric cars — is under tremendous pressure to increase the fuel efficiency of the non-electric cars it sells and reduce the “greenhouse gasses” emitted by those cars.
Downsizing — and turbocharging — IC engines has been the solution so far. And eliminating them altogether, in favor of electric motors and batteries.
The trick is maintaining power levels with smaller engines — and personality, especially in higher-end cars.
BMW’s functionally unassailable 2.0 liter turbo four, which is used in large BMWs like the 5 Series (which is the basis for the 6 Series Gran Coupe) has been assailed for its lack of personality. It doesn’t sound right — in a pushing $60,000 luxury sedan — and there’s something deflating about a four in a pushing $60,000 luxury sedan. And electric motors have all the personality of cordless drills.
Hence the CLS’s new 3.0 liter DOHC in-line six.
It has personality — and history.
It’s the same size and layout as the in-line six which powered the iconic 1955 SL300 Gullwing — which didn’t come with an ugly plastic cover hiding its beautiful engine.
But the new six is much stronger — historically as well as currently.
Even without the EQ Boost, it makes 362 horsepower — 32 more horsepower than the Porsche Panamera’s standard 330 hp 3.0 liter V6 — and and 47 more hp than the BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe’s 3.0 liter straight six.
With EQ Boost, the gap really opens up.
The 48 Volt high-torque starter motor/generator feeds in another 21 horsepower and a massive whelp of 100-plus ft,lbs. of torque. This is why the ’19 CLS 450 gets to 60 in just over 5 seconds — as quick as the V8 powered ’18 CLS — and quicker than both the V6 Panamera (5.4 seconds) and the BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe (5.7 seconds).
And it does it while using significantly less gas than the 2018 CLS’s V8 — in part because the six is smaller than the V8 and in part because the mild hybrid system makes it possible for the CLS to “sail” without the six running at all.
A nine-speed automatic is the standard transmission — and the top three gears (7th, 8th, and 9th) are overdrive gears. Combine that with a long-legged Mack Daddy 2.82 final drive ratio, and you’ve got a very Autobahn friendly car as well as a fuel-efficient car.
Be hip: Mercedes electronically restricts the top speed of the CLS to 130 MPH. Probably because the tires it comes with are softer-compound touring tires not rated for 130-plus MPH sustained speeds and the lawyers no doubt advised Benz to add the limiter to limit any potential liability.
The good news here is that if you prefer not to be limited, it’s an easy thing to reprogram an electronic limiter — and thereby release the full mechanical potential of this car. Given the power, the slippery aerodynamics and the gearing, the CLS is probably capable of cruising at 130 all day long.
It’s almost abusive to limit this car to American roads — and American traffic laws.
Just be sure to replace the standard tires with H or higher-rated tires.
ON THE ROAD
There used to be a concept called the GT — short for Gran Turismo — but the term has been over-used and misused to the point that it’s become almost meaningless . . . like Limited Edition.
A GT used to mean a big, heavy, luxurious and powerful coupe. A Ferrari 365 Daytona, for instance. Or a Jaguar XJS. Exclusive high-speed cars that were also supremely comfortable cars.
The CLS is that concept — plus two more doors.
The CLS can go very fast — and move very quickly — but that’s not the main point. If it becomes necessary, you can walk away from almost anything that isn’t a sport bike.
The rest of the time, the CLS is about soothing you from everything on the other side of its frameless side-window glass. Roll them up, and the outside world — and outside worries — simply go away.
The inside of the CLS is so quiet the only real way to appreciate its quiet is by rolling the windows down — briefly — to let the outside world in. But only briefly. Roll them up, then queue up the Energizing Comfort system; select the program that seems right for the occasion and let the CLS take care of you. Let the perforated leather Designo seats coddle you.
It’s so relaxing you may find — as I did — that it’s as enjoyable to go for a sit as it is to go for a drive. I spent time in the driveway rather than in my house — which either says some really good things about this car or some pretty awful things about my house.
The six is a greyhound of an engine that puts distance between you and any outward annoyance with silent bounding leaps as graceful as they are powerful. It makes something far from effortless — moving a large, heavy car quickly and quietly — appear to be exactly that.
It’s what GTs do.
Because of the gearing, the six loafs along at as little as 1,200 RPM while cruising at 50 MPH. Sometimes — watch the tach — it goes to sleep completely, letting the EQ Boost’s high torque starter maintain your momentum in silent drive mode. Just like an electric car but without the range/recharge anxiety — and with that sexy six sound whenever you want it.
AT THE CURB
Mercedes had this idea first. Porsche copied it first; then BMW did.
Which suggest it’s not a bad idea like the over-under shotgun, for instance.
The latest generation CLS refines the idea with a bit more practicality in mind — but without affecting the car’s Batgirl (Eartha Kit version) sensuality. The back seats are still shaped in such a way as to look four seater-ish, but there’s room for three now — and it’s standard. Headroom in both rows isn’t humungous — it’s several inches less than in the 6 Series Gran Coupe, which looks much less sensual as a result — but it’s still enough even for six-foot adults. Even in the back.
I fit — so you should, too unless you are taller than 6ft 3, which is how tall I am.
The trunk grows to just under 12 cubic feet — up from 11 cubic feet in the 2018. It’s not humungous, but think of it like you would a bikini on a woman who has the body to justify it.
While we’re thinking along such lines, have to look up front. You may not want to stop looking.
Benz gave the new CLS an all-new dashboard and everything else layout to go with the rest of the all-new. It flows with the exterior curves, mirroring the exterior themes.
The centerpiece is a full-length split-screen LCD display, which can be configured to show you almost anything you can think of and probably many things you’ve never thought of — including acoustic operating feedback and a handwriting recognition system.
There’s also the Energizing Comfort system.
From cool ocean breezes (Refresh) to three different Training modes (muscle relaxation, muscle activation, and balance) this car isn’t just a car; it is also masseuse (or masseur) and hot yoga/zen meditation master and life coach, too.
Everyone — well, almost everyone — has got on the LED backlighting bandwagon. But the CLS is the first to come with backlit vents — plus ambient colors in 64 shades, syncopated to your preferences.
Now turn up the Burmester ultra-premium audio rig. Some of you reading this may remember the scene in A Clockwork Orange when Alex puts on Beethoven’s 9th. This is kind of like that.
You can fit every record (or CD) you ever owned on an iPod, the size of a pack of cigarettes. But finding a particular song can involve a lot of swiping and searching. Same issue with all the features packed into the CLS — and this is true of all high-end cars, which justify their high-end prices as much on the technology they boast as on luxury, performance, and style.
The problem is the same as with a loaded iPod — compounded by the need to drive at the same time.
The CLS has a console-mounted control interface with a rotary (and push) knob as well as finger swipe/smartphone controls on a mouse-like pad above it. They’re not un-intuitive; the problem is there’s a lot to scroll through, and it’s pretty easy to get lost in the menus and sub-menus and whoops, you just accidentally kissed the bumper of the car that just stopped in front of yours. Good thing the CLS can stop itself.
Cars like the CLS almost presume automated car tech; the CLS has a peck of semi-automated car tech, including Active Distance Assist, which automatically reduces speed in curves, Evasive Steering Assist, Attention Assist, and Active Speed Limit Assist — as well as Automated Emergency Braking (good thing) to name about half of the technology assists the car is available with.
But until the CLS and other cars like it can actually drive themselves, all the infotainment tech/mice/menus/tapping/swiping can be distracting — so be careful.
One other thing is the absence of the console-mounted 12V power point — in cars with the optional extra USB port ahead of the rotary knob controller.
Mercedes relocates the power point to the passenger’s side footwell, where it’s not easy to see or reach without being stopped — and then it’s still a stretch.
It’s the one thing that’s not soothing about the new CLS.
THE BOTTOM LINE
How do you make a car even more good looking?
Just ask Mercedes.
* * *
The Eric Peters Car Review is sponsored by the NMA Foundation, a 501c3 nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting your interests as a motorist and citizen through the multi-faceted approach of research, education, and litigation. The Foundation is able to offer this assistance through tax-deductible contributions.