Dan Trent: The original CLS is the coolest four-door coupe

06th March 2018
dan_trent_headshot.jpg Dan Trent

Apologies for being predictable but an inevitable consequence of me driving a new car is diving into the classifieds to see how much versions of the original are going for. Not to say the new Mercedes CLS I was driving last week is a bad car. Because it’s not. But it did get me thinking how cool the first CLS really was. And how well it’s ageing, 14 years on. 


Timelessness is, I think, always a measure of strong design and Mercedes’ reward for its uncharacteristic boldness was to kickstart an entire new four-door coupe sub-genre, off the back of which it has sold over 375,000 CLSs.

I like the original, banana-shaped CLS because it kind of goes against a lot of modern trends. Wedges and rising boot lines have been one of the dominant styling themes for, what, decades now. The way the original CLS’s profile follows a gentle curve over the bonnet and roof and into a gently falling tail goes against so much design doctrine and, in theory, shouldn’t work. That it does so successfully is one of those pleasant surprises, especially from a brand usually known for its conservative design. 

I always particularly loved the interior on these too, that broad sweep of wood across the dashboard managing to be both retro and contemporary at the same time. Having taken this idea and run with it I think the latest generation of Mercedes, new CLS included, may have upped the chintz just a little too much. But the original’s combination of shapes, materials and subtle detailing like the chrome inlays surrounding vents and dials is just lovely. 

There were AMG versions, both with the mighty supercharged ’55 engine and the later ’63, each with its own character and appeal. The temptations are obvious. As are those of this 750hp, V12-powered Brabus Rocket version. But hand on heart I think the CLS’s elegance is more suited to the non-AMG versions, of which my choice would have to be the V8-powered CLS500. In the earlier cars, this had 306hp and they are way cheap with plenty available for less than five grand.


But the one to go for is the post-2007 facelift version with the newer 5.5-litre motor. With 388hp it’s a significant step up in performance, brilliantly matched with the seven-speed automatic gearbox and boasts that perfect balance of big-engined muscle and zingy revviness you get in truly great naturally aspirated engines. This being fantasy car shopping I don’t have to worry about fuel consumption, obviously…

This one is just £6,989, has relatively low miles and a decent spec. Even in the low-res images, the interior looks to have taken a bit of a pummelling though, seemingly having been cleaned with a wire brush and Brillo pad at some stage.

Up the budget to £9,985 and things look a lot better, one-owner and service history as appealing as the butterscotch interior. Money no object the £11,499 of this one is pretty chunky and I can’t actually believe there are people advertising cars in this day and age who believe ‘lady owner’ carries any additional value or relevance. It’s a late model car though with the sharper grille, sportier three-spoke steering wheel and subtly enhanced interior with nicer chrome-detailed switchgear. Details perhaps but in a car like the CLS the kind of thing that matter, likewise the tasty (and unkerbed) AMG wheels.

Still bold, still classy and as distinctive as ever I think Mercedes nailed the CLS first time around and I can’t believe the original still looks so good. Put me behind the wheel of this one and I’d be a very happy man indeed. 

  • Mercedes-Benz

  • CLS

  • Dan Trent

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