Mercedes has a long tradition of making fast, graceful and technically advanced coupes. But when the Vision CLS concept was revealed in 2003 it stood out as something very unusual for this characteristically traditional and conservative brand. And when the near-identical production version launched a year later it created a whole new genre of four-door, four-seater coupes, inspiring competitors like Porsche, BMW and Audi to follow suit with their own interpretations of the formula. The pending arrival of a four-door version of the AMG GT can also be credited to the CLS’s clever blend of style, performance and practicality.
The original CLS’s curved profile, arcing windowline and shallow glasshouse were immediately distinctive, this third-generation car an evolution of that look and less dramatic for it. But it’s perhaps the most successful expression of Mercedes’ current ‘sensual purity’ design language to date. If the exterior is a little toned down the interior is very much the opposite, extravagant in its opulence and lavish in its design and detail. The widescreen dual display from the S-Class and E-Class is familiar, the turbine-style vents and central sweep of trim all bathed in your choice of ambient lighting from a spectrum of 64 different colours.
Style is a big part of the CLS but the arrival of a new generation of 3.0-litre inline six-cylinder engines is arguably just as important. Sharing fundamental architecture, these include diesels – badged CLS350d and CLS400d – and the petrol CLS450 and CLS53 AMG, the latter two gaining 22hp and 184lbft of electric EQ Boost. In the CLS53’s case, this builds on the already impressive 435hp and 383lb ft delivered by combined conventional and electrically-driven turbocharging. The latter aims to eliminate lag, response formidable throughout the engine’s rev-range and offering effortless performance. All models drive through a nine-speed automatic gearbox and versions of the 4Matic all-wheel-drive system, optional air suspension delivering your choice of easy-going waft or sporty composure as required.
In style, engineering and technology the new CLS is a showcase for Mercedes and demonstrates new-found confidence in all areas. From its impressive – if occasionally intrusive – suite of semi-autonomous driver aids to its playful ‘Energising Comfort Control Package’ of wellness-themed lighting, massage functions, in-car exercise routines and even scented air conditioning it’s near decadent in its luxury if you tick all the options. Much of this has trickled down from the S-Class but the CLS is a car with a character of its own and restored to its place as the benchmark car in the four-door coupe sector it created.