MERCEDES-BENZ CLS

The third-gen­er­a­tion Mercedes CLS is armed with a sharper de­sign, cooler features and a sportier char­ac­ter, in a bid to re-as­sert its po­si­tion as the pre-emi­nent four-door coupe.

Torque (Singapore) - - CONTENTS -

MAR­KET­ING is a very pow­er­ful tool. It can make or break a prod­uct, and con­vince con­sumers to buy into prod­ucts that may some­times not make any sense. Take the Mercedes-Benz CLS, for ex­am­ple. When the Ger­man car­maker launched the first-gen­er­a­tion model back in 2003, it was mar­keted as a “four-door coupe”.

At that time, I liked the car’s swoopy lines. But I was never taken in by Mercedes’ ad­ver­tis­ing or mar­ket­ing-speak.

To me, there is no such thing as a four-door coupe. The CLS has four doors and a notch­back bodystyle, so it is a sa­loon – pe­riod. Even till to­day, the CLS con­tin­ues to be based on the E-Class sa­loon.

But what­ever you might call the CLS, it be­came a suc­cess and spawned an en­tirely new seg­ment. In 2010, the CLS’s first ri­val ar­rived in the form of a fast­back – the Audi A7 Sportback. BMW fol­lowed in 2012 with the 6 Se­ries Gran Coupe. And with Audi hav­ing re­cently in­tro­duced the sec­ond­gen­er­a­tion A7 Sportback, the re­lease of the third-gen­er­a­tion CLS couldn’t have been time­lier.

Com­pared to its chunkier look­ing pre­de­ces­sor, the lat­est CLS has a cleaner and more chis­elled de­sign. With its shark nose-in­spired front end, it’s the most ag­gres­sivelook­ing CLS to date, too. The new leaner de­sign dis­guises the car’s in­creased di­men­sions over the older model. At 4988mm, the over­all

length has grown by 48mm, while the 2939mm wheel­base is 69mm longer than be­fore. The longer wheel­base def­i­nitely im­proves in­te­rior space, but more sig­nif­i­cantly, the CLS is now a prac­ti­cal five-seater be­cause, for the first time, it can ac­com­mo­date three adults on the back­seat.

In an­other nod to prac­ti­cal­ity, the CLS also has 40:20:40 split­fold­ing rear seats, which in­creases its flex­i­bil­ity as a load-hauler.

Even more im­pres­sive is the fully digi­tised cock­pit. As seen in the E-Class and S-Class, the in­stru­ment panel and in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem are now dis­played us­ing two 12.3inch screens with at­trac­tive and colour­ful graph­ics.

Speak­ing of colour, the CLS is the first Mercedes with il­lu­mi­nated air-con vents. There are 64 se­lectable colours, and the vents mo­men­tar­ily glow red/blue if you raise/ lower the air tem­per­a­ture.

All of this tech­nol­ogy makes the cabin feel space­ship-like. But there’s no stop­ping the march to­wards digi­ti­sa­tion. If you like your cars ana­logue, look else­where.

More fa­mil­iar to Mercedes

own­ers is the re­fine­ment de­liv­ered by the tris­tar brand. Past CLS mod­els have never been short on re­fine­ment, but the lat­est model takes this up by an­other notch, with more sound-in­su­lat­ing ma­te­ri­als and op­ti­mised aero­dy­nam­ics to re­duce wind noise. There’s also an op­tional Acous­tic Com­fort pack­age, which gives you lam­i­nated glass win­dows.

The CLS cabin is pretty darn quiet on the go. For a car with frame­less win­dows, there is very lit­tle road noise and wind noise is non-ex­is­tent un­til you’ve reached 170km/h. Even then, I could carry on a con­ver­sa­tion with a fel­low jour­nal­ist, with­out ei­ther of us hav­ing to raise our voices.

For even greater com­fort, the CLS is avail­able with Ac­tive Dis­tance Con­trol and Ac­tive Steer­ing As­sist. The for­mer is Mercedes’ adap­tive cruise con­trol, which au­to­mat­i­cally ad­justs the car’s speed and main­tains a safe dis­tance from the ve­hi­cle in front, while the lat­ter helps keep the car within its lane by ap­ply­ing steer­ing cor­rec­tions.

How­ever, I found Ac­tive Dis­tance Con­trol to be in­con­sis­tent. When I was stuck in evening rush-hour traf­fic, the sys­tem didn’t al­ways re­act quickly enough the mo­ment the ve­hi­cle in front be­gan mov­ing. This left a gap be­tween my car and the one ahead of mine. For the Sin­ga­pore-bound CLS, per­haps Ac­tive Dis­tance Con­trol should have a “SG” set­ting that main­tains a 30cm dis­tance to the car in front, so as to pre­vent other ve­hi­cles from cut­ting into your lane. And since there are PMD own­ers who in­sist on rid­ing on the roads, a more ag­gres­sive “PMD” mode to re­duce the gap to 10cm might also be needed.

With the CLS hav­ing ticked the boxes for re­fine­ment and con­ve­nience, I was cu­ri­ous to see how it would per­form on the wind­ing moun­tain roads out­side Barcelona. Key to the CLS450’s per­for­mance is its new mild­hy­brid pow­er­train. It con­sists of a tur­bocharged 3-litre in­line-6 pro­duc­ing 367hp and 500Nm, paired to an elec­tric mo­tor and a 48-volt power sup­ply.

The elec­tric mo­tor is re­spon­si­ble for key com­po­nents such as the start-stop func­tions and air-con­di­tion­ing. And apart from re­cu­per­at­ing en­ergy to recharge the 48-volt bat­tery, it also con­trib­utes an ad­di­tional 22hp and 250Nm for brief pe­ri­ods, or what Mercedes calls EQ Boost.

Driven in anger, the CLS450 goes from rest to 100km/h in 4.8 se­conds. The scenery whooshes by in a blur, but as you come to the first bend, you’ll im­me­di­ately

re­alise that tear­ing up moun­tain roads is not this car’s forte.

The nose feels vague as you turn into a cor­ner. Push harder and un­der­steer be­gins to set in, with the 19-inch tyres squeal­ing as they at­tempt to latch onto the road.

Far more ea­ger to dis­play its dy­namic abil­i­ties is the AMG CLS53 4Matic+. Pack­ing 435hp and 520Nm (there is also an ad­di­tional 22hp and 250Nm avail­able from its EQ Boost sys­tem), the CLS53 com­pletes the cen­tury sprint faster (4.5 se­conds ver­sus 4.8 for the CLS450) and does it with a throat­ier and more forth­com­ing ex­haust sound­track, too. The CLS53’s 9-speed au­to­matic gear­box also seems to be more re­spon­sive than the iden­ti­cal unit in the CLS450. On many oc­ca­sions, I would ar­rive at cor­ners with the trans­mis­sion in 5th gear, and as I nailed the brakes, the gear­box would rapidly down­shift thrice. So seam­less were the gearchanges that had it not been for the ac­com­pa­ny­ing de­li­cious throt­tle-blips, they might have gone un­no­ticed.

With its firmer sus­pen­sion setup and a front end with more bite, I could cor­ner faster in the CLS53 than in the CLS450. The for­mer’s fully vari­able torque dis­tri­bu­tion, as op­posed to the lat­ter’s fixed 45/55 per­cent split be­tween the front and rear axles, also con­trib­uted to the car’s en­hanced nim­ble­ness.

But if you ask me, the most ag­ile CLS model is prob­a­bly go­ing to be the one pow­ered by a tur­bocharged 2-litre 4-cylin­der en­gine, which Mercedes says is ca­pa­ble of “up to 220kW” or 299hp.

The pre-pro­duc­tion unit I drove did not have a model des­ig­na­tion, although I sus­pect it will ei­ther be CLS300 or CLS350. I only had 10 min­utes with this rear-wheel-drive 2-litre model, but it proved to a re­fresh­ing drive, for un­like its two more pow­er­ful sib­lings, it ac­tu­ally en­joyed be­ing flogged. If Mercedes-AMG can im­bue the next range-top­ping CLS63 model with such verve and nim­ble­ness, it’ll def­i­nitely be a “four-door coupe” that’s worth driv­ing. It might even give its more po­tent fast­back sib­ling, the AMG GT 4-Door Coupe (see box story: Merc’s Faster Fast­back) a run for its money.

But no mat­ter how it turns out, the CLS will still be a sa­loon to me. And no mar­ket­ing or PR man­ager is go­ing to con­vince me other­wise.

THE CLS HAS NEVER BEEN SHORT ON RE­FINE­MENT, BUT THE LAT­EST MODEL TAKES THIS UP AN­OTHER NOTCH WITH MORE SOUND IN­SU­LA­TION AND IM­PROVED AERO­DY­NAM­ICS.

STORY JEREMY CHUA LO­CA­TION BARCELONA, SPAIN

Un­doubt­edly high-tech and swanky, but the cock­pit’s sim­i­lar­ity to the E-Class’ makes it feel less spe­cial.

Third-gen CLS is now a five-seater, with 40:20:40 split-fold­ing rear seats that make it a more flex­i­ble load-hauler this time around.

The con­trols’ pre­mium feel is en­hanced by the tac­tile but­tons and knurled fin­ish on the knobs and rollers.

Same 3-litre in­line-6 pow­ers both the CLS450 and CLS53, but its power and re­spon­sive­ness in the lat­ter are more im­pres­sive.

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