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Review of: 2015 Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class 4dr Sdn CLS400
2015 Mercedes-Benz CLS 400: New lower-priced looker
By Jil McIntosh
Jun. 30, 2015
Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but it’s hard to imagine anyone who can’t admire the luscious lines of Mercedes-Benz’s CLS. I’ll even forgive the company for calling it a “four-door coupe,” just because it’s so damn good-looking.
The CLS came only with V8 power last year, as the 402-horsepower 550; as the 550-horsepower 63 AMG; or as the 577-horsepower 63 AMG S-Model. For 2015, the lower-horsepower AMG version bows out, and my tester is added, the CLS 400 with twin-turbo V6 engine, which becomes the entry level into the lineup. As with last year, all CLS models use 4Matic all-wheel drive.
There are also several cosmetic changes, including tweaks to the grille and redesigned bumpers, and such interior redesigns as a new steering wheel, tablet-style infotainment screen, and new instrument cluster.
The new CLS 400 starts at $75,900, while my tester had an additional Sport Package (including 18-inch wheels, sport suspension and brakes, and dynamic multi-contour seats), a Premium Package (including heated rear seats and steering wheel, premium stereo, power trunk, power rear sunshade, 360-degree camera, and adaptive headlights) and an Intelligent Drive Package (including adaptive cruise control, active blind spot and lane keeping assist, and cross-traffic alert) that brought it to $86,050 before freight and taxes.
By comparison, the CLS 550 starts at $86,700, while getting into the AMG version starts at $123,400. I’d driven the higher-horsepower AMG last year, so now I was getting into the other end of the scale.
Pros & Cons
- + Quiet, serene cabin
- + Quiet, effortless cruising
- + Attention-getting styling
- - Bland exhaust note
- - Not the ultimate German sport sedan
- - Headroom
Back to that beholder’s beauty. This is still one of the better-looking cars on the road, especially now with the larger air intakes that make the front end even more aggressive. The lines flow, it’s low and wide, the rear haunches are muscular, and the car hunkers down over its wheels.
Now, all of that said, there is a down side to its looks, and it’s in that swoopy roofline. Quite simply, if you are tall, this may not be your car. I’m short, and with the seat lifted high enough for visibility, my head was close to the headliner. As for getting into the rear seat, be careful. I can guarantee you’ll knock your noggin on the doorframe at least once before you learn the trick of ducking down to get inside.
The lack of headroom aside, the four-seater CLS is equally handsome inside, outfitted with Mercedes-Benz’s signature styling of the centre stack buttons and dials. Putting the infotainment screen above the dash, rather than within the stack, puts your eyes up toward the windshield when you’re looking at the functions. It’s not a touch-screen, but uses the company’s COMAND system, controlled by a joystick dial on the centre console.
The gearshift lever is a stalk on the column, which further opens up the console to more storage space—some of which, still, is taken up with a small covered ashtray and cigarette lighter, since the smoker’s package is part of the standard equipment list.
The seats are typically German: firm but very supportive, so while they’re not easy-chair squishy, they stay comfortable on long drives. The optional “Drive-Dynamic” driver’s seat, part of the Sport Package, has bolsters that squeeze in to the opposite side of the turn you’re making to keep you upright and in control on sharp curves. They can be adjusted for how tightly it hugs, or can be turned off entirely, depending on your preference. I always keep it on: I love this feature.
The CLS 400 comes standard with an excellent Harman/Kardon stereo, satellite radio, and navigation, as well as an active parking assist system that will judge the size of a parking spot and, if it’s appropriate, guide itself in.
The optional Intelligent Drive Package adds adaptive cruise control, which works very smoothly, along with active assistance for blind spot monitoring and lane-keeping control. That last one is a bit of a mixed bag. If I drifted over the lane on my left-hand side, I got a warning vibration through the steering wheel and what felt like a gentle nudge. When I tried it on the right-hand side, I got a far more violent response with the brakes coming on to guide me back.
That was acceptable until I came across a stretch of road where workers had poured liquid asphalt to fill some long cracks. The system thought this darker line was the road edge, and it startled me to have the car pull when I was in the middle of the lane. As an aside, this is going to be an issue with autonomous cars: until our road infrastructure is much better than it is now, self-driving cars are not going to be foolproof.
The CLS 400 uses a twin-turbo 3.5-litre V6 that makes 329 horsepower and 354 lb.-ft. of torque, mated to a seven-speed automatic transmission and with 4Matic all-wheel drive that splits the torque 45/55 front to rear.
As is generally the case with Mercedes-Benz, it’s a great engine, with beautifully linear acceleration; a smooth-shifting transmission; and a well-balanced ride with quick response and almost perfect steering weight.
But for all that, it’s still fairly sedate, and the impression is that you’re driving a C-Class, which also receives this new engine for 2015. That’s not really a slag: I consider the C-Class one of the best premium midsize models out there. But when the CLS is $24,500 more, it should also feel considerably more exciting to pilot.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that you always have to go sportier and move up to a V8-powered CLS. While the V6 version isn’t as all-out as it could be, it’s still a lovely car to drive, and for those who want the CLS’ gorgeous looks with a smaller unit under the hood, this one could be the ticket. Not to mention the payoff at the pumps, where Natural Resources Canada estimates it’s $560 more a year to gas up the CLS 550. Against published figures of 12.1 L/100 km in the city and 8.5 on the highway, I averaged 9.1 L/100 km.
And that leads into the value equation, which really comes down to the type of driving experience you prefer. The CLS 550 gives you a great V8 and sportier performance, but it’s $10,800 more.
Of course the price difference doesn’t just cover the engine, and the next-step-up CLS 550 also gives you features that are extra-charge or unavailable in the CLS 400, such as its AMG-styled wheels, heated steering wheel, active headlamps and highbeam assist, three-zone climate control, and air suspension, among others. So it also comes down to what you want to spend, and while value is a tough thing to call when you’re considerably “North of 60” anyway, it’s good to see that Mercedes-Benz has added a model for those who prefer not to break the eighty-grand barrier.
And I have to say that while it isn’t the powerhouse performer that you get with those extra two cylinders in the CLS 550—or with the breathtaking acceleration of the AMG version—I also thoroughly enjoyed my week with it. It’s a great driver, it’s a smooth engine, it’s a beautiful interior, and it’s one hell of a looker. And really, that’s all it needs to be.