Our CLS test car was "only" a CLS550, but I've also driven the CLS63 AMG version, and they're both impressive. What I remember most distinctly about the CLS63 was that I drove it on some very challenging roads above Napa Valley, in the rain, tailing a Mercedes-Benz USA executive who was driving an SLS AMG Gullwing quite briskly. As if that wasn't enough to keep me busy, I was also deeply engrossed in conversation with my co-driver, but we just sailed over those wet, twisting roads in utter serenity. The CLS chassis was totally composed, and the steering was among the most accurate and communicative setups I've ever experienced in a Mercedes-Benz. Those dynamics are also evident in the lesser CLS550, which feels much smaller than it is, almost like a sport coupe. I don't recall the E-class having steering nearly this good. The steering wheel itself is very handsome, with a big three-pointed star in the middle, little bump-outs at 10 and 2 o'clock that allow you to rest your hands at 9 and 3 comfortably, and a racing-inspired flat bottom. It's all good. Also good is the shallow dash, which adds to the feeling of compactness and sportiness. One low note, though, is that where the front doors meet the A-pillars, the triangle-shaped Harman Kardon speakers obstruct your forward vision.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
I realize that Joe DeMatio already commented on this, but the goodness of the CLS550's sculpted, perforated-leather-trimmed steering wheel can't be overstated. It's perfectly formed, making for an excellent first impression of this big Mercedes. I think many automakers overlook how vital an attractive and comfortable steering wheel is to a person's positive impression of a car, especially when that car aspires to be sporty or luxurious. (I'm talking to you, Chrysler. The new 300 sedan is really great in a number of ways, but the steering wheel's lack of thumb indents or any other grips is disappointing and doesn't inspire the type of spirited driving that this car is more than capable of. Chrysler could do worse than to pattern important details like this after those perfected by a luxury icon -- and former partner -- like Mercedes-Benz, in an effort to move its flagship sedan upmarket.)
Jennifer Misaros, Managing Editor, Digital Platforms
If I hadn't seen the CLS550 badge on the back of this car, I could have been easily convinced that this is the AMG edition. The exhaust note is aggressive, and acceleration is very quick. The handling also felt worthy of an AMG-tuned product, with great balance and excellent steering. It's even got AMG wheels and summer tires.
I suppose the active lane-keeping assist system would be helpful on long highway slogs, but it's quite the opposite on rural Michigan roads on a sunny Saturday afternoon because there's so much bicycle traffic. The system will actually nudge you back into your lane, which could nudge you right into a bicyclist. Not good. Construction barrels that redirect lane usage expose another weakness of this system. (You can deactivate the system via the gauge-cluster menu, but apparently it's not accessible via the Comand system. I would much prefer a hard button to turn this system off and on more easily and quickly.) By the way, when editor-in-chief Jean Jennings first drove the new CLS, she reported that some other journalists had some scary interactions with Benz's lane-keeping technology. Seems like a feature best left deactivated, if you ask me.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
While I appreciate the updated styling of the new CLS more so than the original (which to me was a bit ungainly), Mercedes needs to be careful of the homogenization of its lineup. The cars are starting to look too much alike, especially in the front. Throwing the forthcoming CLC into the mix will only make things worse. We had three M-Bs in the office this week and when backed into a parking spot they easily could be mistaken for each other even though one was the SLK!
This new CLS somehow seemed small from outside, and I approached it in the garage, and drove it all the way home thinking, "Damn, the new C-class is REALLY nice inside!" Only when I got out and stepped back from the car did I realize it was the CLS. I'm not sure Mercedes or its customers are aiming for that degree of similarity.
Identity crisis aside, the CLS is really a gorgeous vehicle inside and out. The more time I spent looking at it and photographing it, the more it grew on me. It was a joy to drive, and I wished I had more time with it.
Matt Tierney, Art Director