2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS550

Matt Tierney

It's not easy to redesign a styling sensation. The new CLS definitely looks elegant and up-to-date, but it doesn't recapture the "what is that?" curb appeal that oozed from the original CLS when it first debuted. In fact, it appears rather ordinary compared with its newest competitor, the Audi A7.

In other words, the CLS now has to settle for being "just" a $70,000, 402-hp Mercedes sedan. Ho hum. As others note, it accelerates, handles, and sounds fantastic enough to make one wonder -- and salivate over -- how good the AMG version might be. I find myself particularly impressed with the steering of this and several other new Mercedes I've driven recently -- it's heavy enough to suit a sporty car but not so much that it's ever difficult to maneuver. Except, that is, when you wander out of your lane. As Rusty notes, the insistent kickback in the steering wheel from the lane keep assist hardly makes anyone safer when you're on a narrow road shared with cyclists.

David Zenlea, Assistant Editor

A Mercedes-Benz is always a refined joy to drive. And the CLS has been one of my favorite sedans in the Benz lineup because of its stark design departure from Mercedes' other cars. This model has started to pull back in some of its styling, specifically the nose. In my opinion, this only adds to its appeal. My experience with this CLS550 was a quick one -- late night leaving the office and early the next day. In the dark, the cabin is a pleasure to be in. The ambient lighting from the dash, the door panels, and the back center console is just right. Mind you, the cabin is only for four. The rear-seat center console prevents a fifth. On the way home I took the freeway, where I was able to play with the Distronic cruise control. It was very interesting to see how the system reacted to various distances and objects. I only threw it for a loop when I exited. While merging right, a box truck was no longer in front of me and the car started to resume my preselected speed. But immediately after the box truck was out of the way, there was a retaining wall separating the lanes, as well as two sport bikes in front of me. The car seamed a bit confused, and it slowed considerably, but then accelerated. With the varied speed of the bikes plus their different positioning in the lane, the car seemed to average all the objects and finally came to a consistent position behind them. I love this car overall. Like many experiences, it was an amazing quickie that I wished had been longer. Until we meet again...

Kelly Murphy, Creative Director

I see I'm not the only person fooled by this CLS. The impressive wall of torque and the supple, leather-lined cabin had me checking for emblems reading 'AMG.' A number of Mercedes-Benz's high-end products (S-class, CL, SL) manage to blur the line between opulence and performance, but none quite so convincingly as the CLS. In terms of agility, acceleration, and luxury, this looks, feels, and drives as if it were hand-made by the AMG folks in Affalterbach. Cost may be no object in this market segment, but I can't help noticing that the CLS 550 costs some $23,000 less than the CLS 63, yet, as Joe DeMatio notes, drives almost as nicely. Maybe I'll change my mind once I slide behind the wheel of the CLS63, but there's very little in the CLS 550 that warrants a $23,000 upgrade.

I had the good fortune to spend the entire Fourth of July weekend in the CLS, to the tune of about 600 mostly highway miles. The holiday weekend started out at the airport, where I picked up my sister. She's been looking for a car to replace her aging Volvo S60, and when she saw the CLS it instantly piqued her interest.

The CLS's sleek, athletic-looking exterior also piqued the interest of several other drivers as we rolled west on I-96 on our way to the Lake Michigan shoreline. "That guy in the Corvette is going to get whiplash if he turns his head any farther," cracked my sister as the Corvette's pilot ogled the CLS while driving alongside us.

Evan McCausland, Associate Web Editor

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