The latest Mercedes-Benz CLS is very true to the original's design, and that is a great thing. The menacing front end keeps it from looking too soft, which is also good. The design is very distinctive, but one unexpected annoyance caused by the car's appearance is the fact that the rear doors are extremely long, such that you must be very careful opening them lest you bump them into another car. The CLS also inflicted pain because of the hunched-over positioning required to install a pair of child seats. Fortunately, I wasn't uncomfortable with the rear roofline when I sat back there (I'm 5'6").
The front seats are: heated, massaging, and ventilated. Regarding the latter, it seems that if a car has ventilated seats, they blow cold air at you. Most other cooled seats I've experienced do this, but the CLS's ventilated chairs, even on their most extreme setting, were barely noticeable. They helped cool occupants somewhat in 90-degree ambient temperatures, but I expected much better performance.
The engine did exceed my expectations. The new 402-hp, 4.6-liter turbo V-8 emits only a slight turbo whistle, the only obvious indication that it's turbocharged (read: no noticeable turbo lag). Of course, there's also the impressive acceleration. No excuses need be made for this base-engine model's accelerative abilities, which Mercedes says propel it from 0 to 60 mph in 5.2 seconds. This is the kind of all-weather, five-figure, high-style sedan that I could get used to.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
The second-generation CLS has now been on sale for about a year, and it still looks fresh. It doesn't scream money the way a Rolls-Royce or Bentley might, but it nevertheless has a very rich presence, with a sleek yet understated profile, just the right number of chrome accents on the exterior, and a few up-level cues such as LED lights and a tasteful mesh grille.
The interior is typical of what you'll find in other Mercedes-Benz models, with familiar switchgear and control layouts. The one ergonomic complaint I have is an old one and is common in other Mercedes as well - the cruise control stalk is located just above and slightly forward of the blinker, and I seem to accidentally engage cruise far too often when all I want to do is signal a lane change.
This particular test car was equipped with Mercedes' 4Matic all-wheel-drive system, which adds a little more than 100 pounds to the CLS. Not that you'd notice, however, as the 4.6-liter twin-turbo V-8's 402 hp is more than enough to overcome that slight weight penalty.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
I'd hesitate to call any $79,725 four-seat car a bargain, but this Mercedes-Benz CLS550 sure feels like it. A lot of that has to do with the CLS's hip-hop and Hollywood swagger--much like the Cadillac Escalade, it's a vehicle for the rich that seems to appeal to the superrich, as well. And there's a lot of six-figure-level substance, as well. The interior materials, especially the dark wood trim, look like the sort of stuff that normally comes in an option package, but it's standard, as is the 14-speaker Harmon Kardon stereo.
The 4.6-liter twin-turbo V-8 provides enough seat-of-the pants grunt to convince passengers it's an AMG and, just as important, to shame Audi A7 drivers. This grunt, along with a silky-soft yet tied-down ride, contributes to the Big-Boy Mercedes feel that somehow eludes the cheaper E-class and that costs $20,000 more in an equivalent S-class.
David Zenlea, Associate Editor