2005 Mercedes-Benz CLS500

Martyn Goddard

The CLS's techno-toys, like the powertrain, also may sound familiar to Benz heads. On rainy days, Sensotronic Brake Control automatically pulses the pads gently against the rotors to keep them dry. Active headlights move with the steering wheel to help peer around corners. You've got Parktronic parking assist, Linguatronic voice recognition, and Distronic radar-based cruise control to maintain a safe distance from the car ahead. Trick front seats that inflate the lateral bolsters as corners are attacked don't have a registered name, so perhaps those wily Spaniards at Seat already have trademarked "Seatronic." Those chairs are also heated and ventilated and offer a massage function that, according to the CLS press kit, "improves the metabolism of the vertebrae." The CLS also has lots of safety features that are as innovative as they are boring to read about.

Front Interior

But you won't be making like a journalist and crashing into things; tearing around like a maniac doesn't seem to be the point of the CLS. Sure, you can dial up the stiffest suspension setting, put the tranny in manual mode, and revel in the almost American-sounding roar of the V-8 as you carve up some corners.

And Bang & Olufsen stereo systems probably sound great at full volume, but everyone buys them for their looks. After all, how are you going to profile properly if you're driving like a Schumacher? Better to slow it down, set the navigation system for Ocean Drive, and give the plebes on the sidewalk time to get good and envious.

Full Driver Side View

Which brings us to the original question provoked by the CLS: If Mercedes has the CL and CLK coupes and the E- and S-class sedans, what's the point of the CLS? The beautiful thing is that there is no point, except to create a slobber-inducing car. Sure, you could get most of the CLS's running gear in an E500 for less money, but compared with the CLS, the E500 is like Ashlee Simpson next to Jessica Simpson. It's a fine-looking car, but it doesn't cause passersby to swallow their gum doing a double-take. Since the Jaguar XJ went all upright, the Maserati Quattroporte is arguably the only four-door that approaches the CLS's level of sensuality. The CLS might not be a coupe itself, but that's what it's gunning for.

And that's why the underlying message rings true: the CLS is something new. It's sedan as sex object, a sculpted, sultry redefinition of the premise that sedans, no matter how fast, are restrained by the dictates of four-door practicality, and that's an idea original enough to stand on its own.

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