Road Test: What makes the new Mercedes CLS even more beautiful?
The new Mercedes CLS63 has been given a facelift, though it hardly needed one
Date Reviewed: June 30, 2014
If, hypothetically speaking of course, you were handed a bag of makeup and a trowel, parked in front of Angelina Jolie and told to make her more beautiful, what would you do? Is there anything you could do? Or would you just sit there and go, “Ummmmmmm . . .”
I suspect this is rather the pickle the Mercedes-Benz styling department found itself in when the order came down to update the CLS four-door coupé and make it more beautiful. There must have been a lot of sitting around and going “Ummmmm . . .” at that point. After a while (and this is straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak), the decision was taken to actually do not very much at all. A slightly different radiator grille. Some reshaped bumpers and air intakes and a new high-tech set of full LED lights. That’s it. Are you ready for your close-up now, Ms Jolie?
Thankfully, though, the guys in charge of the oily and wiry bits at Mercedes have had rather more to do, and so there are a number of significant changes under the delectable CLS skin for us to dig into. Oh, that is, except for this astonishing 585hp CLS63 AMG 4MATIC Shooting Brake I’ve just been thrown the keys to. That keeps the same basic engine and gearbox, although its power output is up by 28hp and its torque has risen to a staggering 800Nm.
Meanwhile, over in the more pedestrian end of the CLS range (all terms are relative) we find a new entry-level model, the CLS220 CDI diesel, which runs a 170hp, 400Nm version of Merc’s familiar 2.1-litre four-pot diesel. Those expecting it to be somewhat sluggish will be pleased to hear that, while hardly quick, it’s not at all bad, and the 60mpg fuel and 129g/km CO2 figures will allow you to buy and own a car that looks every bit as dramatic as the AMG version for a fraction of the pennies.
Trick new gearbox
It does miss out on the trick new gearbox, though. The 220 CDI keeps the old 7G-Tronic seven-speed automatic, while other versions of the CLS now get a new nine-speed 9G-Tronic ’box, which impressively occupies no more space in the car and actually weighs a little less. Mercedes claims it offers much greater efficiency and that seems borne out by the fact that the CLS350 CDI V6 diesel has had its CO2 emissions trimmed by 18g/km to 142g/km.
Inside, little has changed (still comfy, still just spacious enough to be practical), but there is a new free-standing display for the Command infotainment system, which looks like an iPad but if you try to pick it up and carry it away, you’ll most likely break it.
All new CLS models will now come with a clever full-LED headlamp system that uses 36 individually adjustable light-emitting diodes to achieve some pretty remarkable lighting performance. It can throw a full beam up to 485 metres ahead of the car, for instance, around 100m further than conventional bulbs. A stereoscopic camera in the windscreen reads the road ahead and switches off individual LEDs to avoid dazzling other drivers while keeping full beam going in the rest of your field of vision. It can also point the lights into corners before you turn the steering wheel and, thanks to being connected to the navigation system, actually knows when a roundabout is coming up and adjusts the beam spread accordingly.
It’s not laser light, though, and that seems to leave Mercedes floundering in the lighting technology wake of both BMW and Audi, which recently showed laser-fired headlamps. Not so, says Mercedes lighting expert Gunther Fischer.
“Laser is really only good for one application at the moment:high beam. With LED we can achieve greater efficiency and adaptability, and at better value to the customer.”
Fischer told us that a single laser light element could cost as much as 10 times the price of an entire LED headlamp unit. (Even so, the cost of repairing or replacing an LED headlamp just doesn’t bear thinking about.) “We will work on laser” Fischer told us, “but only when we see a benefit for the customer, such as using them to pick out the side of the road in heavy fog.”
Roars like a lion
Meanwhile, back in the AMG, the bit that nestles between the lights and the driver is getting noisy. The 5.5-litre twin turbo V8 roars like a lion, but actually it’s a pussycat to drive. Yes, it can do aircraft carrier catapult acceleration runs, but it’s much more progressive in its power delivery than a BMW M5 and never makes you feel nervous in spite of the titanic grunt. Terrific steering, brimming with feel (common to all CLS models) helps, but so does the four-wheel-drive of the 4MATIC system.
Ah, there’s a catch, though. Mercedes can’t (or won’t, because it’s too expensive) make the four-wheel-drive system compatible with right-hand-drive, so you’ll just have to make do with vanilla rear-drive on your CLS. Mind you, so capable and confidence-inspiring is the 4MATIC system that it might actually be worth putting up with left-hand-drive.
Either way, doubtless few full-fat AMG CLS models will be sold in Ireland. No matter: the standard model packs all of the looks and most of the chassis dynamics into a more affordable (remember, price is relative) package.
It’s an object lesson in not breaking out the Botox just because the years are advancing.
The lowdown Mercedes-Benz CLS63 AMG 4-MATIC
Performance: 0-100kmh: 3.7sec.
Top speed: 250kmh (limited)
Claimed economy: 10.6l/100km. (26.6mpg)
Motor tax: €2,350.
Our verdict: Staggeringly quick and military-grade adaptable, but comes in left-hand-drive only. No matter – the rest of the CLS range has been improved by a restrained update