Style, Substance and Solidity: 2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS450 First Drive

2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS450;

We've been over this "four-door coupe" idea before. Mercedes-Benz claims to have invented the idea back with the debut of the original CLS-Class for 2006, when it took a four-door sedan, chopped the roof, chucked the window frames and made a swoopy four-seat E-Class that had less room and cost more money. We've seen a bunch of new "four-door coupes" pop up since then, some from Mercedes-Benz themselves (like the new AMG GT 4-Door Coupe) and some from other automakers (like the Audi A7). Now comes the 2019 CLS450.

Related: Here's Our Full Preview of the All-New 2019 Mercedes-Benz A-Class

New, From the Tires on Up

Mercedes-Benz has released the third generation of its CLS-Class, using the new vehicle to debut a redone design language and some new powertrain technology, and invited journalists to come to Brooklyn, New York, to drive the latest edition. (Per our ethics policy, Cars.com pays for its airfare and lodging at such automaker-hosted events.) It's based on the new E-Class sedan — which means it's more than 2 inches longer than the outgoing CLS, with a 2.6-inch longer wheelbase. That translates into more room inside and a new overall look that is meant to drive Mercedes-Benz deeper into the 21st century.

"The time of creases and edges is over," said Dietmar Exler, the head of Mercedes-Benz North America, quoting the company's design director — and the new CLS is the first example of that much more contoured, amorphous and arguably less distinctive look that will soon find its way onto all of the German automakers' cars. Saying that you like the lines of the new CLS is inaccurate; there aren't any lines, or at least not straight ones — only curves, as the previous lines and strakes are gone.

Solid and Silent

Driving the new CLS-Class — in my case the CLS450 with its new turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six cylinder mild-hybrid engine — is a familiar experience to anyone who's driven a new E-Class recently. The overwhelming sense of solidity is the main takeaway, a bank-vault quietness and rigidity that harkens back to how Mercedes-Benz cars felt in the 1970s and 1980s — absolutely rock solid, as if milled from a single block of metal. The CLS has a quiet, refined poise that makes hushed conversations between occupants easy, or that allows the optional Burmester premium audio system to truly shine. Despite rolling on standard 19-inch wheels and high-performance tires, the ride is silent and smooth, with absolutely no wind noise at highway speeds despite frameless door glass. Even the powertrain is remarkably hushed, seemingly devoid of the pumped-in artificial engine noise that I've experienced in lesser E-Class four-cylinder sedans. It's a luxurious, premium experience that truly feels like an expensive car.

This heft does not come without some penalty, and that is a sense of overwhelming weight. The CLS450 does not feel agile and sprightly; it feels heavy and ponderous. You won't be carving canyons or joyfully sprinting between switchbacks on your favorite mountain road in this car ... but then, that's not really what the CLS450 is meant to do. This is a stylish luxury touring sedan, not a dynamic sports sedan, meant more for getting around in considerable style than scratching your enthusiast itch. If you really want more pace with your grace, opt for the new Mercedes-AMG CLS 53, which sadly was not on hand for testing at the event I attended.

Hybrids Are the New Normal

A new turbocharged inline-six-cylinder engine making 362 horsepower and 369 pounds-feet of torque powers the CLS450, marking the debut of this powertrain in the U.S. market. The engine is coupled with a standard 48-volt light-hybrid system that Mercedes-Benz calls the Integrated Starter Generator system — basically a powerful electric motor sandwiched in between the engine and transmission. It can add as much as 21 hp to the overall total or up to a surprising 184 extra pounds-feet of torque. Or, when placed in Eco mode, the car can shut the engine down entirely at highway speeds, putting the car into "gliding mode" and offering up what Mercedes-Benz says is considerable fuel savings.

The hybrid system is seamless, with the high-powered electrical system allowing for instant engine starts when you punch the starter button or equally quick restarts when you set off from a stoplight. The car's default and defeat-able stop-start system shuts the engine off at traffic lights, but the high-energy 48-volt system allows the climate control and power steering to keep running — systems that other automakers often shut off when the engine is killed in order to save the battery charge on lesser (and far more common) 12-volt electrical systems. It also fires right up when you hit the accelerator, making it one of the few stop-start systems that I didn't find myself switching off for subsequent trips in the car. The ability to continue to run the air conditioning with the engine off seals the deal for me on that.

Acceleration is brisk with the powerful inline-six, with Mercedes-Benz's estimated zero-to-60-mph time of 4.8 seconds for the all-wheel-drive CLS450 4Matic version a reasonable claim by my seat-of-the-pants tuchus-meter. Forgoing the optional all-wheel drive extends the time to 5.1 seconds, which is still plenty quick for a car this big and hefty. You can feel the electric motor giving you a bit of an assist on hard acceleration, but it's otherwise invisible under normal driving conditions. Braking performance is less exciting, with the brakes exhibiting a soft feel that lacks immediacy — they seem overmatched by the CLS' weight and potential for speed.

Touring, Not Sporting

The CLS450's handling behavior is similarly relaxed. There's decent body control from the non-adjustable suspension. It doesn't float or wallow over bumps, but steering feel is fairly numb and not all that communicative; again, it encourages you to drive the CLS450 sedately and more as a touring car than a sports sedan. Do so, and it rewards you with a smooth, comfortable, luxurious experience. Try to make it dance, and it's politely going to suggest that you maybe shouldn't.

The interior of the new CLS received some updates, as well. The dashboard is right out of the E-Class coupe — which is a shame, as the E-Class sedan would have been a better choice. Mercedes-Benz has a problem with its coupe interiors — namely, the inability to see the entire gauge cluster without having the steering wheel in an unnaturally high position. For taller drivers (and even drivers who aren't really all that tall, as I'm only 5-foot-11), putting the thick, grippy wheel in a comfortable position means losing the top of the speedometer and tachometer as well as the top inch of the digital display. Thankfully, most of this information is repeated in the excellent multicolor head-up display, but it's still a design flaw found in the E-, S-, C- and CLS-Class coupe interiors that isn't present in the sedan versions of these cars.

What it lacks in smartly laid-out gauges, the CLS makes up for in seat comfort front and rear. There's only an additional half-inch of rear legroom over the outgoing model, but the backseat now can accommodate three abreast (all previous iterations of the CLS could seat only two back there). Despite the swoopy roof, there's (only just) adequate headroom in back thanks to the cutout from the standard moonroof.

In all other respects, the CLS is just a differently-styled E-Class — same safety equipment, same level of autonomous driving equipment, same kind of options and packages. No pricing has yet been announced for the CLS, but typically for such four-door coupes, you get less room and pay more money than for a comparable sedan. While the room isn't quite as compromised as in previous models and the driving experience is equally as good as an E-Class, we'll find out what the pricing looks like when it starts arriving in dealerships later this year.

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