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Friday, August 29, 2014

Driving the 2015 Mercedes-Benz CLS, the four-door coupe pioneer


2015 Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class
2015 Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class
Around 100 years ago, as automobile ownership democratized and the number of automakers proliferated, so did the range of be-wheeled product available to consumers.

 In this growing marketplace, an outrageously broad selection of body styles was offered, including such fanciful categories as Runabouts, Silhouette Broughams, Closed Coupled Sedans, Cabriolets, Town Cars, Speed Wagons, Limousines, Touring Cars, Semi-Touring Cars, Toursedans, and even something called an Extra Special.

All trends are cyclical. About a decade ago, Mercedes-Benz decided to revive this mania, unleashing upon the world the handsome, if slightly aardvark-shaped, CLS sedan, which it brazenly christened a “four-door coupe."

Other manufacturers followed suit, introducing the automotive counterparts to the combination Pizza Hut-Taco Bell. These included the five-door sport activity coupe (BMW X6), the two-door convertible crossover (Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet, RIP), the three-door hatchback sport tourer (Hyundai Veloster), and the three-door, four-seat luxury sport grand touring shooting brake (Ferrari FF).

Ten years into this cubist diffraction of the marketplace, we fully expected Mercedes to raise the bar with a crew-cab short-bed S-Class coupe-amino, or a hardtop convertible Sprinter van. Instead, they’ve given us a mid-cycle refresh of their second generation CLS.

Arguably the pinnacle of Benz’s unfortunate (and now happily excised) “Baroquecoco” experiment with overwrought styling—where every square foot of a vehicle’s body was mandated to contain a minimum of five bulges, strakes, swoops, and creasy character lines—the CLS 2.0 has always struck us as lacking the vision of version 1.0.

 This current revision does little to alter that opinion. Unless you consider the inclusion of the new bedazzled Benz family grille, larger front air intakes, and “slightly darkened” rear taillights to be radical improvements.

It has…presence, but in the Benz family beauty pageant, we’d honestly rather a stunning, clean-lined new C-Class.

2015 Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class
2015 Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class

The interior remains a sensual delight, improved by new leather options, more real metal trim, and a larger iPad-sized COMAND touch screen.

Sadly, Benz has upped its interior game so much in the models released (or forthcoming) in the three years since this car was unveiled, that the materials and array left us feeling less impressed than we should have been.

 Still, it’s a nicer place to be than 90% of the world’s automotive interiors, and many of the hotel rooms in which we’ve stayed.
People less shallow and superficial than us will be delighted by the coudan’s other big news, which exists under its gobbety sheet metal.

 This includes Mercedes’ first application of its new nine-speed automatic transmission—a box we expect to see chomping its way dentitiously throughout the brand’s range—as well as another teaser introduction of its new 3.0 liter twin-turbo V-6.

In actual use, the gearbox is somewhat difficult to differentiate from the excellent, and already toothy, seven-speed it replaces.

 During our drive through London and the English countryside—on congested urban streets, crowded exurban motorways, and wee threading rural two ways—we had some difficulty coaxing the new nonacog into top gear, except by selecting it ourselves manually with the steering wheel mounted paddles.

Otherwise, it was as invisible and functional as a contemporary, premium hydrodynamic torque-converted automatic should be — seamless or slightly clippy, depending on whether you had it set in Comfort or Sport mode.

We appreciate, and are supporters of, the increases in efficiency that are likely wrought from the extra cogs. But as with the fecund old woman in the overpopulated shoe, or the ostentatious oligarch in his $90 million New York penthouse, we have to ask, how much is too much?

Also, if we’re going to dedicate this much effort to forward gears, shouldn’t we at least receive a second for reverse? We can think of an almost infinite number of entertaining uses for a backwards downshift.

The new engine is bigger news, sort of, in part because—as with its taunting exposure in recent overseas launches of the S-Class, the E-Class, and the C-Class—it remains somewhat unclear whether we will be receiving it here in the States upon domestic introduction of the model.

Like space tourism, or the end of Nicolas Cage’s career, it has been always imminent, but never arriving. When it does get here, which it will in some model or another (likely this fall), it will produce about 329 hp and 354 lb-ft of torque, and feel like a thrusty Mercedes V-8 of yore. We approve.

For the time being, we’ll have to make do with the familiar 4.6 liter twin-turbo V8 in the CLS 550 and CLS 550 4MATIC, making 402 hp and 443 lb-ft of torque.

 If our driving experience says anything, you don’t need to pay for the V-8; if you’re already opting to fork out a five-figure premium for this over the more refined looking E-Class sedan, you can make the same questionable style statement with the V-6.

Of course, if you want to communicate to all onlookers that you require the world’s third best, high-output, six-figure, protuberant sedoupé, you should check out — and write a check for — the $106,500, 577 hp, 5.5 liter twin-tubo V8 powered CLS63 AMG S-Model 4MATIC. (For our imaginary hundred thou, we’ll take the Audi RS7 or the BMW M6 Gran Coupe.)

In the meantime, we’re waiting for the third-generation version of the car, which will resemble a shorn capybara.

 Rumor has it that the lineup will include the CLS39 SDHL, featuring a supercharged, 3.9 liter diesel/hybrid straight five, a 13-speed automatic, and a half-convertible landaulet top.