Full 2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class Review
What's New for 2012
The Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class has been completely redesigned for 2012 with bold new styling, an upgraded cabin, a choice of twin-turbo V8s and a significantly cheaper price.
A "four-door coupe" might be an oxymoron, but it is one that nevertheless has proved to be a popular concept. Mercedes pioneered this with the original CLS-Class for 2006, taking the underpinnings of its E-Class midsize sedan and wrapping them in a curvaceous body with the sleek, sloping roof line indicative of a coupe. It might not have been as spacious or practical as a regular sedan, but its style was well worth the compromise. Today, you can see this concept on display throughout the price spectrum, from the 2012 Audi A7 and 2012 Jaguar XJ to the Hyundai Elantra and VW CC.
Now there is an all-new 2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class that must not only improve upon its predecessor but also compete against the very cars it inspired. It's a tough task to be sure, but like the rest of the recently redesigned Mercedes-Benz models, the new CLS has been significantly improved while costing considerably less.
Starting things off is a new engine lineup that's both more powerful and more fuel-efficient. Benz's new twin-turbo 4.7-liter V8 produces 402 horsepower in the CLS550, and if that's somehow not enough, the CLS63 sports a twin-turbo 5.5-liter V8 that dumps either 510 hp to the rear wheels or 550 hp if you pony up for the AMG Performance Pack. The 2012 CLS also handles and rides better thanks to a more rigid structure and further refinements of the Airmatic adaptive suspension. New electric-assist power steering does a good job of replacing the old hydraulic unit, providing good feedback and a variable-ratio action that helps make the big CLS feel smaller than it is.
Inside the cabin, the build quality is better and the controls are easier to use, showcasing the strides Mercedes-Benz has taken to once again be considered a standard for the world. Comfort and convenience features are in abundance even before you sample the options list, while the number of safety features is truly impressive. There are 10 airbags (12 if you get the optional side bags for the rear seat), along with a multitude of electronic aids designed to keep you on the road, in your lane and paying attention.
Of course, the new 2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class is not without its compromises. The twin, rear bucket seats are still tight on headroom, and the CLS550 still costs about $10,000 more than a similarly equipped E550. Then there's the styling, which is pretty much what made the old CLS such a popular pioneer. The 2012 version has added a touch of aggression and muscularity to the soft, feminine curves of the old car, while still being a sleeker, more curvaceous take on current Benz sedan styling. However, many folks aren't fans of current Benz styling treatment for its sedans, and the CLS isn't likely to win their favor, either.
So not everyone will like this Benz, but that's usually the case with bold stylistic steps. The 2012 CLS might not be the pioneer its predecessor was, but it's a better car overall that can definitely handle whatever copycats come its way.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class is a four-passenger, four-door sedan available in CLS550, CLS550 4Matic and CLS63 AMG trim levels.
The CLS550 and CLS550 4Matic come standard with 18-inch wheels, an adaptive air suspension, bi-xenon headlights, LED running lights, auto-dimming rearview and driver-side mirrors, a sunroof, dual-zone automatic climate control, 10-way power front seats with memory functions and four-way lumbar adjustment, a power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and leather upholstery. Electronics features include a navigation system, real-time traffic, voice controls, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, and a 14-speaker Harman Kardon surround-sound audio system with a six-CD changer, HD radio, satellite radio and digital music storage.
The CLS63 AMG adds a more powerful twin-turbo V8, a different transmission, 19-inch wheels, a sport-tuned adaptive suspension, a sport steering wheel with paddle shifters, upgraded leather upholstery, a power rear sunshade, a split-folding rear seat (optional for the CLS550) and an iPod/USB audio interface. The AMG Performance package adds additional power, a higher top speed, a more aggressively tuned suspension, a carbon-fiber engine cover and rear spoiler, and a sport steering wheel trimmed in faux suede. Forged alloy wheels, a limited-slip differential and carbon-ceramic brakes are stand-alone options.
Available on either model, the Premium 1 package adds adaptive LED headlights, automatic high beams, a rearview camera, a power trunk closer, keyless ignition/entry, and heated and ventilated front seats. On the CLS550, this package includes a power rear sunshade and an iPod/USB audio interface. The CLS63 version includes front seats with active bolsters and massage.
The Lane Tracking package adds a blind-spot warning system and a lane-departure warning system. The Driver Assistance package gets adaptive cruise control and enhanced, active versions of the Lane Tracking items. The Parktronic package includes front and rear parking sensors and an automatic parking system. Stand-alone options include an infrared night-view display and heated rear seats. The CLS550 can be equipped with a heated steering wheel and massaging front seats with active bolsters.
Powertrains and Performance
The CLS550 features a twin-turbo 4.7-liter V8 that sends 402 hp and 443 pound-feet of torque to the rear wheels through a seven-speed automatic transmission. In Edmunds performance testing, the CLS550 went from zero to 60 mph in 4.6 seconds -- truly impressive performance for a V8-powered sedan of this size. Estimated fuel economy is 16 mpg city/24 mpg highway for the CLS550, while 4Matic drops these estimates by 1 mpg each.
The CLS63 AMG gets a twin-turbo 5.5-liter V8 that sends 518 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels through a specialized seven-speed automatic transmission. If that's not good enough, the AMG Performance Pack pumps output to 550 hp and 590 lb-ft of torque. In Edmunds testing with the Performance Pack, a CLS63 hit 60 mph in an incredible 3.9 seconds. Estimated fuel economy with the regular CLS63 engine tune is 15/22/19.
Every 2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class gets standard four-wheel antilock disc brakes, traction and stability control, front knee airbags, front side airbags (both torso and pelvic), full-length curtain airbags and Mercedes-Benz mbrace emergency telematics. Also standard is Attention Assist (a driver drowsiness and alerting monitor) and PreSafe (it anticipates an imminent crash and automatically takes measures to better secure occupants).
Options include rear side airbags, infrared night-view sensors and rearview parking sensors. The Driver Assistance package adds blind-spot and lane-departure systems; the active version of this package takes action should you fail to heed those warnings.
In Edmunds brake testing, a CLS550 with summer tires came to a stop from 60 mph in 108 feet, which is excellent but just a tad better than average for the class. The CLS63 actually took a bit longer at 113 feet, but that's still excellent.
Interior Design and Special Features
As with the exterior, the CLS cabin takes the current Mercedes-Benz design aesthetic and makes it more organic and curvaceous. Materials are beyond reproach. The control layout is similar to the E-Class, though it swaps in an analog clock and the older knob-style climate controls in lieu of the newer toggle buttons. Stepping up to the CLS63 adds a chunky AMG wheel and fills the center console with AMG vehicle controls and the MCT transmission selector (complete with an embossed AMG crest) in lieu of the 550's electronic column shifter.
With its low, racy roof line and two-person backseat, the CLS isn't what we'd call the ideal people carrier. If you frequently ferry people around or have particularly tall friends, opting for an E-Class is probably a wiser idea. Trunk space is pretty generous, however, with 15.7 cubic feet available.
Simply put, the 2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS550 drives beautifully. The adaptive air suspension and variable dampers provide secure handling and an impressive ride quality. The new electrically assisted steering offers good feedback, loads up naturally and quickens the more you turn, making the CLS feel smaller than it actually is. Also helping that effort is a "base" engine that utterly flattens you into your seat with a simple brush of the pedal. It's hard to imagine needing any more power.
But then you drop yourself into the CLS63, brushits pedal and feel yourself melt at the glorious burbling roar of the bigger twin-turbo V8 at work. This is a truly majestic power plant, and it's complemented beautifully by a transmission that swaps gears with surgical precision. Though a manual mode with paddle shifters is included, Sport+ mode is so adept at downshifting one or two gears during braking (accompanied by the glorious bark of an engine blip) that we found ourselves never using the paddles.
Handling is also exceptional. Like the 550, the AMG's steering feels light, but there is an abundance of feel fed to your hands that rewards a delicate touch. The three-mode suspension system eliminates body roll and brings the big CLS around corners without breaking a sweat. It's quite firm even in its Comfort setting, however, so those looking for a sumptuous ride should stick with the comfier yet still composed CLS550.