2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS 450 First Drive | Edmunds

2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS 450 First Drive

A New Powertrain, Semiautonomous Tech, and Room for 5

The 2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS is called a "four-door coupe."

If that phrase makes you wince and grit your teeth because a coupe by definition is a two-door car, well, you have the Mercedes-Benz CLS to blame. When Mercedes introduced the E-Class-based CLS in 2006, it called attention to the car's sloping roofline and frameless windows, which look more like what you'd see on a sporty two-door than a sensible sedan. Thus, the four-door coupe was born. You don't have to like the marketing language to like the car, though.

Whatever you call it, the CLS offers a unique way to blend the usability of a four-door without the stodgy, heavy looks usually associated with sedans. For 2019, the redesigned CLS offers a new inline-six turbocharged engine with a mild hybrid system, semiautonomous driver-assist packages and, for the first time, seating for five. Plus, there's an AMG version. We took a quick spin in the all-wheel-drive version of the 2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS 450 around the mean streets of New Jersey, getting lost in Manhattan on the way. Here are our first impressions.

2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS 450

The Walk Up

The 2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS is available in three trims: the CLS 450, the CLS 450 4Matic AWD, and the AMG CLS 53. Greet even the base CLS from the front, and you may think you're walking up to an AMG GT. Certainly, the Brooklyn local who was standing nearby when we opened the door on our test car thought so. "Ya just buy that?" he asked. "Looks nice. Be careful, that AMG is a fast car."

You can understand why he thought it was the high-performance model: The CLS 450 shares styling cues with the GT. It has the same long hood and the wide grille slung between slanted LED headlights — thankfully running lengthwise across the front of the car, and not the open-fish-mouth trapezoid so popular these days. It's more of an aggressive grimace, or maybe a flat-sided banana. But either way, the CLS looks racer-y and a little angry and definitely not stodgy. The lower fascia is also inspired by the AMG GT, with large, integrated air ducts wrapping around to almost touch the 19-inch alloy wheels.

From the other end, it's a different story. The CLS got a bit of a butt-lift for 2019, but from the back, the car doesn't seem quite as ready for a fight. The sweep of the roofline to the decklid gives it a droopy appearance from some angles, although not nearly as much as in the earlier CLS models.

2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS 450

The Drive Away

Mercedes' interiors look like sci-fi cockpits, or maybe like a new steampunk aesthetic that blends modernity with the Atomic Age rather than the Victorian era? Let's call it MidcenturySilicon. The dash is a combo of shiny digital screens (the 12.3-inch gauge-cluster screen is standard, while the larger infotainment screen is optional), metal and wood, as well as round air vents that look like jet turbines. It's a good mashup, managing to be both clean and interesting at the same time. One complaint we'll get out of the way early is that while the digital screens look like touchscreens, they aren't. Inputs are possible via thumbpads on the steering wheel, buttons on the center stack, a knob in the console and a touch-sensitive pad above that. But they're not where you most expect them to be: on that center screen. During the drive, we repeatedly forgot that and jabbed at the display leaving smudgy, frustrated fingerprints.

When you aren't scowling at the untouchable screen, the Mercedes infotainment is fast, and it's easy to learn your way around the menus. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, but we got to immediately make use of the in-car navigation when we missed the very first turn to leave the city and took an impromptu tour of the hip neighborhoods around the Brooklyn Bridge. The car recalculated quickly and didn't try to send us down any one-way streets or alleys. Visibility was good, even when darting around double-parked delivery trucks. The 362-horsepower turbocharged inline-six engine was responsive with no lags or delay, allowing us to hold our own in the eat-or-be-eaten world of NYC commuters.

Some of that responsiveness is due to the integrated starter/generator, which is an electric motor tucked between the engine and its nine-speed automatic transmission. While not a full hybrid, the electric motor adds up to 21 hp and up to 181 lb-ft of torque to the 3.0-liter's 369 lb-ft. The electric assist comes just off the throttle to give the turbo time to build boost, improving acceleration. And when engine stop-start is enabled, the CLS can coast short distances without restarting the gas engine.

2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS 450

Relax, the CLS Has Got This

If you think it sounds stressful to pilot an expensive luxury car into Manhattan, you're not wrong. But the CLS did what it could to make life easier, and it can do a lot. Along with blind-spot monitoring to aid with lane changes, the CLS includes braking and attention assist to help keep drivers focused and out of trouble. The 360-degree camera is usable at any time, which made threading through a gas station to turn around a much less nerve-wracking situation. Should we have gotten a little more automotively intimate with the city dwellers than we would have liked, the CLS not only has airbags, but it can also sense an impending crash and adjust the seat bolsters to move you toward the center of the car, away from the about-to-crumple door.

We were less impressed with the semiautonomous driving assistant since the steering inputs from the car didn't seem to kick in over dotted highway lines. But it made up for it with vigorous corrections on a two-lane road any time we even thought about brushing the outer edge of the lane. It was unpleasant and, in one case, startling when the car pulled so hard that we thought a tire had gone flat. 

When we weren't fighting the CLS for control, handling was light and dreamy. The optional air suspension allows for ride-height changes on the fly, and different modes bump up the exhaust note, tighten up the steering and stiffen the ride — although it was never jarring, even in the sportiest setting. All the inputs had a sort of softness to them. The brakes were not grabby, and the throttle was not jumpy. The only aggressive act by this car is in lane correction.

Thankfully, the CLS is happy to help you relax after it freaks you out. An optional Comfort package turns it into a spa on wheels. Want to calm down? Find the "Relaxing" setting in the menu and the lighting — oh yeah, there's adjustable interior lighting all through the cabin — goes a gentle blue, a light scent comes from the perfume jar in the glovebox and wafts through the vents, and the seats vibrate beneath you like a happy cat. To perk up, activate the "Energizing" program. Everything turns red and purple, and energetic music plays through the optional Burmester surround-sound stereo. There's even an exercise program that will talk you through shoulder stretches and proper posture while you drive.

If only it could give you a gel manicure from the dash, the new CLS would be better than a day at Burke Williams.

2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS 450

A Coupe Coup?

The 2019 CLS feels a little like a transition car. Designwise it's tough out front, soft in the back; it's half AMG and half E-Class. It now seats five and has excellent legroom. But it's still a tight squeeze for tall folks in the back because of that low roofline Mercedes is so proud of. The engine technology is interesting, but will it prove more appealing than the V8 that was in the 2018 CLS? There's a nearly 40-hp difference, and not in favor of the inline-six. Will the mileage gains be enough to make the mild-hybrid system worthwhile? Finally, the comfort programs and perfumes are neat parlor tricks, but we'd rather have the touchscreen and MBUX system just announced in the 2019 A-Class. The 2019 CLS 450 is an attractive car with some lovely features, but it might be worth waiting to see what comes in 2020.

You can expect the 2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS 450 in dealerships by fall of 2019. We don't have official pricing yet. But the 2018 CLS started at $75,000, and we expect the 2019 model will be in that price range.

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