Vital Stats

Engine:
TT 4.6L V8
Power:
402 HP / 443 LB-FT
Transmission:
7-Speed Auto
0-60 Time:
5.1 Seconds
Drivetrain:
Rear-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight:
4,158 LBS
Seating:
2+2
Cargo:
15.3 Cubic Feet
MPG:
16 City / 26 Hwy
Modern Art Meets Twin Turbochargers


2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS550 - Click above for high-res image gallery

Any time a journalist starts waxing poetic about automotive styling, you can practically hear designers' eyes spinning in their sockets. I've met plenty of automotive scribes with a master's degree in mechanical engineering, but I've yet to shake hands with one packing a design sheepskin. Granted, the average car buyer is better served by someone with an intimate knowledge of liquid thermodynamics and the finer points of suspension geometry. But then along comes something like the 2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS550 and we simply don't have the vocabulary.

Stepping out for a smoke with the lead automotive artist from Mercedes' Advanced Design Studio, it's hard not to look at the second-generation CLS and start playing styling critic. The play between light and shadow; the sculpted rear haunches; the character line that rises then plummets from the headlamps, across the fenders and terminates in the rear doors. Who am I kidding? I'm of no station to make you endure endless, uneducated platitudes cribbed from the car-as-art schtick. I just know the new CLS looks damned good from any angle, particularly the the waning sunlight of California's Napa Valley.

But here's the kicker: The design is nearly seven years old.

"I started working on the [new] CLS in 2006," says Hubert Lee between puffs of a bummed American Spirit, "but how do you remake an icon?"

The 37-year-old designer (so what have you done with your life?) was tasked with pitching his design to the corporate heads in Germany. "It was stressful," Lee admits, conceding that designers always draw exaggerated concepts to ensure that some of their favorite elements make it to production. "You're lucky if you can get five-percent of your design into the final product."

2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS550 side view2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS550 front view2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS550 rear view

Judging by the initial sketches and the CLS550 we just snagged the keys to, Lee and his Southern California design team have managed to get more than a fraction of the original design into production. Whereas the fascias of the latest SLK and SL look a bit tacked-on, the new face of Mercedes-Benz appears wholly integrated into the CLS. From our vantage point, its C-shaped foglamp surrounds, upright grille and mirror-filling Three-Pointed Star gel into the best iteration of M-B's corporate nose to date. The body looks milled from a solid chunk of steel and makes the still-beautiful departing model look positively dated by comparison. And that's just the outside.

The interior has evolved and, while it looks and feels like any other modern Mercedes cabin, it eschews some of the less-than-pleasing materials and layout from the last four-door coupe (M-B must have finally recouped the development costs of the original and poured the extra ducats into the interior).

2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS550 interior2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS550 gauges2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS550 dash clock2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS550 multimedia system controls

Like the CLS63 AMG we sampled earlier this year, the 2012 CLS550 drops the old naturally aspirated V8 for a new twin-turbocharged engine that delivers more power and more torque, while reducing emissions and boosting fuel economy by some 15 percent to an estimated 16 miles per gallon in the city and 26 on the highway. Unfortunately, Mercedes' badge nomenclature will continue to baffle the mildly-informed car-spotter. Whereas the outgoing engine was a 5.5-liter V8, this new dual-turbo'd powerplant has slimmed down to 4.6-liters of displacement. Augmented by 12.9 psi of boost, it's good enough for 402 horsepower from 5,000 to 5,750 rpm and 443 pound-feet of torque between 1,800 and 4,750 rpm. While that might pale in comparison to the 518 hp and (sport-pack boosted) 590 lb-ft of the CLS63, it still delivers a healthy 0-60 mph time of 5.1 seconds when equipped with the standard seven-speed automatic gearbox. And after sampling both models back-to-back, the rear-drive CLS550 predictably comes across as the more relaxed, compliant daily driver.

Credit Mercedes' continued propensity for making the best torque converter-equipped auto 'boxes on the market, the CLS550' seven-speed – even in Sport mode – is a more refined gearbox than the Speedshift MCT setup fitted to the CLS63. Shifts might not be neck-snappingly quick, but they're smooth and measured, and coupled with the nearly lagless turbo 4.6-liter, high-speed freeway runs and backroad blasts are effortlessly dispatched without sacrificing engagement.

2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS550 engine

The electromechanical, power-assisted speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion steering tightens up for the twisties and goes slack in parking lots, delivering just enough feel to inform your palms, while remaining staid and unencumbered when making small corrections on the highway. The same goes for the standard Airmatic semi-active suspension with adaptive damping, which, partnered with the three-link independent front suspension and multi-link rear, makes for a comfortable ride in all manner of conditions. And on the subject of all conditions, Benz's 4Matic all-wheel drive will be available, turning the CLS into an foul-weather flyer.

Body roll, dive and squat are all present but minimal, and the 14.2-inch front brakes with four-pot calipers (12.6-inch in the rear with single-pot stoppers) partnered with the standard 18-inch all-season rubber (sized 255/40 R18 on 8.5 x 18.0 wheels in front and 285/35 R18 on 9.5 x 18.0 out back) make deceleration a competent and composed affair. Sure, we'd like a little more communication through the wheel and from the slightly squishy brake pedal, but in the realm of a jaw-droppingly stylish sedan, the CLS continues to stand in a class of its own.

2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS550 rear 3/4 view2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS550 headlight2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS550 wheel2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS550 badge

While nearly every automaker under the sun has taken the four-door coupe ball and run with it since the CLS' debut, the first round of would-be contenders still lack the presence and finesse of the original – let alone this thoroughly reworked 2012 model, which, we might add, comes to market with a new lower base price of $71,300.

Lee and his crew might have sweated remaking a modern-day aesthetic icon, but they've done one better: They've reestablished the CLS as the definitive slant-roof sedan. It's just too bad we skipped out on the Advanced Industrial Art class in college. We might have had the credibility to call it one of the best automotive designs of the 21st century.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 42 Comments
      NightFlight
      • 3 Years Ago
      I didn't think the second gen was better looking than the first until I saw one in person, second gen looks better. Trust me. I saw a white CLS550 with the AMG package and darker tint and it (in my opinion) is one of the most beautiful vehicles on the road today. I literally stopped what I was doing and watched it drive by.
      black republican
      • 3 Years Ago
      Unlike the CLS550 from 2010, the CLS550 2012 doesn't have a gas guzzler fee and has way better gas mileage. Thing is, I think Mercedes should have offered the E350's V6 (which they might) and a DIESEL (turboed).
      J Ritt
      • 3 Years Ago
      I also like the original better. One of the things that made the original so unique was the line on the side of the car that ran as a constant arc from the front wheel arch to the tail. It gave the car a cool arched appearance from just about any angle. It always looked like it was ready to spring into motion. The cuts in the side of the new model instantly reminded me of a BMW Z4, mated with a Continental GT rear fender arch. I think breaking that constant arc line destroys the look, which was the one thing that really set the CLS apart. It has lost uniqueness, and now looks much more similar to other cars on the road (BMW, Audi). The new steering wheel is sweet though, and the TT engine should allow for some serious tinkering and increases in power output.
        • 3 Years Ago
        @J Ritt
        [blocked]
        I_see_dead_pickles
        • 3 Years Ago
        @J Ritt
        Thats the problem with some luxury brands where they are forced to incorporate styling cues throughout the model line that doesnt make sense.
      black republican
      • 3 Years Ago
      The CLS' worst feature is lack of HEADROOM. Other than that, the car is an E-class with far superior steering. I've got the VIDEO right here on Youtube for you enthusiasts and the writeup. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VXsU2AjKOso http://www99.epinions.com/review/2012_Mercedes_Benz_CLS_Class_epi/content_553737883268
      Jim
      • 3 Years Ago
      Really think this is beautiful! Like it better than the original. Believe some may have a problem because the original was such a game changer that any update can't have the same "wow" factor. Would have liked to have seen it in something other than silver, I agree, boring. Other engine choices would be great, come on MB. V6 or diesel would be awesome.
      • 3 Years Ago
      [blocked]
      • 3 Years Ago
      [blocked]
        QAZZY
        • 3 Years Ago
        Even if they made a car in this segment it wouldn't be better (and no, the swoopy Sonata doesn't count).
          • 3 Years Ago
          @QAZZY
          [blocked]
      • 3 Years Ago
      [blocked]
        • 3 Years Ago
        [blocked]
        AntBee
        • 3 Years Ago
        Lighten up, man.
        J. Edwin K.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Methinks VenomV12 is a negative nancy. This is autoblog, dude. It's about cars. Get over it.
      • 3 Years Ago
      [blocked]
      Compliance
      • 3 Years Ago
      Good looking car, but not quite up to the first gen. I wanted more, but I guess it's not surprising that they have a hard time following the original. First gen CLS was a classic.
      FromAfar
      • 3 Years Ago
      Holy crap, 400 horses!? Stock!? That's way better than the A7's crappy 310 HP. I think, however, MB should have offered this car with less power.
        mkM3
        • 3 Years Ago
        @FromAfar
        A7? This car will cost closer to the price of the S7, which is exactly why it will blow the doors off an A7, and probably compete very favorably in comparison to the S7 performance-wise as well. And yes, there definitely should be a CLS350, which incidentally, would compete well in both price in performnace with the A7. In fact, I suspect that Mercedes will introduce a CLS350 in a year or less.
          QAZZY
          • 3 Years Ago
          @mkM3
          But I have suspicions that the RS7 will blow the socks off the CLS63. The S7 would be more sport-focused than the CLS550, and have AWD, while we are all familiar with RS's work. When they do make a car, it is nothing short of amazing.
      Michael
      • 3 Years Ago
      I never loved the original CLS and although i thought it was a good looking car, i never thought it was that great of a car and didnt understand why everyone fawned over it so much. THIS one tho, i'm in love with. An amazing car that looks great from every angle. Maybe its time to start looking into Benzes again. We'll see if it drives as good as it looks.
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