Our jaws collectively dropped at the 2003 Frankfurt Motor Show when the Vision CLS concept debuted. Had Mercedes-Benz decided not to build it, there might have been hell to pay. But build the W219 CLS-Class starting in April of 2004 it did, and the accolades never ceased for that first-generation model until it was replaced in the summer of 2010.
The W218 second-generation model is still loved, though seemingly much less so than the groundbreaking original, And, as though it knew this reaction was coming, Mercedes showed us all the Concept Fascination at the Paris Motor Show in September 2008, which was ultimately massaged into the Concept Shooting Brake shown at the Beijing Motor Show in April 2010.
Mercedes couldn't do just another wagon with the CLS; it had to be something that echoed of pure styling exercises, and perhaps excess. Eyeing up this production version of the Mercedes CLS Shooting Brake built in Sindelfingen, we remain largely pleased, even when our professional objectivity changes to cold subjectivity. Keeping in mind the point of this lower volume lifestyle hauler, there are only two tangible bits on the car that we're not in love with, and that's not bad at all.
Whereas on the CLS coupe – *a-hem* – we would have loved to see a real two-door happen, for this new wagon style (sorry... shooting brake), Mercedes could never do a true shooting brake with just two forward doors; that would have been silly and might have sold in similar numbers as many a shooting brake in history has sold – frequently in single digits. No, it had to be a more useful wagon but with a lot of impractical swoosh.
Deliveries of the CLS Shooting Brake start in Western Europe in early October, in the United Kingdom in December, and then all other markets by late January of 2013. There were five engine trims of the X218 shooting brake available for our drive around central Italy, and we managed to have an easygoing tour in what would be a 402-horsepower CLS550 Shooting Brake trim if it were to make it to North America. And that was nice enough, but our holy grail came in the guise of the thoroughly distinctive 528-horsepower bi-turbo CLS63 AMG Shooting Brake.
Of course, the thing goes like stink, getting to 60 miles per hour from a stop in just 4.3 seconds thanks in no small part to the total torque of 516 pound-feet between 1,750 and 5,250 rpm. Not surprisingly, a CLS63 AMG Shooting Brake feels a lot like a $92,400 E63 AMG Wagon, only better when the demanding curves start to show up beneath the tires. Going by the 8.4-percent average price increase between the cars on the German price list, the CLS63 AMG Shooting Brake would start at about $100,150 if it were meant for American roads.
A CLS63 AMG Shooting Brake feels a lot like a $92,400 E63 AMG Wagon, only better.
The various physical reasons for the better dynamics of the CLS power hauler versus the E63 wagon start at its size and weight. Whereas the wheelbases are the same, the CLS is a more aerodynamic 4.1 inches longer, an inch wider, and 4.1 inches lower at the rooftop than its potent E63 cousin. The CLS63 is also about 25 pounds lighter and the standard wheels worldwide are the 19-inch ten-spoke alloys that are standard on the E63 wagon only in North America. And rather than calling the hotter performance option either the Performance Pack or Driver's Package, this is called a classier Edition 1 on the CLS Shooting Brake in all markets. (Except in the United Kingdom, where it will go by Performance Pack. Go and figure.) As with the E63 wagon, this takes power to 550 hp, torque to 590 lb-ft., and acceleration to 60 mph gets one tenth of a second quicker.
So everything mechanically on the CLS63 AMG Shooting Brake is literally identical to the E63 AMG Wagon, only that the size/aero/weight alterations altogether have their desired effect. Ride and cabin noises are intoxicatingly sophisticated when the console rheostat is set at C for Controlled Efficiency (formerly Comfort) and the standard AMG Ride Control suspension is on the most civil calibration. We were breezing along – well, more like gusting along, it being an AMG – and on the CD changer there was waif-y Norah Jones as co-pilot singing breathily over the optional Bang & Olufsen sound system. It was all very sweet and sturdy and meditative.
Then with the rheostat knob indicating either Sport+ or Manual and the suspension dialed to the sportiest rigidity and lowest stance, we effectively had a whole new car. Aside from the substantive momentum of a 4,310-pound quoted curb weight, another slight issue governing exactly how precisely the car handles itself is the latest generation electro-mechanical steering system. Versus the really poorly calibrated version of this steering on the new SL-Class, we are able to live with it here although the entrance and mid-section of curves are still pretty numb affairs. The standard Continental ContiSportContact 5P tires – 255/35 ZR19 96Y front, 285/30 ZR19 98Y rear – hold things very nicely as they must, but there remains a less than satisfying disconnect between the asphalt and our hands at the wheel. As we've said prior to this on the newer AMG models, however, for everyday driving this criticism just doesn't apply and all is well enough.
The AMG Speedshift MCT 7-speed sports transmission with steering wheel paddles and console lever for shifting sequentially is a love/not love situation for us. It weighs a good amount versus other units, errs frequently on the slow side for shifts, and will deny downshifts exactly when you need them. The latter bit is to protect the gearbox from over stressing and the fluid from getting too hot when entering a lower gear at revs too close to the 6,400 indicated redline, but it is at times a frustrating aspect of this transmission as coupled to the lower revving bi-turbo 5.5-liter V8. The only solution is to trust the pulling power of a higher gear with lower revs while exiting favorite corners. Once you get that groove going and give up your preconceptions, though, it is supremely satisfying.
The quad-tip exhaust does what it does on all AMG cars: gargle in bass tones.
Our 63 AMG test unit did not have the $12,625 carbon ceramic brake discs and we have enjoyed this new generation of fancy discs that are more finely tuned, less grindy and don't shriek at low speeds. As it was, the standard lead-aluminum compound discs were fine albeit occasionally lacking the big bite for later braking. We did have the $2,030 sport limited-slip differential, and this added the usual very enjoyable liberty with the tail end of the car. Finally, the quad-tip exhaust does what it does on all AMG cars: gargle in bass tones. Yet here, the cabin isolation from that sports thunder is particularly effective.
The two things on the design that do not really work for us are the now always present E-Class coupe haunches and the very pinched rear limit of the long side glass. The first-generation CLS disguised its sharing with the E-Class so well that this was never even brought up in conversation. This new generation of the CLS, however, hides nothing in this regard and it feels like something key has been lost. As to the rearmost side windows getting pinched, the shape looks out of joint with the taller rear portion of the body work around it. In addition, the resulting wide rear pillars create mega blind spots in certain driving situations.
Cargo room of 20.8 cubic feet in the CLS shooting brake is down 18 percent versus the E-Class wagon.
All in all, however, this is a brilliant niche execution created in a part of the Mercedes lineup that can justify such a non-vital car getting the green light. With the rear seat backs up, cargo room of 20.8 cubic feet in the CLS shooting brake is down 18 percent versus the E-Class wagon. Rear seats dropped forward, the CLS shooting brake's 54.7 cubic feet is down 26 percent against the E-Class wagon. Not only is that a healthy sacrifice, but the very curvy nature of the shooting brake tail that makes it so sexy also puts into question just how useful that cargo space can be. (There's that "u" word again.)
The car you see here has been ordered up with a full Designo personalized interior, full luxo leather over optional heated and ventilated front seats, has the rear cargo floor in American Cherry Wood, brightens the night and curves with full-LED adaptive headlights, and has the carbon fiber effect interior detail bits. The notion of the CLS Shooting Brake not coming almost de rigueur with most of these interior touches is an odd one, but you can get your shooting brake as standard issue as you please even at this pricey AMG level.
There are categorically zero current plans for the CLS Shooting Brake to make the swim across the Atlantic.
But in North America we needn't worry anyway, since there are categorically zero current plans for the CLS Shooting Brake to make the swim across the Atlantic to us. Guess we'll need to satisfy our fast and big Merc desires with a taller E63 Wagon.
New Car Test Drive
Luxurious sedan with sleek coupe-like styling.
Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but for automotive designers it can also be a huge pain in the gluteal region. When your design is so cool that it provokes copies far and wide, what do you do for an encore?
The Mercedes CLS-Class is an excellent case in point. Introduced as a 2006 model, it was not only a show-stopper, it became the prototype of a whole new vehicle class: the oxymoronic four-door coupe. The term has created some confusion, with a number of unlikely four-door vehicles calling themselves coupes, but it appears to have lodged itself permanently in the automotive lexicon.
Mercedes of course can use whatever term it likes, but to our eyes the CLS-Class is a sedan, with sleek lines that may seem coupe-like to some. And in its first extensive redesign, the smooth skin of the original has acquired more sculpting. The shape is familiar, there continue to be two models, CLS550 and CLS63 AMG, but the skin is a little edgier, and the look is a little more aggressive.
The CLS-Class was created on E-Class mid-size sedan architecture, and that continues into this second generation, although all its dimensions have expanded slightly. This doesn't affect passenger capacity. As with the original, there's a permanent console between the rear seats, so the CLS-Class continues to be a four-seater.
Introduced for 2012, this latest-generation CLS-Class uses turbocharged engines for increased power and improved fuel economy. The CLS550 comes with a 4.6-liter biturbo V8 rated at 402 horsepower and 443 pound-feet of torque. Fuel economy for the 2013 CLS550 is an EPA-estimated 17/25 mpg City/Highway, while the CLS550 4MATIC is rated 16/25 mpg.
The CLS63 AMG version, from the Mercedes performance subsidiary in Afalterbach, Germany, is propelled by a 5.5-liter twin-turbo V8 rated at 518 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque. With all that horsepower, the CLS63 AMG still gets an EPA-rated 16/25 mpg.
Both V8s are paired with 7-speed automatic transmissions, although the shift controls are different for each, as are internal gearing and final drive ratios.
We found these cars feel heavy, but the pneumatic suspension handles the weight well, snubbing up and down body motions and keeping the car level during hard cornering. Ride quality is autobahn firm and the CLS550 inspires confidence in high speed corners, yet the air suspension irons the edge off gnarly pavement.
The cabin is trimmed nicely, the sound system is orchestral, and it's quiet underway, save for the refined rumble of that twin-turbo V8, sotto voce, lowering the driver's inhibitions, tempting the driver's right foot.
The CLS-Class was completely redesigned for the 2012 model year. The 2013 CLS-Class comes with the second generation of Mercedes's mbrace connectivity feature called, appropriately enough, mbrace2. Among other functions, mbrace2 provides access to internet browsing, Google Search, Facebook, Yelp, and news programming via the new MB Apps feature.
The 2013 Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class offers two engines: The CLS550 ($72,000) comes with a 402-hp 4.6-liter biturbo V8; the CLS550 4MATIC ($74,500) comes with the same engine but all-wheel drive. The CLS63 AMG ($95,900) features a 518-hp 5.5-liter biturbo V8. All come with a 7-speed automatic. (Prices are MSRP and do not include $905 destination charge.)
CLS550 comes standard with dual-zone digital automatic climate control, leather upholstery, 14-way power front seats, three-position memory, multicolor ambient lighting, COMAND system with 7-inch LCD, AM/FM/DVD/CD6, SiriusXM radio, traffic and weather, HD radio receiver, 10GB Music Register, Bluetooth, 80GB hard drive navigation with Zagat survey, harman/kardon Logic7 digital surround sound,
Premium leather upholstery is optional. Also optional: active multi-contour driver seat, heated and active ventilated front seats, split-folding rear seats, Keyless-Go, electronic trunk closer, power rear-window sunshade, iPod/MP3 interface, active LED headlights, rearview camera.
Safety features standard on all CLS-Class: 12-way air bag protection, Neck-Pro active front head restraints, Attention Assist drowsiness monitor, Pre-Safe, Hill-Start Assist, Hold braking feature, tire pressure monitor, mbrace2, ABS, brake assist, electronic brake-force distribution, electronic stability control. Optional safety features include rearview camera, rear side-impact airbags, Distronic Plus adaptive cruise control, Blind Spot Assist, Lane Keeping Assist, Active Blind Spot Assist, Active Lane Keeping Assist, Night View Assist Plus with Pedestrian Detection, Parktronic with Parking Guidance, Active Curve Illumination, all-wheel drive.
Launched as a 2012 model, this latest-generation CLS-Class is bigger than the original. At 113.2, inches, the wheelbase has stretched by almost an inch, and overall length, 194.5 inches, has grown 1.5 inches. Wide to start with (73.7 inches), it's even wider now (74.1), and the roof, 55.8 inches at its height, adds 1.1 inches. Front and rear track has expanded correspondingly.
Those are all significant expansions, but the design team preserved the car's proportions, including the fast rear roofline that gives the CLS its coupe profile. Flared wheel arches and pronounced body side character creases give the second generation car a more muscular look, and LED headlamps light the way.
Mercedes calls the headlamps an industry first, by virtue of two features: Active Curve Illumination, which varies the beam to provide optimal lighting on twisty night roads, and Active High Beam Assist, which functions as its name suggests to help avoid blinding other drivers.
No Mercedes interior can be called Spartan, particularly at this price level, but this second generation CLS-Class represents an uptick on the elegance meter, with new materials, new trim, and the second generation of Mercedes mbrace connectivity feature called, appropriately enough, mbrace2. Among other functions, mbrace2 provides access to internet browsing, Google Search, Facebook, Yelp, and news programming via the new MB Apps feature.
Most visible among the updated interior elements is the cabin trim, which replaces the previous matte finish wood with a choice of three materials: traditional Mercedes high gloss wood, piano black, or carbon fiber.
Mercedes has gone to a column shifter, freeing space in the center console. However, the new setup offers only basic PRND gear selections, and paddle shifters are conspicuous by their absence.
One other interior note: although the steep slope of the rear roofline still means that front seat passengers have more air over their hairdos than those in back, there's a little more rear headroom than in the first generation.
With its sleek skin, the Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class disguises its size, but this is a big car. And it's heavy. Although the 4MATIC all-wheel drive is one of the lightest in the business, curb weight of the CLS550 is north of two tons: 4265 pounds.
The pneumatic suspension handles the weight remarkably well, snubbing up and down body motions and keeping the car level during hard cornering. The electro-hydraulic power rack and pinion steering is accurate, and nicely weighted, though some may find the level of effort a smidge high. And there's no shortage of grip. Even though the standard tires are all-season (as distinct from summer performance), the CLS550 inspires confidence in high speed corners, and is devoid of surprises.
On the other hand, the CLS550 is no wraith, and in brisk driving on twisty back roads the driver is always conscious of the car's bulk. Quick changes in direction would be a lot quicker if it weighed about 500 pounds less.
It would be quicker going straight ahead, too, but even so the CLS550 more than holds its own. The twin-turbo 4.7-liter V8 generates big-time torque (443 pound-feet) and it peaks just off idle, 1800 rpm, and stays peaked all the way to 4750 rpm. Throttle response is right now, not even a hint of turbo lag, and all that thrust, plus all-wheel drive, add up to very brisk acceleration, just over four seconds to 60 mph, and a quarter-mile in about 12 seconds flat.
Mercedes lists top speed as 186 mph, whereupon a governor cuts in. We can neither confirm nor deny this claim, though based on our driving it seems wholly plausible. We can confirm, though, that at full throttle the V8 squashes occupants into their beautifully upholstered multi-adjustable seats with satisfying authority.
We should add at this point that if your need for speed exceeds the robust capabilities of the CLS550, another $21,400 will put you in a CLS63 AMG, which brings 518 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque to the party (550 hp, 590 lb-ft with the optional performance pack).
Whether the going is leisurely or in haste, the CLS is a very pleasant place to be as the miles accumulate. Ride quality is autobahn firm, but the air suspension irons the edge off gnarly pavement, the sound system is orchestral, and the cabin is otherwise quiet, save for the refined rumble of that twin-turbo V8, sotto voce, lowering the driver's inhibitions, tempting the driver's right foot.
And when a quick stop is required, the brake system is more than equal to the task, providing sports car braking power and stopping distances.
Fuel economy for the 2013 CLS550 is an EPA-estimated 17/25 mpg City/Highway, while the CLS550 4MATIC is rated 16/25 mpg. Impressively, the CLS63 AMG is rated 16/25 mpg.
The Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class is no longer the only car calling itself a four-door coupe, and has inspired direct competition from Audi's A7. But the second generation continues to be a one of the slickest luxury four-doors going, as well as one of the most potent. Driven hard, the twin turbo V8 can be thirsty, but the CLS-Class escapes gas guzzler taxes, even in AMG tune. Whether you accept the four-door coupe business or not (as an aside, a wagon version has been added to the lineup in Europe; hard to think of THAT as a coupe), this is arguably the most stylish sedan in the Mercedes lineup, a powerful pleasure in everyday motoring, and still a head-turner wherever it goes.
Tony Swan filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report after his test drive of the CLS550 near Detroit.
Mercedes-Benz CLS550 ($72,000), CLS550 4MATIC ($74,500); CLS63 AMG ($95,900).
Options As Tested
Premium Package 1 ($4390) includes heated and ventilated seats; rearview camera; LED headlamps; adaptive high beam assist; KEYLESS-GO system; power trunk lid; power rear window sunshade; 19-inch aluminum alloy wheels ($500); split-folding rear seats ($440); rear spoiler ($400).
2013 Mercedes-Benz CLS550 4MATIC ($74,500).
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