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Mercedes-Benz CLS

Paul A. Eisenstein
From the Print Edition:
Saturday Night Live: How it Shapes Our Politics & Culture, September/October 2011

Few brands have had more of an impact on the automotive world than Mercedes-Benz, and perhaps no recent product has more influenced automotive design than the eye-catching CLS. Short for Coupe-Like-Sedan, its plunging rear roofline was a visually appealing antidote to the traditionally squared-off luxury sedan. It’s difficult to find a maker that hasn’t mimicked the look lately, with models ranging from the Volkswagen CC to Audi’s striking new A7.

Updating a breakthrough product is never easy, and there are plenty of notable failures. So, for the second-generation CLS, Mercedes aimed for a delicate balance, maintaining the bold shape of the original 2005 offering, but introducing a more sculpted look, with bolder, flowing lines that sweep back from front to rear wheel wells. There are aggressive new air scoops and the CLS now gets the LED headlight accents that have become a must in the luxury segment. Ironically, it’s a cue introduced by rival Audi.

Inside, the new CLS has upped its luxury quotient. Switches that were previously covered in appliqué are now pure metal. The wood panels are real. And sumptuous leather swaddles just about every other surface.

In keeping with an established Mercedes-Benz tradition, the 2012 CLS is loaded with the latest technology, starting with its new iDrive-style controller, which helps tame the complicated comand infotainment system. There are now nine airbags and 12 active safety assistance systems. That list includes a version of blind-spot intervention that will actually nudge your car back into its lane if you have inadvertently started to steer in front of an oncoming vehicle in the adjacent lane.

While the exterior design was modestly updated, significant changes are found under the hood, starting with the 4.7-liter, direct-injection twin-turbo V8 that replaces the CLS550’s formerly naturally-aspirated eight-banger. It makes 20 more horsepower than the prior power train, at 402 hp, and an impressive 52 more lb-ft of torque. Equally impressive, it yields about 10 percent better fuel economy.

For those seeking maximum muscle, opt for the CLS63 AMG. Mercedes replaced the old 6.2-liter engine with a new 5.5-liter package that also relies on twin turbos. Specifically developed by AMG, Mercedes’ performance arm, it now makes 518 hp and 516 lb-ft. Not enough? There’s the optional performance package, which raises turbo boost and brings the numbers to a neck-snapping 550 hp and 590 lb-ft.

We spent a day driving the latter version around the winding mountain passes connecting the Sonoma and Napa Valleys and came away duly impressed. The good news is that the new CLS, in all forms, delivers a much more spirited, sporty ride than the original. We charged through the tightest turns in ways a traditional Benz sedan wouldn’t dream of.

Add that significant thrill factor to the list of attributes for the CLS, and the 2012 remake should prove even more popular than the original despite the onslaught of competing coupe-like sedans.

Visit mbusa.com.

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