By KBB.com Editors - Updated Date: 8/31/2011
When the Mercedes-Benz CLS first launched in 2004, it was touted as a four-door coupe, combining the emotion and charisma of a sleek two-door with the comfort and practicality of a traditional four-door sedan. With it, Mercedes established a new tier of elegance within its line-up. For 2012, the CLS arrives for its second act. Still a head-turner, the new Mercedes-Benz CLS sedan now trades some of its sensuality and artfulness for a dose of aggression and sporting character. The 2012 CLS550 looks and feels more like a driver's car, and is backed by a robust 402-horsepower engine. Not enough oomph for you? An uber-powerful AMG version is also available. Although the Mercedes CLS's disposition has clearly changed a bit, the car's exclusivity remains perfectly intact.
The 2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS is for affluent buyers looking for an equal-parts blend of sophistication and dynamism. It is for those who want to enjoy luxury-sedan comforts, but who also have the desire to make a bold fashion statement. You will turn more than your fair share of heads with the Mercedes CLS. Guaranteed.
For those shopping specifically for a Mercedes, but are still mindful of the bottom line, the CLS550 may seem a bit too pricey, especially since the Mercedes E550 offers much of the same for a noticeably lower sticker. The question then becomes, is the CLS's unique styling worth the price premium?
The 2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS550 brags a meaner, more coupe-like design and driving dynamics to match. Ride and handling have both been improved, and a more powerful engine has arrived. Within, you'll find a better-defined cockpit and a larger roster of tech highlights.
The 2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS550 is a true driver's car. Power comes from a hearty 402-hp 4.7-liter twin-turbo V8 that allows the sedan to launch strong from the line and accelerate effortlessly in mid-sprint. Passing power is in abundance, to say the least. And though there is a 518-hp AMG model on the way – MSRP: $94,900 – it hardly seems necessary. In terms of driving dynamics, the Mercedes CLS550 has improved on all fronts. Steering, in particular, is laser precise, putting the CLS right on par with BMW 5 Series and 6 Series cars when it comes to sheer driver control. The new CLS inspires confidence through hard cornering and high-speed lane changes, and it feels smaller than it actually is. But when you're not pushing it hard, the 2012 CLS assumes a relaxed personality. It offers a smooth ride as it glides along, whether on long country sweepers or bumpy city streets.
Adaptive Highbeam Assist
This innovative camera-based system can detect oncoming vehicles and automatically dip one or both headlight beams, while also adjusting their range, in order to create the ideal lighting conditions for both you and the oncoming driver. Also enhancing the Mercedes CLS550's lighting package are optional full LED headlamps.
Electromechanical Direct-Steer System
The 2012 Mercedes CLS550 is the first Benz to have this newly-engineered system. Responsive and precise, it is one of the primary reasons for the CLS550's newfound driving dynamics. Beyond its sporting nature, the system contributes to the vehicle's overall efficiency by only drawing energy when actual steering is taking place.
Inside, the 2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS offers all the lavishness and technology one would expect at this price point. Mercedes always seems a half step ahead of its competitors in this area. With the CLS, all that is intimated on the outside continues within. You get that notion at all four seats, but most intensely in the driver's position. The Mercedes CLS cockpit is defined by near-perfect ergonomics and a solid, tactile feel. Seats are highly-bolstered and designed for both spirited driving and long-distance cruising. From splashes of rich burl wood trim to full leather interior, upscale luxury abounds here.
The 2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS is as distinctive as ever. Its signature roofline and shapely greenhouse give the car a flowing, uninterrupted form that extends rearwards to a sleek fastback profile. But this year, the CLS takes on a harder-edged personality, exuding a nice shot of performance character. It is spearheaded with a larger, more ominous big-star grille, flanked by optional full-LED headlamps. Body lines are more sharply sculpted, and the Mercedes CLS moves further into coupe territory with its longer hood and shorter overhangs. Overall, the new CLS is simply a more aggressive-looking package.
In addition to a 4.7-liter twin-turbo V8 mated to a seven-speed automatic transmission, every 2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS550 features an adjustable air suspension. Inside, you'll find a navigation system, 14-speaker harman/kardon sound system, 14-way power front seats, and many of the other goodies you'd expect in a 2012 model year luxury car. In the name of safety, the Mercedes CLS provides 12 airbags, Attention Assist drowsiness monitor, Electronic Stability Program and Bi-Xenon headlamps.
Top options on the Mercedes CLS550 include full LED headlamps, a back-up camera, heated and ventilated front seats, iPod interface, split-folding rear seats and an electric trunk closer. Available driver assist technologies – more than a dozen in all – include such innovations as Adaptive Highbeam Assist, Distronic PLUS cruise control, Active Blind Spot Assist, Active Lane Keeping Assist, Parktronic with Advanced Parking Assist, and Night View Assist PLUS with Pedestrian Detection. To enhance the performance equation, there's a Sport Package for the 2012 CLS550 that adds high-performance tires plus AMG-styled wheels and steering wheel.
The 2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS550 is powered by a smaller-but-more-powerful engine than last year's CLS: a 4.7-liter twin-turbo V8 in place of the previous 5.5-liter V8. Output is 402 hp – 20 more than before – and 443 lb.-ft. of torque. Power delivery is smooth and full-bodied (yes, much like a well-brewed stout), matched with quick, seamless shifts. It's always a hoot to have that much brute force at one's disposal. EPA fuel economy for the 2012 Mercedes CLS – 17 city/26 highway – are much better than the 2011 CLS550 (14 city/21 highway), even with the uptick in power.
4.7-liter twin-turbo V8
402 horsepower @ 5,000-5,750 rpm
443 lb.-ft. of torque @ 1,800-4,750 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 17/26 (automatic)
Pricing for the 2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS550 starts at $71,300. That's more than $20,000 over a new E550 coupe, a price premium you may not be willing to pay for a more opulent outer show. Although there are no direct competitors to a Mercedes CLS, it will be cross-shopped against the Jaguar XK and the BMW650i, both true coupes. The Beemer (or Bimmer, if you prefer) and the Jag started at five-to-ten thousand dollars over the CLS550, respectively. As with past Mercedes CLS models, the new CLS-Class is expected to hold strong long-term residual values, on par with the rest of the Mercedes brand.