Mercedes-Benz CLS Review 2023

Written by Andrew Brady

8/10
heycar ratingExecutive with swoopy coupe style
  • 2018
  • Luxury
  • Petrol, Diesel

Quick overview

Pros

  • Velvety ride
  • Hushed engines
  • AMG model’s pace

Cons

  • Boot not as practical as rivals
  • Rear headroom
  • Cost of Premium Plus versions

Overall verdict on the Mercedes-Benz CLS

"The swoopy Mercedes-Benz CLS was quite the trailblazer when the model was first launched in 2004. But now in its third generation, it faces a lot more competition for your affections from all of Mercedes usual rivals and more."

Mercedes-Benz CLS Review 2023: frontright exterior

Our in depth Mercedes-Benz CLS review looks at the competition for the Audi A7 and BMW 6 Series Gran Turismo, which are arguably a bit more stylish and sleek. You could also look at the Jaguar XF or even the Maserati Ghibli. So does the Mercedes-Benz CLS still have what it takes?


Looks-wise, it's perhaps not as distinctive as the original, but we think it's still a handsome design. There’s also enough of a difference between the CLS and the Mercedes-Benz E-Class saloon it shares so much of its mechanical base for there to be some clear air between the two. The interior echoes the E-Class and Mercedes-Benz S-Class, though, with the same huge single screen which dominates the dash.


The finish is excellent, as you'd expect, and there's more room than before all round. The back now has three seats rather than two and there's lots of legroom while the seats themselves are very comfortable. That said, six-footers will find headroom tight in the back and you also have to accept a compromise with luggage space to enjoy the Mercedes CLS’s coupe looks over the more practical E-Class saloon.


The standout feature of the Mercedes CLS, however, is the ride. It's incredibly forgiving and controlled, making the Mercedes CLS more comfortable to travel in than the Audi A7 or 6 Series GT. There's little trade-off in handling either and the Mercedes is very capable on the twisty stuff, feeling far more agile than the aforementioned BMW. The only let-down is more road noise on motorways than you'd expect.


Most models are the 300 d and 400 d - both powered by the same six-cylinder 3.0-litre diesel, just in different states of tune. The former should provide more than enough power for most with 500Nm of torque. If you don't do the miles to need a diesel, there's an entry-level Mercedes CLS 350 which is actually a turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol and also the cheapest model.


If you want more oomph, there’s the Mercedes CLS 450 with its turbocharged 3.0-litre six-cylinder petrol engine. Or, you could go the whole hog with the AMG-tuned Mercedes CLS 53 that bristles with 435PS to see off 0-62mph in just 4.5 seconds. For new models the engine range has been pared down to just the 400 d and CLS 53. 


As an alternative to your usual saloon, the Mercedes CLS has lots of appeal. It's not as cumbersome as a Mercedes S-Class and feels more special than a Mercedes E-Class, and is a much rarer sight too. We really like its blend of comfortable ride and handling ability, while the standard-fit 9G-Tronic gearbox works really well, especially compared to the S tronic in the Audi A7. If you're in the market for a premium coupe-style four-door, this is the one to go for.


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The Mercedes-Benz CLS single-handedly created the four-door executive coupe market and has won many fans since it was introduced in 2004. This third-generation model’s looks might be a little toned down compared to the original’s, but that has as much to do with familiarity as anything else. Be in no doubt, this is still a standout and good looking car.


The latest Mercedes CLS is also a much more comfortable proposition thanks to greater cabin space than its predecessor. There’s space for three in the rear bench and a bigger boot than before. You will also find this Mercedes CLS rides rough roads with a panache that none of its rivals, or indeed many executive saloons, can get close to.


All of this combines to make the Mercedes CLS feel very special from the moment you clap eyes on it, to setting off on a drive and even long after it’s parked up. It’s a car that imparts a sensation of pride of ownership, helped in no small measure by it being much rarer on the road than the E-Class.


If you only cover relatively few miles per year, the petrol-powered Mercedes-Benz CLS models are dandy-oh. Lovers of fast cars will relish the prospect of the CLS 53 AMG model thanks to its copious power and prodigious speed, but when all’s said and done most people will be more than happy with the diesel models.


Yes, the Mercedes CLS 400 d is more powerful, but it’s the 300 d we’d plump for as it still makes the Mercedes CLS plenty quick enough for most situations and it returns excellent fuel economy. The four-cylinder engine may not be quite as easy on the ear under full acceleration, but it’s refined at all times and works easily through the nine-speed automatic gearbox.


As for trims, we’d stick with the standard Mercedes CLS AMG Line version and picks some choice upgrades from the extras list rather than spend more for the AMG Line Premium Plus with its sunroof and other extras.

The most obvious rivals for the Mercedes-Benz CLS are another pair of four-door coupes. They are the Audi A7 Sportback and the BMW 6 Series Gran Turismo. The Audi offers a superb build and strong engine range, as well as a good drive. However, it’s not as sporting or comfortable as the Mercedes over lumpy roads.


The BMW is, a little surprisingly, even less sporting and more comfort-oriented. It’s more practical than the Mercedes CLS, though, as it has a hatchback tailgate similar to the Audi’s instead of the Mercedes’ saloon-like boot.


Comfort and design: Mercedes-Benz CLS interior

"The interior of the Mercedes CLS may not be as cutting edge as the Audi A7 Sportback’s, but the driving position in the CLS is better. You sit lower down with the high centre console giving it the 'coupe' feel Mercedes-Benz talks about. There's still plenty of space and more than of adjustment in both the seat and steering column."

Mercedes-Benz CLS Review 2023: front interior

The hunkered down feel of the Mercedes-Benz CLS’ driving position is cosseting and the only thing we’re not so keen on is the bit of the transmission tunnel that butts out and into the driver’s left leg.


Part-electric seat adjustment is standard on the Mercedes  CLS and when you have the seat set how you like it, the view forwards and the sides is good. However, you do pay the price for coupe styling with limited vision over your left shoulder. However, all models come with parking sensors and a reversing camera to save your neck muscles and nerves when backing into tight spaces.


The large digital display used for the main instruments is one of the highlights of the Mercedes CLS cabin, along with the 12.3-inch infotainment screen in the centre of the dash top. Add in the lovely chromed circular air vents, which are gently lit at night in a soft glow, and the whole cabin ambience is a cut above what you find in most cars of this price and size.

This generation of Mercedes-Benz CLS is a big step forward from its predecessor in terms of the interior quality. Gone is the dated and button-heavy design, replaced by something that feels far more befitting of a car at this level and price. As well as the digital displays, the way information is presented is simple and classy, while the soft lighting used at night furthers the appeal.


The cabin follows the same style as the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and Mercedes-Benz S-Class with the huge screen across the dash that houses the digital instrument cluster at one end and the infotainment display at the other. The finish is top quality with lots of textured wood trims and stitched leather adding to the premium feel.


As well as the materials used, the way Mercedes fixes them together is reminiscent of the way the company built its cars back in the 1980s. This is very much a compliment as the Mercedes CLS has that same sense that it will last for decades in the same condition as when it was first delivered new.


The Mercedes-Benz CLS doesn't feature the latest MBUX system that made its debut in the A-Class. Instead, the Mercedes CLS has a newer version of Comand. It's better, but while the menus look nicer, it's still not that great to use and feels clunky compared to what you get in an Audi A7. This is one of the few weak points of the Mercedes CLS.


However, there’s no doubting how impressive the large main instrument screen looks and the clarity of the information presented on it. The 12.3-inch centre screen for infotainment is no less impressive and it can be upgraded with the expensive Premium Plus Package to gain wifi, traffic sign recognition and mirroring for smartphones using Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. In standard form, it comes with satellite navigation and Bluetooth.


The system is worked by the rotary controller down by the gear lever or touch-sensitive buttons on the steering wheel. We reckon the round dial is the much easier option as the touchpads on the steering wheel are small and fiddly to use while you concentrate on steering the car.

Unlike the old Mercedes-Benz CLS, this generation is now a five-seater as standard, although the wide transmission tunnel in the back means it's not the most comfortable of places to spend any time. This part of the bench is heavily sculpted to hold the outer two passengers in place, so it ends up being very much a perch rather than a seat, even for kids. Even so, there’s a three-point belt in case anyone is keen enough to sit here. You also get ISOFIX child seat mounts on the two outer pews.


The sloping roofline means those of the taller persuasion will find their heads rubbing against the roof lining. This is not a complaint unique to the Mercedes CLS as a four-door coupe, but the BMW 6 Series GT is much more accommodating on this front. On the upside, the Mercedes CLS offers generous amounts of legroom and two adults will find elbow space is more than good enough to while away longer trips in comfort.


The seats of the Mercedes CLS are not as thickly padded as those of the BMW 6 Gran Turismo, so they can feel a little unyielding at first. In true Mercedes fashion, though, we’ve found the shape and support more than compensates for this to give all-day well-being.


Head round to the back of the CLS and the boot is accessed through a normal saloon-style opening rather than the more practical hatchback tailgates of the BMW 6 GT and Audi A7 Sportback. Some might view this as a positive for the Mercedes as its occupants are not subject to a chilly blast when the boot is opened, while others may mourn the shortfall in versatility.


The boot is not a bad overall size with 520-litres of carrying space for the diesel models. In the petrols, this drops to 490-litres in the petrols as they have batteries for their mild hybrid system that sneaks a slice of cargo space. When fitting in luggage, the opening is wide enough, but it narrows and there's an odd step up in the floor. It's not an issue every day, but is annoying when you've got a lot to pack for a holiday.


The Mercedes CLS is quite a long car but it's not out of place in this class at 4996mm long, 2069mm wide and 1436mm tall. 


Handling and ride quality: What is the Mercedes-Benz CLS like to drive?

"What stands out when you travel in the Mercedes CLS is the ride. While it sits between the E-Class and S-Class in terms of size and price, it's the latter with which it shares most of its ride characteristics, which is a welcome direction for most owners who will use the CLS as their everyday car."

Mercedes-Benz CLS Review 2023: front exterior

It's immensely comfortable and glides along with the minimum of fuss. We can think of no better car for covering long distances in comfort. The standard suspension set-up is very good, although perhaps not quite up to the standard of the Audi A7 Sportback, but opt for the optional adaptive air suspension and it floats along effortlessly.


That's not at the expense of handling though. The Mercedes-Benz CLS lives up to its 'coupe' design with impressive control in corners and a real feeling of reassurance at speed. All models, with the exception of the entry-level petrol and diesel versions, have 4Matic four-wheel drive which means good traction, particularly in the wet.


The steering, although not brimming with feel or heft, is responsive and accurate to make the Mercedes CLS feel far more agile than the wallowy BMW 6 Series Gran Turismo. For a big car, it's surprisingly enjoyable to drive on a more demanding road.


Keener drivers with sufficient funds to pay for it will enjoy the Mercedes-AMG CLS 53 4Matic+. It increases the grip in corners thanks its fatter tyres and more hunkered down suspension, which is firmer but not in a crashy kind of way. Rather, this AMG model finds more traction by working with the road’s surface to keep the tyres in contact with it and give the driver a very high level of confidence in its abilities.


The entry points to both the petrol and diesel ranges are 2.0-litre turbocharged units. For the diesel, it’s the same engine as used in a range of Mercedes models and for the Mercedes-Benz CLS it has 245PS to feel more than up to the job of propelling this 1.8-tonne four-door at a fair rate. It will dispense 0-62mph in 6.4 seconds and always has enough in reserve for easy overtaking and laid-back cruising.


The 2.0-litre petrol motor in the Mercedes CLS 350 has some 299PS. It does its finest work at higher revs, but it is still able to make light work of motorways. It manages both of these demands thanks to the nine-speed 9G-Tronic automatic gearbox used in all Mercedes CLS models that has a gear for every occasion and a svelte shift action.


Move up to the 3.0-litre six-cylinder petrol and diesel engines and the 400 d has 340PS and a whopping 700Nm of torque. This means it rarely needs more than a toe-flex of the accelerator pedal to pass slower traffic and everyday driving conditions do not tax its abilities.


The Mercedes CLS 450’s turbocharged petrol 3.0-litre motor is a strong performer in every sense thanks to 367PS, yet it’s also smooth and refined. Or, if you want the ultimate in pace in the Mercedes CLS, the AMG 53 model has a brawny 435PS to dash off 0-62mph in 4.5 seconds. It also has its own version of the nine-speed auto that can offer quicker shifts and hold on to gears for longer for that sporting feel.

All of the engines used in the Mercedes-Benz CLS are more than happy to play a subdued role in the car’s progress when required. Even in town, the 2.0-litre turbodiesel is quiet and very smooth, aided by the slick nine-speed automatic gearbox that means any of the engines rarely have to rev more than is strictly required.


Even the AMG CLS 53 can play the hushed executive express when asked to do so, though its six-cylinder engine also makes a very pleasing howl when pushed towards the red line of the rev counter. The dedicated nine-gear Speedshift gearbox used in the AMG is every bit as smooth-shifting as the transmissions in the other Mercedes CLS models.


Wind noise is very ably suppressed in the Mercedes CLS and all of the cabin controls work with a satisfying precision and high-grade action. The only disappointment is the amount of road noise that is kicked up from the tyres at higher speeds, which becomes more prominent if you opt for larger wheels.


Whichever Mercedes-Benz CLS model you take a notion to, it will come with twin front, side and curtain airbags, as well as one for the driver’s knees. You also get Mercedes’ Pre-Safe system that anticipates possible hazards ahead and will alert the driver with lights and sound. If there’s no reaction from the person at the wheel, the CLS will perform an emergency stop to avoid or lessen the effects of a collision.


The Mercedes CLS also comes with Lane Keeping Assist, tyre pressure monitor, Speed Limit Assist, and ESP on every version. There’s also cruise control with variable speed limiter, Active Brake Assist and an Adaptive Brake System. Mercedes also supplies Attention Assist to let the driver know if fatigue is setting in, while every occupant gets a three-point seat belt and there are ISOFIX mounts on the two outer rear seats.


You can upgrade with the Driving Assistance Plus pack that comes with Active Blind Spot Assist, cross-traffic alert, Lane Changing Assist, and Active Lane Keeping Assist. There are also functions to ensure the car is driving at the correct speed for the road and others to improve the car’s responses in an emergency manoeuvre.


If you choose the Mercedes-AMG CLS 53, you also get a performance driving course as part of the deal. This is held on a closed track and offers the chance to explore the car’s abilities in a safe environment so you understand how a high-powered car behaves in more extreme conditions.

MPG and fuel costs: What does a Mercedes-Benz CLS cost to run?

"The gap between fuel economy for the diesel and petrol Mercedes CLS models is not as big as you might think, but the 300 d is still the most frugal. Its 2.0-litre turbodiesel motor offers a best combined consumption of 46.3mpg. We don’t have Real MPG figures for this model, but experience suggests this will be very close to what you can expect in everyday use."

Mercedes-Benz CLS Review 2023: backright exterior

The 400 d has a claimed best of 41.5mpg, yet Real MPG shows this at a very creditable 49.5mpg. As for the petrols, the CLS 350 claims 37.2mpg and Real MPG shows an impressive 48.1mpg, while the 450 comes in at 35.3mpg yet Real MPG scores it at 42.1mpg. Official number for the AMG CLS 53 is 31.0mpg and again Real MPG betters that with 32.6mpg.

Mercedes-Benz generally performs well for reliability, ranking 13th out of 30 manufacturers in the latest HonestJohn.co.uk Satisfaction Index with an overall satisfaction score of 87.9%. 

For the most affordable insurance with the Mercedes-Benz CLS, the 350 petrol model is the one to aim for. It sits in group 47, while next best is the 300 d that is a little higher in group 49.


All of the other models in the Mercedes CLS range, including the AMG 53 model, all sit in the highest group 50 bracket, so premiums won’t be cheap but they are on a par with all of the CLS’s rivals.


If you want to deny the taxman of as much money as possible, the Mercedes-Benz CLS 350 petrol model is the one to choose. It 186g/km carbon dioxide emissions mean a first-year road tax bill of £870. The 450 petrol, AMG 53 and CLS 300 d turbodiesel models all fall into the £1305 first-year bracket.


Take the CLS 400 d and you’ll need to stump up £1850 for the first year’s Vehicle Excise Duty. However, it shares the same £475 annual payment as the others in the range for the following year’s road tax.

How much should you be paying for a used Mercedes-Benz CLS?

"A two-year-old Mercedes CLS 300 d with under 15,000 miles under its nose will cost from approximately £43,000. If you want a petrol-powered model, which are less common, expect to add £10,000 to that figure for a CLS 450. As for the AMG model, they start at around the £55,000 mark."

Mercedes-Benz CLS Review 2023: rear

Choose a pre-registered or nearly new Mercedes-Benz CLS and you can make a substantial saving. You can expect to find a 400 d AMG Line with 2500 miles on the clock for £65,000, saving you £10,000 on the list price. There are also some very keen personal contract leasing deals available from Mercedes dealers.

Mercedes-Benz CLS AMG Line comes with 19-inch alloy wheels, parking package including reversing camera, leather upholstery, split folding rear seats (40/20/40), 12.3-inch infotainment screen with Audio 20 multimedia screen, 12.3-inch cockpit display, ambient lighting with a choice of 64 colours, Agility Control suspension and DAB radio. Metallic paint is a cost option.


Mercedes-Benz CLS Premium Plus available models gain Keyless Go Comfort package, Memory package, including electrically adjustable front seats and steering wheel; Burmester surround-sound system, 360° camera, Comand Online infotainment system, and electric sliding sunroof.


Choose the Mercedes-AMG CLS 53 and it has its own unique specification that includes 20-inch alloy wheels, gloss black exterior trim, and performance exhaust. Also, it comes with AMG Dynamic Select driving modes that let the driver switch between Comfort, Sport, Sport+ and Individual settings.


Ask the heycar experts: common questions

The CLS has a coupe style body and the E-Class is a saloon so the E-Class trumps the CLS for size and practicality with more room in the back for taller passengers.
Mercedes cars can be expensive to maintain, especially if you opt for the top of the range Mercedes-AMG CLS 53 as this requires premium fuel to ensure the high performance engine runs at its best.
In this class the CLS is a good option for a four-door coupe, we scored it 8 out of 10, it's not the most practical car but you don't opt for a coupe if practicality is a top priority. If smooth driving and hushed engines are a must, the CLS ticks all the boxes.

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