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2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS Class Review

LIKES
  • Stunning profile
  • Smooth and powerful new inline-6 engines
  • Gorgeous interior
  • Beautifully equipped
DISLIKES
  • Amounts to a pricey rear pillar
  • Still tight inside compared to an E-Class
  • Price skyrockets with options
Look beyond the evolutionary looks; the 2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class has one heck of a hybrid powertrain.

The 2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class may carry over its predecessors' trademark style, but it's what's underhood that makes it really stand out. For the first time, the CLS-Class is a hybrid (though a mild one) tuned both for performance and efficiency.


The CLS is redesigned this year, with a new 48-volt hybrid system, revised styling, a beautiful and high-tech cabin that now seats five, and all the latest safety features. More controlled handling joins the traditional exemplary ride quality. We rate the CLS a 7.0 based on these strengths.

Available as the CLS 450, with either standard rear- or optional all-wheel drive, and AMG 53, the sedan features a low, coupe-like roofline that stands apart from the comparatively workaday E-Class. Like the E, the CLS offers seating for five, but back seat passengers will still want to duck their heads as they enter.

LED headlights and taillights set the scene, but it'll take even the most hardened three-pointed star fan to tell the difference between the 2018 and 2019 CLS models. The new car's tail slopes backward in a less organic fashion, its fenders appear to bulge more aggressively around the standard 19-inch and optional 20-inch alloy wheels, and the sides have fewer character lines.

At the rear, the angular taillights of the CLS stand in contrast to last year's swept-back units.

An AMG Line appearance package adds a sportier look with unique front and rear fascias and more heavily bolstered seats inside, but its suspension is unchanged.

Overall, the CLS grows little over last year's model. It's 2 inches longer and 0.3 inches wider, but the wheelbase grows by 2.4 inches. It stands about 1.5 inches lower than the 2018 model, too.

Inside, the CLS features a dashboard similar to  the automaker's S-Class flagship. A 12.3-inch display for infotainment with standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility takes up residence at the center of the four-door's dashboard. On the options list is a secondary 12.3-inch unit that replaces conventional analog gauges and is covered by a continuous glass panel shared with the center screen. When both screens are ordered, the CLS' digital cockpit can be configured in one of three "moods:" Classic, Sport, or Progressive.

A choice of glossy or matte-finish open-pore wood trims on the options list is complemented by numerous leather shades available in several grades.

The CLS inaugurates Mercedes' new turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6 engine paired to an electric motor that adds power and allows for emissions-free driving during coasting. In addition to the conventional turbocharger, the engine makes use of an electric supercharger in the AMG 53. In all models, a lithium-ion battery powers an electric air-conditioning compressor and an electric water pump, creating a beltless engine. An integrated starter-alternator between the engine and transmission enables the automatic stop/start function as well and makes it smoother than most on the market.

Mercedes says the inline-6 in the CLS 450 is rated at 362 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque. The AMG 53 model turns up the heat to 429 hp and 384 lb-ft of torque. The electric motor adds an additional 21 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque to both engines but mostly from a stop so power isn’t added to the final figure.

The electric motor takes over in light-load situations to allow the gas engine to turn off completely. The hybrid powertrain can't accelerate solely on electric power, however, so the CLS-Class is more like a high-performance mild-hybrid than a true eco-friendly sedan. What looks to be a mountain of torque comes on from 1,600 to 4,000 rpm. Power goes either rearward or to all four corners via a 9-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters.

Fuel economy tops out at 24 mpg city, 31 highway, 26 combined. That’s not bad for how much power drivers have at their disposal.

The standard safety list includes seven airbags, forward collision warnings with a cross-traffic function and automatic emergency braking, and an attention monitor. Buyers can also get the Driver Assistance Package which allows for semi-autonomous driving in some situations. Thus far, only the IIHS has crash-tested the CLS and it earned the agency’s top honor.

Styling
The 2019 CLS opts for fewer lines and flourishes, but still presents as sexy outside and beautiful inside.

Mercedes may call it a four-door coupe, but the 2019 CLS is really a sedan with a faster roofline. The 2019 redesign eliminates extraneous details along the sides, and the car is still sleek and sexy from most angles. The view from inside is a treat as well, as the cabin is modern, luxurious, and relaxing all at once. We give the CLS an 8 for styling, adding two points for its emotional body and one for its beautiful interior.

The most important design element of the CLS is the coupe-like roofline. It’s defines the car versus the E-Class. The rest of the car features a long hood, a short deck that flows from the sharply raked roof, short overhangs, frameless side windows, and new slab-like sides devoid of most detail.

The best view is from the back, where the CLS presents as a more stylish coupe. The rear end features a spoiler shape integrated into the trunk and a very simple design with two-part taillights (complete with “stardust-effect” lenses) and dual exhaust outlets.

Up front, the CLS appears ready to prowl. All models have AMG styling with a forward-tilting, A-shaped grille with diamond-pattern mesh, three bold air intakes at the bottom, and angled LED headlights that point to the grille.

Inside, it’s all class, with a horizontal layout trimmed in open-pore wood, wrapped in leather, and offset by spectacular turbine-shaped air vents, and, in most cases, two 12.3-inch screens that come together to form one large technology array. The optionally available digital instrument cluster can be configured with three "moods:" Classic, Sport, or Progressive, each with their own aesthetic.

Performance
It’s not just a pretty face. The 2019 Mercedes CLS-Class is a responsive and comfortable cruiser.

A pair of new high-tech engines and improved dynamics make the 2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class better to drive than ever. Two mild-hybrid inline-6 engines produce lots of thrust, while the new chassis provides a great balance of comfort and control. We rate the CLS an 8 out of 10 for performance based on its willing engines, cosseting ride, and responsive handling.

A twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6 replaces a V-6 of the same size this year, and it produces 362 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque. It is aided by an integrated starter-generator that can add 21 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque from a stop.

Smooth and strong, the inline-6 is an ideal Mercedes engine. It motivates the CLS 450 4Matic to 60 mph in a manufacturer-estimated 4.8 seconds. The ISG lets the CLS run on electricity alone when cruising, and makes for a seamless stop/start function. It growls when pushed, but remains dutifully in the background otherwise. Its 9-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly and responsively, and brings the power to the forefront in the Sport modes.
The AMG CLS 53 adds an electric supercharger and larger turbos to increase output to 429 hp and 384 lb-ft of torque and drop the 0-60 mph time to 4.4 seconds.

From behind the wheel, the CLS offers a fine balance of ride quality and control. The base suspension uses steel coil springs, adjustable adaptive dampers, and 19-inch wheels, and buyers can opt for air springs. All CLS models get the same ride height as the E-Class Sport model, which is 0.6 inches lower than the E-Class Luxury. A button behind the drive mode selector raises the ride height 0.6 inches to help the suspension soak up bumps during city driving; the air suspension automatically drops back down above 50 mph.

The air springs firm up in the Sport or Sport+ modes to give the CLS a sporty, agile feel while the Comfort and Economy modes create a more traditional, relaxed Mercedes experience. Even in those Sport modes, though, the ride is always forgiving. The Sport modes also make the light steering heavier, thought it is always direct.

Comfort & Quality
The 2019 Mercedes CLS adds some back-seat capacity to its traditionally gorgeous interior.

The CLS gives up rear seat space for style, but Mercedes improves rear comfort for 2019 and adds a fifth seating position. That teams with sumptuous front seats and exemplary interior quality to make the CLS’s cabin a fine place to be, though we prefer the front seat. We rate the CLS a 7 for comfort and quality. 

The CLS is defined by its rear pillar. It creates the attractive profile but also robs rear-seat space. However, the 2019 redesign gives the CLS a 2.4-inch longer wheelbase and an extra half inch of rear leg room. The new layout makes the rear seat comfortable for two average-sized provided the front occupants aren’t long-legged. Taller rear passengers will want for head room, the middle passenger will be miserable, and anyone who sits back there will have to stoop to get in. Drivers who need to carry rear passengers on a regular basis will be better served by the E-Class.

The trunk is bigger, too, but at 11.9 cubic feet it is still smaller than that of the average compact sedan.

Front occupants get the best seats in the house. The seats are fantastically comfortable and bolstered enough to aid confidence during performance maneuvers. First-row passengers also benefit from the available Energizing Comfort System, which combines the car’s audio, seat massages, climate control, seat heating/cooling, and even fragrance systems to create five 10-minute relaxation programs.

All occupants are swaddled in leather, and the dash features large swaths of glossy or open-pore wood, complemented by aluminum trim and beautiful air vents shaped to look like jet turbines. Mercedes makes some of today’s finest interiors the the CLS-Class is one of them.

Safety
The 2019 CLS has done well in limited crash tests and offers a wide array of safety features.

The 2019 CLS doesn’t have complete crash-test data, but it has performed well in limited tests and it offers as many active safety features as any car on the market. Unfortunately, without crash ratings from both agencies that conduct such tests, we can’t give the CLS Mercedes a rating for safety.

Mercedes outfits the CLS with a healthy helping of safety equipment and makes a host of other active safety features/semi-autonomous technology available as options. The standard safety equipment includes seven airbags, forward collision warnings with automatic emergency braking, cross-traffic warnings, an attention monitor, and Pre-Safe Sound, which triggers a sound in a crash that protects occupants from hearing loss.

A Driver Assistance Package is a semi-autonomous system that combines active lane control, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitors, traffic sign recognition, and automatic lane changes. That means it can can steer the car, follow at a set distance, slow the car down for corners using GPS data, and make emergency evasive maneuvers. LED headlights are standard, but the CLS offers ultra-wide automatic high-beams as an extra-cost option to truly light up the road ahead at night.

The NHTSA has not crash-tested the CLS, but it has received the IIHS’s highest rating of Top Safety Pick+. That means it earned top “Good” scores in the small and moderate overlap front, side, roof, and head restraint tests. It also got a “Superior” rating for its front crash prevention system and a “Good” rating for its headlights.

Features
Mercedes equips its CLS well and offers plenty of options but the E-Class offers a better value.

The 2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class is a well-equipped luxury car that offers three models, including a sportier AMG-tuned version. Its unique looks come with an $8,000-$12,000 premium over the related E-Class. We rate the CLS a 7 out of 10 for features, adding points for the healthy standard and optional features lists.

Mercedes offers the CLS-Class in 450, all-wheel-drive 450 4Matic, and AMG 53 models. The AMG 53 also has all-wheel drive.

Standard equipment on the 450 models includes a 12.3-inch infotainment touchscreen, navigation with real-time traffic for three years, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, ambient lighting, LED headlights and taillights, keyless access, an electric trunk closer, adjustable adaptive dampers, a sport exhaust system, and 19-inch alloy wheels. The AMG CLS 53 adds a 12.3-inch instrument panel display, an AMG performance steering wheel, an AMG-tuned air suspension with adaptive dampers, and a performance version of the all-wheel-drive system.

Options include an air suspension for the 450 models, wireless phone charging, a head-up display, two levels of Burmester sound systems, nappa leather, massaging seats, three-zone climate control, and the Energizing Comfort system.

The control interface and infotainment system can come together under a single piece of glass that covers two 12.3-inch screens. The center touchscreen is for infotainment and comes standard, and buyers can opt for the second screen to handle instrument cluster duty. Drivers can control the systems through the touchscreen, the steering wheel, voice commands, or a dial on the center console that also accepts touch controls. It’s a good-looking system, and we like the variety of interfaces, but it requires a steep learning curve for new owners.

Fuel Economy
The 2019 CLS-Class strikes a good balance between power and fuel economy.

For 2019, every Mercedes-Benz CLS becomes a mild hybrid with a twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6 engine. That helps the CLS strike a fine balance of power and fuel economy. The base version returns 24 mpg city, 31 highway, 26 combined, which is good for a 5 in our ratings system.

The best rating is for a rear-drive CLS 450 model. Add all-wheel drive in the CLS 450 4Matic and the numbers drop slightly to 23/30/26 mpg. The higher-performance AMG CLS 53 4Matic returns 21/27/23 mpg, which isn’t bad for a 429-hp car.



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