Mercedes CLS coupe ... the choice for for mature audiences
DAIMLER'S design chief stands alongside the new Mercedes-Benz CLS. "This is one of our sexiest cars, definitely," says Gorden Wagener.
And the big four-door coupe, with its arching roofline, slim side windows and smooth curves is an eye-catcher. But the CLS is va-va-voom for the Viagra demographic.
On average, CLS owners are even older than the not-so-young customers for Mercedes-Benz's E-Class sedan. And they don't have the same need for speed and noise that appeals to buyers of the racy and raucous models produced by the AMG go-fast division.
The new CLS line-up, due to launch in the latter half of this year, will be topped by an AMG version. But it's one tailored to suit the driving style of the more "mature" customer attracted to the four-door coupe.
"They are going less times to a racetrack than an E63 driver," says Mercedes-AMG development man Jens Hueser. "It's not the Nurburgring Green Hell machine …"
Still, the engine of the range-topping CLS 53 is something to get excited about. Entirely new, the turbocharged and electric-boosted 3.0-litre in-line six (320kW/520Nm) eventually will replace the same-size turbo V6 in more popular models such as the C43 and E43.
The in-line engine's turbo, driven as usual by escaping exhaust gas, works together with a powerful electric compressor. This instantly blows air into the cylinders at low revs, avoiding the usual lag in an exhaust-driven turbo - once the engine is spinning, the turbo takes over.
A further power boost can be delivered by a starter-alternator sandwiched between the engine and transmission.
This delivers an extra spurt of power and torque - 16kW and 250Nm - when the accelerator is floored. Switching from starter motor duties to generator when the car is coasting, it recharges the 48V battery, which in turn powers the air compressor.
Mercedes-Benz drivetrain engineers estimate this energy-recycling mild-hybrid set-up increases vehicle fuel efficiency by up to 10 per cent. The company's name for the technology is EQ Boost, linking it to the electric and electrified EQ models it is developing.
EQ Boost is a feature of the three engines in versions of the CLS headed for Australia.
The CLS 450 has a tamer version of the 3.0, doing without the air compressor of the CLS 53.
Its CLS 350 sibling has Benz's new 2.0-litre four-cylinder. Its EQ Boost differs from the sixes, with a less powerful belt-drive starter-alternator mounted on the front of the engine.
Mercedes-Benz Australia expects the four-cylinder to be easily the bestseller. It will be priced at $136,900.
The 450 will be $155,900, while the 53 will be $179,900. The premium is about $15,000-$20,000 on the most comparable E-Class models.
Under the skin, the CLS is closely related to Benz's big sedan. The CLS brings some extra interior glamour, though in a less useful car.
There's not enough headroom for tall people in the rear seats. The arching roofline makes getting in and out of the rear more difficult and the angled windscreen pillars can obstruct outward vision.
On the road the CLS rides comfortably on its standard-for-Australia Air Body Control suspension, which combines air springs with adjustable and adaptive shock absorbers. Behind the wheel, it always feels like a heavy and bulky car.
The AMG-developed engine of the CLS 53 delivers a decent surge of acceleration but it doesn't feel that much quicker than big Mercedes models fitted with the current turbo V6.
The exhaust note of the new in-line six varies through three stages, according to the driving mode selected. But even in the loudest setting, Sport +, the sound of the exhaust is quite muted through the middle of the engine's rev range with the standard European exhaust.
It's a nappy-muffled baby blurt compared to the noise that emerges from the rear of V8-powered AMG models.
Mercedes-Benz Australia will specify the CLS 53 with the higher volume AMG Performance exhaust as standard.
The 450's engine is smooth, quiet and quite pleasant - but the new four-cylinder in the
350 is more exciting. It sounds a little hoarse at low and medium revs but grows angrier and more musical as it nears the top of the tachometer dial.
Its acceleration is impressively eager for a 2.0-litre engine in a two-tonne car. Best of all, because the smaller engine weighs much less than the sixes, the CLS 350 feels lighter through corners than the bigger and more expensive models.
MAKE OR BRAKE
Unpopularity has killed the Shooting Brake wagon version of the current CLS. Stuttgart has decided the third-generation CLS will be produced only in four-door coupe form. And Mercedes-Benz Australia has decided to drop diesel engines from the local CLS line-up, now that there's a feisty petrol-burning four-cylinder available for the least expensive variant.
MERCEDES-BENZ CLS 350
WARRANTY 3 years/unlimited km
SAFETY Not rated
ENGINE 2.0-litre 4-cyl turbo, 48V mild-hybrid, 220kW/500Nm plus 10kW/150Nm
TRANSMISSION 9-speed auto; AWD
SPARE None; inflation kit