The current four-door coupé trend began when Mercedes-Benz introduced the CLS-Class in 2004, which was a radical departure from the rest of the luxury sedan line-up at the time. Its lines were concept car-like and seemed destined only for the auto show circuit, but you could actually take one home. Considering that this radical production four-door coupe came from one of the most conservative German car companies made it all that more special.
I found the styling on this second generation CLS-Class less appealing than that of the original. Though no beauty itself, the original CLS-Class at least had lines that made sense, and start and finish in the right places. The 2012 CLS-Class, however, looks like the “after” photos of certain famous professional baseball players that had alleged run-ins with steroids, with bulkier muscles in all the weird places and an angrier looking face. The 2012 model is slightly larger than the previous generation all the way around, including a slightly longer wheelbase, which grew by almost an inch. And there are more creases on the fenders and doors than you can shake a stick at.
The second hump over the rear wheels from the Shooting Brake concept does not work well on this sports coupé, and the grille is too vertical and makes the nose stick out too much. The All-LED headlamps on the tester give the car a futuristic look. The CLS550 is best viewed at an angle, like the front quarter view or the rear quarter view. The side profile is its least flattering view.
I did find, however, that the CLS looked better in person than in photos. And at least it stands out from the now crowded space of look-alike four-door coupés like the Audi A7, Jaguar XF and the VW CC. By the way the A7 is the best looking of the bunch, but Audi suffers from the all-look-same problem that BMW faces, where all models in the range are hard to tell apart.
Interior Comfort and Ergonomics
I have three words for you: massaging driver seat. This is such an unbelievable luxury it’s hard to explain, you’d have to experience it firsthand in order to understand. It was indispensable on the six-hour trip to LA; I don’t know if I would ever be able to make that trip again in a car without such a feature.
The massage function is so cool that it even overshadows the other great feature on the CLS550, the dynamic side support system that automatically bolsters the side supports of the driver seat in response to cornering, thus preventing you from sliding in the seat, which is already very supportive. Word of caution: the active side bolsters work even at low speeds and can catch you by surprise if you don’t remember it’s on. I was caught by surprise a few times and it’s not pleasant to have someone or something touch your love handles without asking. Or without you asking.
The rest of the interior is pure Mercedes Benz and we’re not talking C-Class quality here. Everything from the leather-trimmed dashboard, rich leather seats, wood-appointed dashboard, to the machined metal buttons tell you that you’re not in Kansas anymore. The steering wheel mounted controls are not too numerous and work well with the LCD display between the speedometer and the tachometer. The iDrive-like dial in the center console that controls all the car’s systems from navigation to Bluetooth works less well and the interface is not as intuitive or beautiful as that on an Audi.
The most intriguing interior feature on the CLS550 is the steering column mounted gear shift on the right side. It reminds me of the old American sedans with bench seats and I must admit that I got used to it by the end of the weekend and even began to like it. This set-up does give you two more real cup holders, what else does an American driver need?