2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS first drive review: stylish, safe, and comfortable

Growing up in Sindelfingen, Germany, as the daughter of a Mercedes-Benz engineer who worked on three generations of the E-Class, Jennifer Schefczik heard the same thing over and over.

“Child, the E-Class is always about style, safety, and comfort,” her dad told her.

Some 20 years later, Schefczik works as the U.S. product manager for the E-Class and its coupe-like offshoot, the CLS-Class. Here at the media launch event for the third-generation CLS, she is more than happy to espouse the merits of the 2019 CLS to me. With a new inline-6-cylinder engine, more interior space, simplified styling, and the latest safety features, Schefczik’s father’s words hold more true for the new CLS than the E-Class from whence it came.

Style leader

The CLS has always been about style first and foremost. Mercedes calls it a four-door coupe, but as a four-door, it’s really a sedan with a swoopier roofline. It amounts to an E-Class with a costlier C-pillar, and the compromised backseat that comes along with it.

For 2019, the CLS gets a revised look that Mercedes says represents its new design direction. That roofline is still there, but some of the other lines aren’t. The styling adheres to the “less is more” philosophy—Mercedes calls it “Sensual Purity”—with fewer of the sharp lines and creases from the outgoing car. Squint, and you couldn’t tell the two generations apart, but the differences are plain upon examination. As Bernie Glaser, head of product management for Mercedes-Benz USA, puts it, the designers took away a line, and if they still liked it, they took away another.

The end result is a swoopy, sexy car, with a fast roofline, a long hood, a short deck, short overhangs, and clean, almost slab-like sides highlighted by the frameless windows typical of a coupe.

The clean look extends to the rear where it has an integrated rear spoiler, two-part taillights with “stardust effect” lenses, and dual exhaust outlets that echo the taillights.  

Up front, however, Mercedes aimed for aggression, and all U.S. CLS models get AMG styling with an A-shaped grille done up in a diamond-pattern. The grille tilts forward like a shark’s nose and its A-shape leads into the lower fascia, which features a wide center air intake flanked by two smaller ones. The LED headlights sit up top and flow at an angle into the grille.

Comfortable cruiser

If Schefczik’s father were prioritizing the traits of those past E-Classes, he might have told his daughter, “Child, the E-Class is always about comfort, safety, and style.” While the CLS will never match the E for comfort, this generation makes strides in engine smoothness, dynamic control, interior space, and passenger comfort.

The headline here is the new twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6 engine that is aided by an integrated starter-generator (ISG). It replaces and 329-horsepower twin-turbo V-6 and produces 362 hp and 369 pound-feet of torque; the ISG can add 21 hp and 184 pound-feet from a stop. The ISG also enables a sailing function when the car is going downhill, makes the stop/start function seamless, and allows the engine to be beltless by operating the air conditioner and water pump.

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