While based on the popular E-Class sedan, the CLS takes a radical turn away from Mercedes’ traditional, upright 4-door profile. The look is nothing if not radically unique. The ultra-low roofline and high arching character lines along the flanks creates a feeling of tension and energy that befits the 18-inch wheels.
The CLS appears much longer than the E-Class, but is actually less than 4-inches more, and rides on the same 112.4-inch wheelbase. The low slung body is as aerodynamic as it looks, boasting a super-slick 0.30 coefficient of drag.
It’s part Stuttgart, part California street rod. True 2-door lines, with two extra doors. And they are real rear doors, not access panels like the Saturn Ion Coupe and Mazda RX8.
But while super-stylish, that squat greenhouse exacts a serious price in passenger space and ease of use. The rear seat is difficult to enter and exit, and there’s a serious lack of head and leg room for even small adults. Even installing a child seat is difficult in this confined space. It may have sedan doors, but this is definitely a coupe cabin.
Trunk space, however, is extremely generous. The CLS500’s 17.5 cubic-feet even beats the full-size S-Class sedans. Front seat room is also generous.
The sweeping lines of the dash and walnut trim panels complement the exterior, giving the whole design harmony and balance. The CLS also boasts exceptional safety thanks to dual stage front airbags, plus side impact and head curtain airbags for both rows of seats.
Now the low roof does require tall folks to crouch a bit on entry, like a coupe, but you land in well supportive, elegantly outfitted, 10-way power seats. There’s optional heat, ventilation and massage, plus the dynamic multi-contour function that adjusts lumbar and side support to match speed and cornering.
Climate controls are 4-zone automatic, with separate controls for rear seat passengers, while audio options include a 12-speaker digital surround sound system. Under the hood, our CLS500 uses the same 5.0-liter single-overhead-cam V8 as the E 500 sedan. With 302 horsepower and 339 pound-feet of torque on tap, there’s no lack of power for the rear wheels.
And if that’s not enough, the upcoming AMG-built CLS55 will boast 469 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque, from a larger 5.5-liter supercharged version of the single-cam V8.
Transmissions are a new 7-speed adaptive automatic with steering wheel mounted shift switches for the CLS500, and an AMG-modified 5-speed auto for the CLS55.
Slip our CLS into drive, and the 5.0-liter V8 punches it to 60 in a sport coupe-like 5.5 seconds. The quarter mile rockets past in only 14 seconds at 102 miles-per-hour. Power is there from the moment you bump the pedal, and continues in a smooth, linear flow all across the rev band.
The 7-speed automatic is crisp, transferring power to the rear wheels without a stutter or stumble. The same words might also describe the standard multi-link air suspension. In the firmest setting, turn in is very quick, the car holding its line through the corners like it was super-glued to the pavement. Even when pushed to the limit, the standard stability control keeps the car on the rails, while the heavy, but very direct, steering delivers tremendous feedback.
If you prefer a smoother ride, just choose one of the suspension’s softer settings. A flick of the switch changes the CLS from sport sedan - sorry coupe - to soft and plush.
Braking is by electro-hydraulics, a Benz first. They pull the big CLS down from 60 in only 117 feet. Stops are straight and stable, but there’s no feel through the pedal, and our car suffered from a surprising level of vibration from the front wheels. Unusual for any Benz.
CLS pricing, however, is nothing unusual for a Mercedes-Benz. Base price for the CLS500 is $65,620. The CLS55 AMG will probably cost about $80,000. At least you will get two extra doors for your money.
Whether or not you need them, or can really use them, is up to you. But even if you don’t believe in the 4-door coupe concept, there’s no denying that with the 2006 CLS500, Mercedes-Benz has taken a familiar concept in an intriguing and emotional new direction.
Engine: 5.0-Liter Single- Overhead-cam V8
Torque: 339 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 5.5 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 14 Seconds @ 102 MPH
60-0 MPH: 117 Feet
EPA Mileage: 17 MPG City 25 MPG Highway