New to Wheels Car of the Year?
Read the COTY 101.
WE all love a COTY dark horse. You know, those cars that you don’t expect much from yet shine like diamonds during the event. The Mercedes-Benz CLS is not one of them. Perhaps our expectations had been ratcheted up by an almost unbroken string of successes from the Stuttgarters, but the CLS got short shrift from the judging panel.
Perplexing, ride quality was the Benz’s bugbear. While it delivers plenty of variance, finding the sweet spot in the Air Body Control suspension settings proved elusive. In its softest mode, it was agreeably boaty and sybaritic, and that could well be the only mode much of the target market ever uses. Progressing in COTY subjects a vehicle to more searching scrutiny, though, and in its sportier modes it was, by common consent, the harshest vehicle in the entire field over the rumble strips on the You Yangs durability circuit.
Yep, more molar-mauling than the Alpine A110 or the Chevy Camaro. To come back from that, the CLS would have needed to redefine our handling expectations for this class. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t.
John Carey noticed a “weirdly wayward rear-end shimmy when pushed” while Ash Westerman described the ride as “agitated and crashy in Sport”. In short, it could do the easy things well but seemed to run out of answers when prodded from its admittedly delightful comfort zone.
There were no such complaints when it came to the M256 straight-six powerplant, backed up by an integrated starter-alternator, in effect making it a mild hybrid with 500Nm on hand from only 1600rpm. This engine was developed for its cost-effective modularity with inline fours, but it’s a delightful powerplant with guts, character and a glorious aria of a top end.
Read next: 2018 Mercedes-AMG CLS53 review
Each successive generation of CLS has become less brash in its styling, this latest car staying on the right side of soap-bar bland, despite the surgical removal of almost anything resembling a feature line or swage.
This studied elegance isn’t reflected inside the car, where its techno steampunk design direction affords plenty for the eye to alight upon. The integration between the two large LCD screens could have been a bit slicker, but aside from that it’s a visual treat. Noelle Faulkner noted that the seats weren’t designed for small people, with the bulky side bolsters impeding her ability to saw at the wheel. Byron Mathioudakis was no fan of the “silly, old-school gear shifter on the column,” claiming it betrayed the CLS’s demographic.
At $155,529, it’s reasonable to expect a lot from the CLS 450, but it’s not the all-rounder we’d hoped for. It’s still a better buy than the four-pot CLS 350, but were we spending our own money, an additional 15 percent outlay would land us in the CLS 53 AMG. This flagship model justifies itself on the basis of its extra equipment, even before its many dynamic advantages are considered.
Mercedes-Benz Australia will doubtless shift every CLS it can get its hands on, and view it as a success. It’s a tougher crowd at COTY, but it pays to respect the audience that really matters: the one that delivers the dollars.