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2018 Mercedes-Benz CLS 450 performance review

By Dylan Campbell, 27 Jul 2018 Reviews

2018 Mercedes-Benz CLS 450 review

Dynamics not quite as sharp as its looks

While the 2018 Mercedes-Benz CLS 450 has a gorgeous interior and will surprise quite a few other cars off the lights, it’s a vehicle that will impress rather than thrill a proper performance driving enthusiast.

For its third generation CLS, a car based on the E-Class, Mercedes-Benz has given its so-called four-door coupe the new ‘predator’ corporate face treatment and under the bonnet, the big news is a new electrified, twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre inline-6. Designated ‘M256’, it’s destined for use across the range and is the first inline-6 in a Mercedes-Benz since the ‘M104’ was discontinued in 1999.

In CLS 450 guise, the grunty petrol engine works with a clever 48-volt mild hybrid system. While there’s a 12v battery under the bonnet, there’s also a 48v battery centrally mounted under the boot floor, scavenging power from a clever combined starter/alternator/generator/motor unit and then sending it back when needed.

With the petrol engine producing 270kW/500Nm, the electric motor can supply a further 16kW/250Nm of electric boost over short periods. It also helps the big Merc achieve an impressive claimed combined 7.8L/100km.

The new straight-six is a great engine. Smooth, quiet and powerful, together with the electric motor it slingshots the weighty all-wheel drive CLS 450 to 100km/h in a drama-free 4.8 seconds.

We are curious to hear it in AMG guise. Even with a standard “Sports exhaust” it’s quite sensible in CLS 450 trim, letting rip a polite bark that steps up an octave with the powertrain in Sport Plus mode, presumably assisted by some realistic if artificial engine noise coming through the interior speakers. Redline is 6200rpm.

Sensible is a word you could use to describe the handling as well. For hardcore cornering thrills, this is a car calibrated for the mass market, choosing to err on the side of refinement and comfort over precision and agility, absolutely appropriate for this car and its intended customers. Yet don’t think that, when hustled through the twisties, the CLS 450 is soggy or unsatisfying.

It can bolt along a backroad quicker than the performance cars of yesteryear, carrying impressive mid-corner speed and leaping out of tight corners with clean all-wheel drive traction. The torque split front-to-rear is 45/55.

There is not much satisfaction or enjoyment to be had from driving the CLS 450 harder and harder, where you’ll find increasing amounts of understeer and ESP intervention. But the CLS 450, unlike its impending AMG siblings, makes no promises of racetrack ability, yet remains stable, secure and surefooted during hard cornering, never untidy.

Really, you purchase a CLS 450 for the luxurious, high-tech interior, comfortable Air Suspension ride and the striking styling. Of the latter, as ever, we will defer to your own personal tastes.

We will say that this is one car particularly sensitive to photographic angles; and that if you’re a MOTOR reader, you should perhaps consider one of the intriguing frosted colours for maximum visual impact – white, red or gun-metal silver available as cost-options.

The verdict on the CLS 450 is basically, if you love driving fast and hard, you’re better off waiting for the AMG CLS 53 which arrives in November priced from $179,529. It has more power, a more aggressively calibrated all-wheel drive system and the general all-over AMG treatment. And, hopefully, a proper old-school straight-six howl.

Tested and rated on MOTOR reviews

Engine: 2982cc twin-turbocharged inline-6, DOHC, 24v
Powertrain: nine-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel drive, mild hybrid
Power: 270kW @ 5500-6100rpm
Torque: 500Nm @ 1600-4000rpm
Weight: 1940kg
0-100km/h: 4.8 seconds (claimed)
Price: $155,529

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars