Test Drives

Mercedes CLS 350 review: EQuality has arrived



Clever tech makes the new CLS 350 a compelling car… but only if you can look past the compelling looks, first.

SINGAPORE — What’s ironic about the new Mercedes-Benz CLS is that most people will covet it for its looks, yet it’s what’s under its taut skin that’s most interesting about the car. Like the hot girl who ought to be appreciated for her booksmarts (or like our editor, who continually insists that he is more than a just muscle-bound hunk), the new CLS is full of clever ideas — and it has a high EQ.

In fact, its entry marks the start of Mercedes’ commitment to electrify its whole range of cars, and bring them under the “EQ” umbrella term for the relevant tech.

EQ Boost, mild-hybrid system that runs off a 48-volt architecture, is standard on all three models sold here: the range-topping CLS 53 4Matic+ (which arrives at the end of this year), the CLS 450 4Matic and the car on this page, the CLS 350).

But this third-generation CLS ushers in a few more firsts, two of which are the kind that Singaporean buyers tend to like.

First among these firsts: the entry-level CLS now has a 2.0-litre engine.

That’s a psychologically acceptable size for an engine in Singapore, and though it isn’t big it’s powerful; it’s turbocharged and tuned for a substantial 299 horsepower, which is probably why it’s labelled CLS 350 (for reference the E 300 also has a 2.0-litre turbo, but that one cranks out 245hp).

Mind you, the CLS 350 is a heavy car, at 1,775kg, so even with that much power the acceleration feels energetic rather than ballistic. But you do notice that the big Mercedes is instantly responsive — kiss the accelerator pedal, especially if you’re in the Sport or Sport+ driving mode, and there’s an immediate swell of acceleration.

That’s the “boost” part of EQ Boost at work — the CLS 350 has a 48-volt starter/alternator that’s roughly 10 times more powerful than a conventional starter motor, and when you accelerate it adds its torque to the engine’s right away.

The other surprising thing about the engine is its low, gruff voice. It’s smooth enough for sure, but the sound it makes would suit a lorry more than a sleek, luxury four-door coupe. The CLS 450 and CLS 53, with their six-cylinder engines, exude much more of the quiet refinement you’d expect of a Mercedes.

Then again, there’s a sporty edge to the CLS 350’s personality. It has size and heft, but it corners pretty gamely. The steering reacts swiftly to your inputs, and you can feel the front end fighting against the car’s weight, leaning hard on its tyres to give the big Mercedes enough agility to feel playful.

At the end of the day, though, the CLS 350 is a large, heavy coupe, and beyond a certain level of exuberance it starts to feel like it. The tyres squeal, the body heaves… it may be dramatic but things always feel safe and predictable.

All that said, the 350 is the most fun of them all to drive; the 450 and 53 have noticeably more power, but the four-cylinder model has a more eager turn-in and feels the most up for tackling a twisty road, which goes to show that straight-line performance isn’t everything.

Perhaps the main surprise is that even though the CLS is built on the bones of an E-Class, the two cars feel distinct to drive. For one thing the suspension is firmer, even on the softer setting used for “Comfort” and “Eco”, so you’ll feel a badly-surfaced road more. But that firmness helps to provide a sense of composure that gels well with the CLS 350’s athletic shape.

Does it even make sense to talk about the E-Class and CLS in the same review? It does now — the other major first for the CLS is that it now comes with five seats (previous models were four-seaters).

They’re proper seats, too. Though billed as a coupe because it has a low roofline and cigar-like shape, the new CLS feels as practical as a sedan. The seating in the back isn’t cramped, and the boot is sizeable, at 490 litres in capacity.

The CLS 350 is the Mercedes, in short, for someone who wants something pretty much as large and plush as an E-Class, but who has the budget for something a bit better to drive, and much more shapely. Not to mention, much more appealing inside.

The interior takes the dashboard from the elegant E-Class Coupe, complete with its jet-turbine like air-con vents and LED mood lighting — and the playful effect that sees it change colour when you change the temp setting.

The CLS also has unique, shapely seats designed not just to look sporty, but to offer long-distance comfort.

If the new CLS excels at any one thing though, it’s in the ability to turn heads. A number of grown men, little kids and everything in between swiveled their heads to gawk, either peering at the rear for a glimpse of the model badge, or craning their necks to take in the front of the CLS 350, with its arresting combination of slim triangular lamps and its studded, shark-nosed grille.

EQ Boost may sound like a clever idea, but installing in the CLS 350 means it looks like a good, too.

Mercedes-Benz CLS 350

Engine 1,991cc, inline 4, turbocharged
Power 299hp at 5,800rpm
Torque 400Nm at 3,000 to 4,000rpm
Gearbox 9-speed automatic
Top Speed 250km/h
0-100km/h 6.0 seconds
Fuel Efficiency 7.7L/100km
VES/CO2 C1 / 173g/km
Price $335,888 with COE
Agent Cycle & Carriage
Available Now

 

TAKE A WALK ON THE MILD SIDE

Roll along with the engine shut down, using zero fuel? The CLS 350 is the first car in Singapore capable of that trick, and more are coming.

Many cars (including Mercedes ones) already slip into neutral automatically when you lift off the accelerator, usually when you engage an Eco driving mode. That helps the car to glide or coast, and you can travel surprisingly far that way; on some drives we’ve covered 30 percent of the distance just gliding.

EQ Boost is what gives the CLS the ability to shut down its engine while gliding.

It’s essentially a mild hybrid system. Instead of a normal starter motor, it has a powerful starter-alternator that’s connected to the engine by a belt. Running on 48 volts, it can add 14 horsepower to the crank, or more importantly 150Nm of instant torque.

That means two things. First, the engine starts up instantly and almost seamlessly, which is what enables the coasting. Second, the extra torque helps to make the engine feel extra responsive.

In day-to-day use, the engine shutdown isn’t always undetectable. Indeed, sometimes there is a noticeable jerk, usually when the engine comes alive as you’re waiting for the lights to turn green (the engine still has to run to power the air-con compressor).

But there are different EQ Boost systems; the one in the CLS 450 is smoother, mostly because its starter-generator system is more powerful, at 22hp.

Whether you care about the Earth, the pleasant surge that EQ Boost adds to the CLS engines ought to appeal to any driver. Either way, though, you’ll have to get used to it. In a little over three years’ time, every new Mercedes will come with some kind of EQ Boost system.

about the author

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Leow Ju-Len
Leow Ju-Len is a lot older than he behaves. He's been writing about cars for 23 years. Someday he might do it coherently. Ju-Len believes in world peace and V8s, but not necessarily in that order.