Who says you can’t be all things to all people? Certainly no one at the Stuttgart headquarters of Mercedes-Benz. Otherwise they surely would never have attempted something as audacious as the world’s first four-door coupe, the CLS. Indeed, if not for those brazen engineers, I would not be here in southern Spain, behind the wheel of the new CLS AMG 53, roaring my way up the side of a mountain. Towering pine forests whiz by on either side as the exhaust growls, popping angrily as the car downshifts into the turns. In Sport+ mode the wheels cling to the road as if magnetized, gobbling up the switchbacks and roaring through the straights. With a wide stance, powerful twin-turbo engine and all-wheel drive, this is a true driver’s car. But, of course, that’s not all it is.
The CLS is one of those vehicles no one knew we needed until it appeared. When Mercedes launched the four-door coupe segment in 2004, it married the performance and styling of two distinct classes of luxury cars into one sumptuous, streamlined package. Now in its third generation, the 2018 CLS (also available in AMG) retains its signature arched roof, large wheels, and sloping, shark-like nose while gaining a host of new tech and improved performance features. It was never lacking before, but it’s now better in every way.
Among the chief advancements this year is EQ Boost, an electric motor that sits between the turbo straight-six engine and nine-speed automatic transmission, simultaneously adding power while reducing fuel consumption. From the S-Class, it borrows a suite of advanced driver-assist capabilities that handle everything from parallel parking to changing lanes at up to 180 kilometres per hour. As the Spanish mountainside gives way to a series of sleepy towns, I switch the CLS into Comfort mode and engage its intelligent cruise control. The suspension softens. The exhaust shifts from a snarl to a purr. Rather than simply adjusting speed based on the car in front of you, the CLS uses its advanced sat-nav to account for changes in posted speed limits and curves in the road, helping the driver steer through the turns. AMG drivers need a break sometimes, too.
Like its outward persona, the CLS’s redesigned interior is a graceful duet of sporty and sleek, with a dash dominated by a row of industrial-style vents and a pair of 12.3-inch screens crisp enough to watch Planet Earth on. While the front seat massages my lower back, the cockpit glows a soothing shade of lavender, lit by an array of hidden LEDs, and smells like the lobby of a fancy hotel thanks to a flask of signature-scented air freshener concealed in the glove box. The 25-speaker Burmester 3D audio system, meanwhile, makes it sound like the Gypsy Kings are crammed into the back seat, giving it to “Bamboleo” with everything they’ve got. What else could you possibly want from a car? I truly can’t imagine. At this very moment, however, I have no doubt there’s an engineer in Stuttgart sweating over the answer and figuring out how to put it into the next CLS.