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2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS550

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Published on Sun, Aug 19, 2012

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS550

By John Grafman There once was a time where longer, lower, and wider was the domain of Pontiac. The fabled Wide-Track performance for a brief period of time set this brand apart from the pack. Pontiac is gone, but Wide-Track isn’t forgotten. It’s been reborn in the Mercedes-Benz CLS550—and not a moment too soon. Just as the automotive landscape is becoming overwhelmed by alternative-this, and hybrid-that, and creating expressive designs started taking a back seat to tech-heavy products, Mercedes concocted the antidote featuring eye catch beauty and performance that brings a smile to everyone’s face. The first gen of the CLS hit the nail on the head in terms of design, and version 2.0 is everything one would expect and then some. Glancing at the 2013 model, the family resemblance is unmistakable. Unlike the early version, the 2013 Mercedes-Benz CLS550 has a more organic feel to it. The result is less stiff, and it doesn’t look, well, so German. While Mercedes Benz line-up dominated, or at the very least put up tough competition in terms of luxury styling, the overall format had grown a bit long in the tooth. The 2012 CLS is simply a new design direction that’s right on the mark. The design team at Mercedes working on the new CLS managed to get the balance right between accentuating the forms without exaggerating the surfaces to the point of being overdone. The body looks fluid and muscular. And in the case of the CLS550, the engine delivers on what the looks promise. Now if only more cars could do the same. This is indeed wider, by .3 inches, and 1.2 inches longer (than the previous CLS), which creates the emotional appeal and dynamism the design team had strived towards. Improved aerodynamics of .28 brings this model in at three points lower than the outgoing model.


The dimensions do impact the interior a little, and it does seem a little like the roof is closing in. On the flip side, the exterior is distinct, and keeping a lower and wider profile not just looks good, but it works well too. While 99 percent of the exterior is a cut above, there are a few points to be taken away for being less than stellar. First, the wheel design is marginal, and lacks the same impressive look that the body has. However, this is easily remedied. The ultra cool taillights have what looks like tabs running around the perimeter of it. Whether that’s what those are, we have no idea, but it detracts from an otherwise sexy part. Sure, that mole didn’t stop Cindy Crawford back in the day, but the automotive competition is getting pretty fierce these days, and companies can’t take anything for granted anymore. Details matter. On the flip side, this does have the world’s first active LED headlights (optional). These bright white lights are both longer lasting and consume less electrical power from the car. The LEDs are eye-catching like brilliant diamonds. Better still, the lights employ active-curve technology, which turns the lights in tandem with the steering, illuminating the curves ahead. At low speeds, additional cornering lights engage. On the interior, this is a very inviting environment. A quick glance is enough to get one excited. But, on closer examination the CLS still shines. One of the small aspects that most companies miss, yet Mercedes nails, is the door fit to the instrument panel. Also, the armrest on the door is truly useable, which often isn’t the case, especially with those under 5 feet, 10 inches.


Throughout, the German sedan (sorry, cars with four-doors are indeed sedans, not coupes, regardless of what the marketing departments spin) the seating is top-flight, front and rear. Front seat occupants are treated to 14-way adjustable power seats that provide a new four-way power lumbar support adjustment. Also unique to the CLS, as in the prior model, is the dedicated split rear seating for two. The center console running from the dash to rear seats forms this. Personally, I really appreciate just how well the optional seat heating and cooling work. Especially with the humidity level causing summer thunderstorms, a little extra chill is a good thing. It does take a little while to recalibrate the right position in this car, as the headliner seems to be millimeters from one’s scalp. So, the correct position for the seat might put one lower into the car than what’s typical. A small demerit point will be taken away due to the funky material on the seat backs, but nothing to lose sleep over. Another small point that really should get some attention are the button and switches. This Benz just feels right with every touch surface. It’s enough that one almost wants to play with these just because. Another small, but nice touch is the optional rear sunshade. Most use a scissor operation, but in the CLS it scrolls upwards towards the roof, which just seems like a more elegant solution. The interior lines carry the exterior theme nicely into the cabin. The accent lighting is a sophisticated look, and doesn’t come off looking cheesy or disco clubby. Both functional and attractive are the metal covers for the gas and brake pedals. The Mercedes-Benz is indeed a wide car, yet it seems even larger appearing as big as the Grand Canyon. While the interior did grow wider by a half inch in front, and .8-inch in the rear, the spaciousness is further enhanced in part thanks to the transmission, which doesn’t reside on the center console like most autos we encounter. You might say this has three-on-the-tree. Actually, this silky seven-speed transmission has far more than the three gears of yesteryear, but the options on the stalk only provide either reverse, park/neutral, or drive. Don’t fret, as the paddle shifters behind the steering wheel are enough to offer the inner racer in all of us a chance to play.


The particular wood covering a huge swath of the dash looks a tad dark and has too much grain, which muddies the appearance, however there are many that love this look, as it’s reminiscent of the old school Mercedes. Technology improves with every generation at the three-pointed star. Outstanding options on this car include the Keyless-go, Parktronic – with Active Parking Assist, which locates appropriately sized parking spots and then steers the car into place, and iPod/MP3 media interface, just to name a few. On the other hand, while the navigation system is okay, there are others on the market that operate and program easier, and the graphics are simpler for the driver to decipher on the fly. As luxury sedans go, this is a rather quite interior, and worthy of a premium moniker. But, turn up the audio system’s volume and everything changes. The standard Harman/Kardon Logic 7 digital surround-sound system with Dolby Surround 5.1uses two 610-watt amplifiers to power 14 speakers and a sub-woofer. The end result is able to rock the house. Perhaps the only true let down in the premium experience is in the trunk. Okay, one can brush that off as unnecessary, but it seemed to be lacking in quality materials and the operation of the trunk lid is awkward. Once released, the trunk lid springs open, rather than operating in a smooth, linear fashion. Fortunately, Mercedes left this small flaw, so automotive journalists like us would have something to bark about. Otherwise, all of these kudos this might be a hard to swallow.


This CLS550 is what a modern muscle car should be. It looks the part, and it is ready to take on any paved road out there. The 4.6-liter, bi-turbo, four-valve per cylinder, aluminum motor is smooth like butter. Cruising is world-class. This is refined and feels every bit like a luxury car should. But just like John Travolta says in the movie Swordfish, “Don’t confuse kindness with weakness.” Push the pedal down and this leaves no doubt that that this just doesn’t just keep up with the big dogs, this is the alpha male, lead dog. The others will have to push hard just to keep on the heels of this champion. The bottom line here is, this V-8 engine is sweet like sugar! Really, it’s surprising just how much you can accomplish just using half throttle on this. Maybe it has to do with the merciless 402 horses pumping under the hood? As expected, the price to pay for this comes in terms of fuel economy. Maybe 16 and 25 aren’t the worst numbers, but it really can add up. Additionally, there is really good pedal feel, so the pilot can really control his or her driving. The feedback on all of the driver functions really reminds owners that this isn’t just another pretty face. The steering effort required is perhaps a little light, but in traffic this is really appreciated. It’s not until a person gets behind the wheel and puts the hammer down that one truly understands just why the tires on the rear are so massively wide. With 443 pound-feet of torque, these, along with all-wheel drive, are the essential ingredients to make the magic happen. The Benz with the 550 engine is able to overpower and out style nearly every vehicle in the marketplace that’sable to seat four. All of this goodness starts at a hair under $74K. Of course, there’s always one-percent that’s never happy with simply “Outstanding”. Yes, for those people there is an AMG version of the CLS as well, but that’s another story for another time. For more information about Mercedes-Benz products, go to


SPECIFICATIONS Name of vehicle: 2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS550 Price: $73,800 (base) $81,010 (as tested) EPA mileage estimates (miles per gallon) 16 city/25 highway Engine type: Twin Turbo 4.6-litre V8, DOHC, 4 valves/cylinder, aluminum block Horsepower: 402 @ 5,000-5,750 rpm Torque: 443 pound-feet @ 1,600-4,750 rpm Drive configuration: Front engine / all-wheel drive Transmission type: 7-speed Driver Adaptive Transmission, with sport and economy shift modes, and steering wheel shift paddles Suspension: Front: 3-link front axle with MacPherson struts, anti-dive AIRMATIC full-support air suspension Rear: Independent multilink, anti-squat and anti-dive, AIRMATIC full-support air suspension Wheels and tires: Front: Standard: 18 x 8.5”, 255 x 40 x 18 Rear: Standard: 18 x 9.5” alloy, 285 x 35 x 19 Brakes: Front: Hydraulic power assisted 4-wheel discs with 4-channel ABS anti-lock; Brake Assist, vented and perforated discs 14.2 x 1.4” diameter Rear: Hydraulic power assisted 4-wheel discs with 4-channel ABS anti-lock; Brake Assist, vented 12.6 x 1” diameter Dimensions Overall length: 194.49” Overall width: 74.06” Overall height: 55.75” Curb weight (lbs.): 4,158 Performance: 0-60 mph: 5.1 Top Speed, mph: 130 (limited)

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