Ask people to find a coupe in a parking lot and they no doubt will pick out a two-door model. Ask them to find a sedan, and they will point to a four-door.
For the most part, they will be right.
But there are exceptions.
More goes into defining a car as a coupe or sedan than just the number of openings for getting in or out of it, though exactly what factors do go into that determination (rear seat volume, lack of a B pillar, number of passengers, hatchback or trunk, etc.) is a discussion better left for another day. It gets involved.
For now I’ll accept it when Mercedes-Benz bills its CLS model as a four-door coupe (leaving the company’s claim as it being the world’s first four-door coupe for another day as well). After all, the Germans are generally accepted as having invented the automobile (no, it wasn’t Henry Ford), so they carry some sway here.
Frankly, whatever you want to call it, the CLS is one helluva an automobile.
First introduced as a 2006 model, the CLS moves into its second generation for 2012 as ever so slightly longer (by 1.2 inches) and wider (by less than half-an-inch) than its predecessor, fitting in between the six-figure S-based CL coupe and the less expensive E-Class coupe.
It comes in two flavors, the CLS550 (offered with rear-wheel drive or Mercedes’ AWD 4Matic) and the CLS63 AMG. The CLS550 starts at $71,300 but can get up to the $80,000 bracket quickly with some of the neat options included. The AMG version starts in the mid-$90,000 range.
Both have twin-turbocharged V8 engines with the 550’s power plant getting 12.9 pounds of boost from its turbos to pump out 402 horsepower and 443 pound-feet of torque. With 18.8 pounds of boost from its twin turbos, the V8 in in the CLS63 AMG gets 518 horsepower and 516 pound-feet torque as standard power. Add the extra performance package to the CLS63 AMG an the numbers to up to 550 and 590, respectively.
Can you say zero-to-60 mph in a sneeze?
Each of the engines is mated to a seven-speed automatic transmission with manual gear selection capability, and yes, of course, they both drink premium fuel at a pace that may appall tree-huggers but really isn’t all that bad, considering all that power under the hood. EPA ratings are 16 mpg city, 25 highway for the RWD models and a mile higher for each with 4Matic configuration.
Externally, the CLS has the profile of a coupe. The roof line is a gentle arc that slopes from front to back almost to the rear bumper. There is the traditional Mercedes star in the grille and a small Mercedes badge above it, not the traditional star hood ornament that sticks up and serves as a gun sight.
The taillights are striking, especially at night.
I had a neighbor actually make it a point to come up the street after he had seen them to ask me what kind of car it was. He had been following me for quite a few blocks and apparently just had to know.
Inside, you find the usual touches of Mercedes-Benz luxury. The full leather interior features Burl Walnut trim and a multifunction leather sport steering wheel. Yes, of course, the steering wheel has paddle shifters.
The COMAND system with GPS navigation, which has been simplified somewhat and requires only a bachelor’s degree to operate instead of the initial Master’s Degree, is among standard equipment along with a slew of other features that make a luxury car, well, a luxury car.
There are numerous option packages as well that really add to the car’s panache. I was driving along late one night when a warning popped up in the middle of the instrument cluster telling me I looked sleepy and should pull over for a cup of coffee. Except I wasn’t sleepy and didn’t want coffee, but the thought is what counts.
If I drifted from my lane without signaling my intent to move over, the lane tracking system sent a slight vibration to the steering wheel to give me a heads up. That particular system also includes blind-spot assist. There also is an upgraded lane tracking system that takes a more active role in getting you back in your lane if you desire. (I don’t think I would, but somebody else might.)
Night view assist PLUS with pedestrian detection also is offered as a stand-alone option, but wasn’t included in the vehicle I was driving. But headlights that illuminate the direction you are turning were.
Ah, but the seats. That’s what really grabbed me, fairly literally, in fact.
The first time I drove the CLS and made a turn at a good speed, I felt the sides of seat gently tighten just a bit to prevent me from swaying. They relaxed their grasp at the completion of the turn.
Switches tucked down between the driver’s seat and the center console also let me snuggle up the sides of the seat as much as I desired to bolster support. I also set the seat to give me a firm massaging of lower back, which at the time was kind of hurting.
I’ve driven many cars that let me firm up a seat’s lumbar support, but these supports kneaded the muscles in me lower back as you drive. It’s one of the functions of the Active-Multicontour Driver’s seat, but I’d call the system Active Lumbar Support. (Note to Mercedes marketing folks: Just send the royalty check to me at my home address for that suggestion.)
There is one thing I feel obligated to mention. I have brought up before how annoying it is to have the slim stalk that operates the cruise control sticking out from the steering wheel column just about the turn signal.
If your hands are in the 10-2 position on the wheel and you flick the fingers on your left hand to operate the turn signal, chances are you are going to hit the cruise control instead.
This is something that I have ragged on before about Mercedes-Benz models as it is common throughout the line. For some reason, though, it seemed to be even more in my way on the CLS.
This is also something that I will continue to mention until Mercedes moves the cruise control stalk under the turn signal where it belongs. I’m sure this will upset them to no end.
I should also note that the rear seat will accommodate only two passengers. Though there isn’t a lot of room back there, certainly not as much as you find on Mercedes sedans, neither did I feel particularly cramped.
So, is it that 2-plus-2 seating configuration that makes the CLS550 a coupe? I guess that’s a point in favor of that contention. But then, if you removed that backseat console, making room for three passengers in the rear, but also removed the rear doors, would that make the CLS a two-door sedan?
Another topic for another day.