Review and photos by Bob McHugh

2006 Mercedes-Benz CLS 500
Click image to enlarge

When you look good, you feel good. And, oh boy, did it feel good sitting behind the wheel of the Mercedes-Benz CLS 500. A full-sized sedan on the inside, but dressed like a stylish coupe on the outside, the CLS 500 is head-turner extraordinaire.

Other than a price that’s beyond most people with a ‘9 to 5’ job, it’s difficult to pick flaws in car that’s so elegant and technically brilliant. Under the CLS 500’s captivating curves hides an E-class Mercedes chassis and the E-500’s running gear.

Mercedes calls it a coupe and it certainly looks like a coupe, but an interesting twist to the CLS is that it has four doors. Now you could buy (for a mere $84,600) an E500 sedan and save about $7-grand. However, the CLS is a sportier package with a unique interior and go take another look at the pictures – it looks even better up-close and in-person.

A self-levelling height-adjustable ‘Airmatic’ air suspension system is standard and it allows the driver to select a comfort ride or two firmer levels of sporty suspension. Power comes from a gutsy five-litre V8 engine and it’s mated to a seven (yes, seven) speed automatic transmission.

The prestige coupe class is a small but elite group of cars. Inside this exclusive club the BMW 6-Series stands out as the most obvious rival in a popularity challenge but the CLS is definitely the most business minded and functional member.

Styling

2006 Mercedes-Benz CLS 500
Click image to enlarge

My test CLS came with an AMG sport package that included attractive 18-inch twin-spoke wheels (wider on the rear) with run-flat Pirelli performance tires. This package (an extra $6,985) also adds gear-shift buttons on the steering wheel and an appearance package that includes AMG logos on the chrome-tipped exhaust pipes.

The black (called Obsidian) paint job looked cool, but was tough to photograph. The CLS has attractive body lines that are harder to pick-out in a darker colour, most notably the full-length side aero creases that look like they’ve spun off protruding front wheels.

A high belt line and short glass area are key styling features and the doors are a frame-less glass type. When you close a door the window has an automatic synching feature that tightens the glass against the roof weather seal.


Interior

2006 Mercedes-Benz CLS 500
Click image to enlarge

Cool styling does have a few drawbacks and rear seat entry/exit is not quite as easy as an E-Class sedan. The rear door is smaller and the roofline is lower – then again, it’s certainly easier than any conventional coupe.

Once nestled into the back seat it’s supremely comfortable with oodles of leg and shoulder room. Occupancy is limited to two rear passengers and height is probably an issue if they’re above 1.83-m (6-feet). The CLS has a four-zone climate control system, so both rear passengers can individually set a desired temperature, and it has rear seat heaters. So, unlike most coupes, the rear passengers are treated extremely well.

2006 Mercedes-Benz CLS 500

2006 Mercedes-Benz CLS 500
Click image to enlarge

Up front the dashboard has a nice sweeping design that flows into door panels and features an attractively curved mat-finish burl walnut trim panel (high-gloss Laurel wood is a no-cost option). The centre console incorporates two cupholders with a unique pop-up feature for taller cups.

The front seats are a deep bucket design that’s very supportive and ten-way adjustable. Air-conditioned seats are an option (an extra $1,310), but should be standard on a car in this price range. The trunk is huge and offers 447-litres (15.8 cu-ft) of luggage space.


Safety equipment

The list is impressive and includes dual front and dual rear side-mounted airbags plus front and rear head airbags with roll-over protection. The smart front airbag system also adapts deployment to occupant use, weight and size.

On the active safety side the CLS has the usual list of stuff you’d expect, anti-lock brakes, traction control and a stability system. However, the electro-hydraulic braking system is exceptional as it controls brake pressure at each wheel individually, in response to driving and road conditions.

The test CLS also came with optional ($1,975) “active cornering headlamp system” – a bi-xenon headlamp system that turns the headlights when you turn the steering wheel.

Driving impressions

The CLS is deceptively fast because it’s so smooth, quiet and its five-litre V8 engine produces excellent low and mid-range torque. Mercedes claims it can accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h in about 6-seconds and has electronically limited top speed is 250 km/h – if you can find an Autobahn in Canada.

2006 Mercedes-Benz CLS 500
Click image to enlarge

Although quick when you need it to be quick, it’s the smooth delivery and the ride quality that pushed the CLS to the top of my love-to-have list. It devours the open highway with a relaxing ride that has you there wishing your destination was even further away, yet it’s a surprisingly agile for a big car.

The three-valve per cylinder engine has a delicious power band that spans the 2700 and 4250 rpm range where it produces its maximum 339 lb-ft of torque. We’re talking a no-fuss quick release of power that’s always under your right foot – when you need it.

The seven-speed is a super-smooth shifting unit, has two drive mode settings sport and comfort and the 6th and 7th gears are true overdrive gears, for better fuel economy. There’s a noticeable difference in the shift patterns in the different modes and it automatically senses when engine-braking is required, particularly in the sport mode.

2006 Mercedes-Benz CLS 500
Click image to enlarge

The exceptionally good ride is achieved through a state-of-the-art partnership of the Airmatic Dual Control air-suspension and an active damping system called ADS II. Fast-acting solenoid valves control the amount of compressed air inside pneumatic suspension struts at each wheel, instead of conventional springs and shocks.

The automatic levelling feature of this system responds to passenger and cargo loads, provides more predictable steering control and maintains headlamp aim. At high speeds it lowers the vehicle for improved stability and yaw sensors front and rear help it react to cornering, braking, and acceleration forces. The driver can also raise the vehicle when driving in deep snow or on rough roads.

Last but not least, my test CLS also came with the Keyless Go option (an extra $1,895). With the key in your pocket, touch the door handle and the CLS unlocks, slid into the driver’s seat and touch the shift lever and the engine starts – very slick!


The Competition

  • BMW 6-Series: $99,000 – $109,000

  • Cadillac XLR: $103,400
  • Jaguar XK Series: $96,350 – $117,350
  • Lexus SC430: $89,970 – $92,970
  • Porsche 911: $101,400 – $206,800


Verdict

If the Mercedes-Benz CLS 500 were an extension of your personality, you would have style and flair, a well-grounded business side and lots of money.

Is it a coupe or a sedan? Who cares, it’s a great looking car and it sure feels good.


Technical Data: 2006 Mercedes-Benz CLS 500

Base price $92,600
Options $12,165 (AMG Sport Package $6,985, Active Cornering headlamps $1,975, air conditioned seats $1,310, Keyless Go $1,895)
Freight $1,245
A/C tax $100
Price as tested $106,110 Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives
Type 4-door, 4 passenger mid-sized coupe
Layout longitudinal front engine/rear wheel drive
Engine 5.0 litre V8, DOHC, 32 valves
Horsepower 306 @ 5600 rpm
Torque 339 ft-lbs @ 2700 – 4250 rpm
Transmission 7-speed automatic
Tires 245/40R-18
Curb weight 1810 kg (3990 lb)
Wheelbase 2854 mm (112.4 in.)
Length 4913 mm (193.4 in.)
Width 1873 mm (73.7 in.)
Height 1390 mm (54.7 in.)
Cargo capacity 447 litres (15.8 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption City: 15.1 L/100 km
  Hwy: 9.9 L/100 km
Warranty 4 yrs/80,000 km
Powertrain Warranty 5 yrs/120,000 km

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