First Look: 2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS Class

First Look

When the first generation CLS Class hit the world market in 2004, it was apparent that it was quite possibly the most beautiful Mercedes in quite a while. With its sleek lines contoured neatly at every angle and four-door coupe setup, the CLS was simply beautiful. Suddenly, automakers (mainly German) were in the four-door coupe business as Volkswagen came out with their Passat CC, the Audi A5 and A7 Sportbacks, and lots of other imitators.

No doubt the new Hyundai Sonata took some inspiration from this design. And like everything in this business, a six year old car is considered outdated - no matter how good it still looks. After 170,000 units sold, it was time to carefully, and I stress carefully, update the CLS. In this spirit, Mercedes gave the design project to a young Korean-American designer who had never been involved in a project of this magnitude. There were extremely high expectations, to say the least. Fortunately, he succeeded and has created a more than worthy successor to the inspirational first generation.

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Beginning up front, the new CLS utilizes a full-LED setup, with a total of 71 striking bulbs making up the front headlamps, running lamps, turn signals, and side lamps. The front grille takes on Mercedes' latest design theme with its more angular, upright stance. Compared to the previous model, this new front end is definitely more aggressive and athletic and bears a resemblance to the SLS AMG. The character line along the side of the car is also more dramatic as it leads into the rear fender arches, which were inspired by the classic pre-war Mercedes 540 K.

The overall look of the new CLS is similar, yet different than before as Mercedes applied its latest design themes that can now be seen on numerous new models. Whether it ages well or not, it's great to see Mercedes take on a re-interpretation of its historic past. One of the biggest complaints about the previous model was its lack of appropriate head and shoulder room, especially in the rear. However, this is a sacrifice many have and are willing to make in order to have the more stylish four-door coupe design, as opposed to the standard sedan.

The interior, as expected, has excellent build quality with fine leather and soft-touch surfaces. Also included is the updated version of Mercedes' COMAND, which is similar to BMW's iDrive system with a dial located in the center console that controls access to the 7-inch display screen on the dash. For those wanting a luxury sedan full of gadgets and high-end features, the CLS will undoubtedly exceed your expectations. Most importantly, however, is what lies underneath. There will be a total of four engines offered.

However, it's likely only two will be available for the US: a 306 hp 3.5-liter V6 will be standard for the 350 and a 402 hp V8 is optional in 550 trim. Although both engines are all-new, the US is unlikely to receive (for now) the two diesels that Europeans can opt for: a 3.5-liter with 265 hp and a 2.5-liter with 204 hp. For a car so important to Mercedes sales figures, it makes perfect sense to introduce their new Active Park Assist system as an example of their technological advances. It will no doubt become a beloved feature from future owners.

Whether the new design is a hit or miss, there's absolutely no doubt Mercedes has built an even better car than its predecessor. It won't be on sale until sometime in summer of 2011, but some things in this world are worth the wait. The new CLS Class is one of them.

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