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Third generation Mercedes-Benz CLS: hit or miss?


The first generation Mercedes-Benz CLS was launched in late 2004 and stood out with revolutionary styling for a brand that had mostly been very conservative in the design department until that time. It had simple and elegant lines, and especially the character line running from the front wheel arches to the rear lights was a great touch. However, in my opinion it hasn’t aged very well. If I see one on the road nowadays, it looks a lot older than the 7-13 years it currently is. The strange shape of the headlights is mostly due to that, but also the fact that those headlights seem to fade a bit over the years. Perhaps it also doesn’t help that some (second or third) owners have made customized “improvements” to their cars, including oversized wheels. The second generation, launched in 2011, fixed the weird headlight shape but also lost its simple and elegant design. In line with the Mercedes-Benz styling of this period, it had expressive lines on its sides and pronounced rear wheel arches. The latter actually work quite well on the CLS, simply because it was more coherent with the rest of the car, as opposed to the the E-Class, where they were ditched during that model’s facelift. The addition of the Shooting Brake version gave the 2nd generation CLS another boost in positioning the CLS as the odd one out in the Mercedes-Benz line-up. The proportions of both the CLS coupe and the Shooting Brake worked much better than those of the smaller CLA versions.


In terms of sales, the first generation logically peaked in its first year of sales, but quickly faded after that, selling more than 20.000 copies in Europe in 2005 and 2006 before crumbling to less than 4.000 sales in 2010, and peaking at over 14.000 US sales in 2005 compared to just over 2.100 in 2010. The second generation never even reached those figures, peaking at 17.400 European sales but the addition of the Shooting Brake version in 2012 prevented a quick collapse. US sales have shown a similar trend: also peaking lower but showing more stability: the second generation reached over 8.000 sales in 2012 and 2013 and stayed above 6.000 sales for two more years. While we don’t have an exact split between the two generations, we estimate first generation sales in Europe at 86.000 compared to about 80.000 for the second generation. In the US, the first generation sold just over 50.000 copies, compared to just over 40.000 copies for the 2nd gen. Figures I’m afraid the recently launched third generation will never reach.

I’m just not sure what to think of this new CLS. The design is very anonymous, especially from the rear which looks very similar to all recent Mercedes-Benz coupe models, but which at the same time doesn’t look “heavy” enough, it just misses the statelyness that befits a grand tourer, instead, it reminds me of a collapsed pudding making a sad face. In a 180 degree turn from the outgoing model, the sides of the new CLS are very clean with almost no character lines, while the front also offers very little we haven’t seen yet or wouldn’t expect from Mercedes-Benz. I guess in trying to fill every possible niche while at the same time trying to keep a consistent corporate identity, Mercedes-Benz is struggling to give each of its nameplates its own identity. Looking purely at the exterior design, I wonder what the added value of the CLS is within the Mercedes-Benz line-up, considering the first generation was a style icon that appealed to a whole new customer base than that of the regular sedans or coupes.

And when looking at the interior I wonder even more about missed opportunities for the exterior design, as the dashboard is a true masterpiece of futuristic design. If I was in the market for a luxury grand coupe, the interior alone could convince me to buy this car. It’s much more original and expressive than the interiors of the regular Mercedes-Benz sedans and is just on the right side of being over the top. Perhaps just the large amount of chrome in the steering is a tad too much. With the exception of that and the cool design of the air vents, the overall lines are actually quite clean. The double-wide smartphone-like screen still impresses even though we already know it from the S-Class and is a huge step forward from the heavily criticized protruding screen on top of the center console that we’ve seen on most recent Mercedes-Benz models. Of course the use of materials is of the quality we’ve come to expect from a luxury brand like Mercedes. Such a shame the exterior is such a huge let-down, as the CLS is the perfect model for Mercedes-Benz to be frivolous and think out of the box in terms of design.

I’m curious to know what you think of the new CLS, let me know by filling out the poll or in the comments below.