Review: Mercedes-Benz CLS (2011 – 2018)


Big CO2 reductions. Four-cylinder CLS 250 CDI available at last. Precisely-built interior. Retains unique style of original CLS. Comes with full LED headlights.

Rear headroom tight for taller passengers. Options expensive.

Mercedes-Benz CLS (2011 – 2018): At A Glance

While some of Mercedes-Benz's other models of the last decade failed to capture buyers' imaginations (cars like the R-Class and GL-Class), the original CLS proved something of a surprise hit.

It combined the swoopy, slippery, shape of a coupe with the kind of practicality that you'd expect from a standard E-Class saloon and was a damned good drive to boot.

So it's more of the same for this, the new 2011 model, though there are some key differences in the details. Most importantly the engines are 25 per cent more efficient than before and there's the option (for the first time in a CLS) of a four-cylinder CLS 250.

This emits a scarcely believable 134-138g/km CO2, depending on which version you choose - that's cleaner (and cheaper to tax) than some hatchbacks. Even the CLS 500 - with its V8 engine - is now under 210g/km CO2.

Add to that all-LED headlamps (a world first for Mercedes-Benz), a range of safety systems, far more muscular styling, specialist paint finishes and more refinement throughout and you can really start to see where there's clear water between this and the original car launched in 2005.

Plus there's a new grille that bears more than a passing resemblance to the SLS supercar. But the CLS also manages to retain the styling features that buyers loved in the first place, including the long bonnet, narrow windows and sleek profile.

Although expensive, it's an excellent car. Though it needs to be. Back in 2005 it had buyers over a barrel - it was the only four-door upmarket coupe that you could buy. Since then both BMW and Audi have got in on the act with the 5 Series GT and A7 Sportback, both of which are very credible alternatives.

What does a Mercedes-Benz CLS (2011 – 2018) cost?

List Price from £55,440
Buy new from £45,328
Contract hire from £405.97 per month

Mercedes-Benz CLS (2011 – 2018): What's It Like Inside?

Length 4937–4967 mm
Width 1881–2075 mm
Height 1411–1418 mm
Wheelbase 2874 mm

Full specifications

On the outside, the CLS may look incredibly similar to the original car from 2005, but it's actually wider, with more space inside for all four passengers (the CLS is strictly a four-seater).

The interior quality is noticeably better than before, too, with high grade materials throughout and an emphasis on attention to detail, from the stitched dash that meets-up exactly with the corresponding stitching on the door, to the buttons and switches that wouldn't be out of place on a top-end stereo system.

There's also a wide range of finishes, including five interior colours, five trim designs and three different qualities of leather. Alcantara headlining is an option, too.

The coupe-like shape of the exterior is reflected in the driving position. The driver is cosseted by the dashboard, which wraps round the driver, almost like it would in a sports car. In front of the driver is a new colour HD display within the dials. It has many functions, from a humble trip computer to showing sat nav directions, what's on the stereo, speed information and vehicle warnings.

The driving position is infinitely adjustable, with electric steering wheel and seat adjustment. There's also the option of active seats. The side bolsters on these inflate as you corner to hold you in place and can be tuned to be more responsive.

It's incredibly quiet on the move and it's possible to do high speeds without wind rustle or hearing much of the engine. Sit in the back and you're treated to a generous amount of legroom, not quite enough to stretch right out, as you might in a limousine, but enough to make even long journeys comfortable. Headroom is OK for those of average height, though taller passengers may find that their heads come close to touching the roof lining because of the swooping roof line.

All passengers should notice how quiet it is on the move. Excellent sound-proofing means that wind and road noise are excluded and the engine is only audible under heavy acceleration. One of the CLS's main draws remains its practicality - the boot is huge. As well as the 520 litres on offer, the boot is easy load as it's close to the ground and, for the first, comes with the option of a beautifully engineered pull-out boot ‘bin' that folds out of the way when it's not needed.

Child seats that fit a Mercedes-Benz CLS (2011 – 2018)

Our unique Car Seat Chooser shows you which child car seats will fit this car and which seat positions that they will fit, so that you don't have to check every car seat manufacturer's website for compatibility.

Which car seat will suit you?

What's the Mercedes-Benz CLS (2011 – 2018) like to drive?

What's likely to be the best all-round engine in the CLS - the four-cylinder 204bhp CLS 250 CDI - isn't immediately available at launch, but it does manage to chalk-up some impressive figures, chiefly when it comes to CO2. Emissions from this engine will be between 134-138g/km CO2, putting it among some superminis when it comes to road tax - staggering for a car of this size.

Low CO2 always goes hand-in-glove with decent (official at least) fuel consumption figures. The CLS 250 CDI returns a claimed 55.3mpg on the combined cycle in official government tests - little wonder that this is the most important model.

The 350 CDI doesn't lag too far behind, with 159g/km CO2 (below the important 160g/km CO2 point for company car drivers) and a combined fuel consumption figure of 47mpg. It's an incredibly smooth, responsive and refined engine plus, with torque figures to compete with the V8 in the CLS 500, it's powerful too. It produces 265bhp and 620Nm of torque, which shows in the performance figures: 0-62mph takes just 6.2 seconds and it's capable of 155mph.

With two exceptional diesels on offer, it almost makes the CLS 350 petrol redundant. But this engine isn't without its merits. As you'd expect from a Mercedes-Benz V6, it's urgent when needed, while still being smooth enough for pounding hundreds of miles of motorway. It's relatively efficient for a petrol V6, too. Trouble is, after driving the CLS 350 CDI, you can't help but think that you're missing out.

Until the arrival of an AMG version (it's only a matter of time), the CLS 500 sits at the top of the range. This mighty engine boasts 408bhp and 600Nm of torque. And, if you're wondering, that's less than the 620Nm that's on offer from the CLS 350 CDI. As with the other engines, Mercedes-Benz has worked a minor miracle and has made a noticeable difference to emissions. The CLS 500 sees a 21 per cent drop, which means it now slides-in under 210g/km CO2 and returns 31.3mpg on the official combined cycle.

All petrol engines have a start/stop system for the first time with the 7G-TRONIC Plus gearbox. Diesels will get stop/start in future and get the standard 7G-Tronic gearbox that's operated from a stalk next to the indicator.

Making its debut on the CLS is a new Electromechanical steering system. What makes this different to others is that it makes a more direct connection between the driver, car and road. There's less to come between the input the driver makes by turning the steering wheel and it's outcome on wheels on the road. It's a system that seems to work well and the CLS turns sharply and changes direction accurately for a car of its size.

Like other recent Mercedes-Benz models such as the E-Class, the CLS is packed with safety systems - some of which are unique. As well as nine airbags (including pelvis bags at the front), Attention Assist is standard. This system works out when you're tired or not paying attention, based on steering inputs. If the system thinks that you need a break it'll flash up a warning on the HD display between the instruments.

PRE-SAFE works by priming the car for an impact in the seconds before an impact. At first the driver is given both an audible and and visual warning if the system identifies there is a danger of collision. If the driver does not react to this, the system takes over and brakes the vehicle. The emergency braking helps to reduce the severity of the impact.

Other safety features are optional and they include Active Lane-Keeping Assist (which gently brings the car back into lane if you stray by braking the wheels on the opposite side of the car and warns you through a vibration in the steering wheel) and Blind Spot Assist (visual warning in the wing mirrors and applies the brakes on the opposite side of the car). Highbeam Assist will dip the headlamps for you, while Nightview Assist Plus uses an infra-red camera to show obstacles in the view a night - essentially a posh version of the goggles that the army uses.

We wouldn't normally single out the headlamps for special mention, but in this case it's justified. The CLS is the first car in the world to feature all-LED headlamps, as an option, made up from 71 separate bulbs. Mercedes-Benz claims that they have an operating life that is five times longer than bi-xenons and offer an enhanced view of the road at night - though we've yet to try this for ourselves. The company also says that as the colour from LEDs is closer to that of daylight, it should mean less strain on the eyes of drivers of oncoming vehicles.

Engine MPG 0-62 CO2
CLS220 d 58 mpg 8.5 s 128 g/km
CLS250 CD 54 mpg 7.5 s 135 g/km
CLS250 CDI 54 mpg 7.5 s 138 g/km
CLS350 41 mpg 6.1 s 161–164 g/km
CLS350 CDI 46 mpg 6.2 s 160 g/km
CLS350 d 51 mpg 6.5 s 143 g/km
CLS400 38–39 mpg 5.3 s 169–170 g/km
CLS500 31 mpg 5.2 s 209 g/km
CLS63 AMG 29 mpg 4.2 s 231 g/km
CLS63 AMG S 29 mpg 4.1 s 231 g/km

Real MPG average for a Mercedes-Benz CLS (2011 – 2018)

Real MPG was created following thousands of readers telling us that their cars could not match the official figures.

Real MPG gives real world data from drivers like you to show how much fuel a vehicle really uses.

Average performance


Real MPG

18–52 mpg

MPGs submitted


Diesel or petrol? If you're unsure whether to go for a petrol or diesel (or even an electric model if it's available), then you need our Petrol or Diesel? calculator. It does the maths on petrols, diesels and electric cars to show which is best suited to you.

What have we been asked about the Mercedes-Benz CLS (2011 – 2018)?

Every day we're asked hundreds of questions from car buyers and owners through Ask Honest John. Our team of experts, including the nation's favourite motoring agony uncle - Honest John himself - answer queries and conudrums ranging from what car to buy to how to care for it as an owner. If you could do with a spot of friendly advice before buying you're next car, get in touch and we'll do what we can to help.

Ask HJ

Mercedes CLS engine noise

There is an intermittent change of engine note on my 2011 Mercedes-Benz CLS 350 CDI. Normally the engine is silent when slowly progressing through the gears but about every two weeks the engine noise will increase dramatically when accelerating or decelerating between 1500-2000rpm. Any idea what's causing this?
Reads to me like the pre-programmed active regeneration of the DPF that takes place around every 250 miles. If the instant fuel economy drops and you smell burning, that's definitely what it is.
Answered by Honest John
More Questions

What do owners think?

Our view gives your our opinion, based on driving hundreds of cars every year, but you can't beat the views of someone who lives with a car day-in, day out.

  • 5 star 50%
  • 4 star 50%
  • 3 star
  • 2 star
  • 1 star

See all owners' reviews