Thunderbolt or damp squib – lifting the lid on Stuttgart-Untertürkheim’s ‘Jag-fighter.
In 2004 Mercedes-Benz launched the CLS-series, breathlessly telling journalists, “The CLS is a thrilling symbiosis between the elegant design of a coupé and the functionality of a four-door luxury saloon – and the result is a unique, pioneering vehicle concept that is tailored to suit the tastes of automotive connoisseurs.” It’s clear Mercedes’ copywriters really reined themselves in here.
It may be difficult to believe, but the Mercedes-Benz CLS has been with us now for over a decade. Launched amidst a level of hyperbole that had many reaching for the medicinal sherry bottle, Sindelfingen’s banana-shaped ‘Jag fighter’ proved a ringing success straight out of the box, but left many of us wondering whether that success would last or if the bendy-Benz would sputter and pop? Well, perhaps it’s time we found out.
Contrary to expectations, the W219 CLS has been more of a European than a US sales success, with overall sales nearly twice that of the New World. Nevertheless, the Euro crisis of 2009 hit ephemera like the CLS hard, deliveries falling off a cliff in 2010, but the current W218 series saw volumes recover almost to pre-crash levels. Aiding matters, the current series also comes with a 2.1 litre diesel-powered option, offering customers their fur coat with less of the requisite knicker quotient. It’s austerity Jim, but not as we know it.
Although starting at a lower base, US sales have followed a similar pattern, collapsing almost entirely during the height of the financial crisis, before staging a modest recovery. Mercedes doesn’t offer the knickers-optional version in the US – large-capacity petrol engines being the sole choice.
European sales suggest the model is not only viable, but in fact outsells its E-Class coupé sibling by a useful margin. The four-door configuration has global appeal, whereas the two-door coupé concept remains one with limited viability outside more traditional markets.
Taken together, Mercedes is covering most bases. Couple this with a high degree of personalisation and what you have is two highly profitable car lines, derived from more prosaic saloon bases – (if not the same prosaic saloon base). Because E-Class coupé sales are not separated from those of the saloons, it’s more difficult to ascertain how well that model is doing. But the United States has traditionally been the E-coupés natural home, so if it is going to sell anywhere…
To return to the original question then, has the CLS been a success? With combined European and US sales of just over 200,000 units in ten years, it would be churlish to suggest otherwise. It’s apparent the four-door template is proving versatile, opening up the coupé market in places like China; suggesting Mercedes has been astute to see a gap in the market. But equally clear is the market for fashion items is a highly sensitive one with a fickle customer base.
The second generation CLS appears an established model line within the Mercedes-Benz hierarchy, with both ‘saloon’ and (somewhat pointless) ‘shooting brake’ versions offered in the name of choice. But with increased competition from homeland rivals and a new breed of sporting SUV’s nipping its heels, the cost of reinventing the CLS every five years to maintain market relevance will determine the model’s ultimate fate.
European sales figures source: Left-Lane. US sales figures source: Good Car Bad Car.