Coupé de Foudre – Mercedes CLS

Thunderbolt or damp squib – lifting the lid on Stuttgart-Untertürkheim’s ‘Jag-fighter.

The 2004 CLS - image via tuning.carwallpapers
The 2004 CLS – image: tuning.carwallpapers

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.

That bananamobile again - image via ghostmotorsports
That bananamobile again – image: ghostmotorsports

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.

Oooh, swoopy! The 2011 CLS - image via galleryhip
Oooh, swoopy! The 2011 CLS – image: galleryhip

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.

2011 Mercedes-Benz CLS 63 AMG top car rating and specifications
2011 Mercedes-Benz CLS 63 AMG. Image: top car rating and specifications

European sales figures source: Left-Lane. US sales figures source: Good Car Bad Car.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

8 thoughts on “Coupé de Foudre – Mercedes CLS”

  1. Despite the current CLS being a backward step in terms of styling, I expect the model will remain a part of the Mercedes firmament. As for the Shooting Brake, I am not so sure. I have heard from a couple of different sources that they have been offered Shooting Brakes on giveaway leases, i.e. cheaper than the CLS or even the E Class estate. Anecdotal, I know, but it surely does not bode well.

  2. I expect the four-door coupé to follow in the Dodo’s footsteps (hopping marks?) in a decade’s time. Like the roadster of the 1990s, its very much a phenomenon of a particular time and age. As with the roadster, some core models – the CLS certainly being among them – will remain, but I doubt we’ll live to see the day of the W3855 version CLA.

    Murat Günak’s original CLS will eventually reach classic status, but it’s one of those universally loved ‘design cars’ I couldn’t stand ever. Its saving grave is its truly abominable successor, which is simply misguided on too many levels to count.

    The concept at the root of the four-door coupé is a very fine one and very close to my beloved Jag XJ.4 – I just find it aggravating that it takes the marketing ruse of labelling a sleek saloon a ‘coupé’ to convince people of its merits.

  3. I somehow prefer the overall stance of the second iteration to the banana-shaped original, but the styling of the latter is a lot more subtle. Maybe the 3rd gen will achieve perfect balance – to my eyes at least.

  4. The first CLS offended me with its droopy shape and the nasty crease that collided with the lip of the wheel arch. Credit where it’s due: it helped MB identify a market for people who wanted something a bit “bling” and rap-starry. It also inspired VW’s very, very well-designed Passat CC which is one of this decades most convincing and beautuful saloons. I don’t understand why it is not more popular and lionised.

  5. I remember a TV-report at the day of the CLS-release in 2004. They parked a brandnew CLS in the middle of the city of Stuttgart and started a survey with one question: Is this car a futuristic concept-car or a car for the streets, that everybody can buy?
    The result: No one expects from Mercedes to produce a car like that. So the first version of the CLS was a complete breath of fresh air for the conservative image of Mercedes.
    The second generation is a direct way back to conservatism. I don´t like the side-view with a lot of busy lines.

    As a secondhand bargain in 10 years or so, i am afraid most of the CLS of the first generation will be in the hands of flying carpet dealers and young rural men with a lot of golden chains and a big mobile phone.
    So i would search for a white Shooting Brake with the designo wooden boot floor, the Bang&Olufsen sound system and the nice warm light-system.

    BTW: In my eyes, the Citroen C6 the only real alternative to the Mercedes CLS for some years.

  6. Mercedes owned steady conservative design. I liked what they did with that genre. The CLS could have been done withing that idiom instead of being styled in such a fussy and contrived manner.

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