Starting with a graceful, stunning design, the 2018 Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class dazzles with its balanced handling, luxurious cabin, and sizzling AMG-enabled performance. At the same time, it's hampered by poor fuel economy, a wonky infotainment system, smallish trunk, and tight rear-seat headroom.

Best Value

With a new 2019 model waiting in the wings, pricing for the 2018 CLS-Class begins with the CLS 550, powered by a 402-horsepower, 4.7-liter twin turbocharged V8 mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission, available in either rear- or all-wheel drive, at a base price of $76,145, and can easily climb to over $150,000 for a fully-optioned AWD AMG CLS 63, which is equipped with a 577-hp, 5.5-liter V8 matched with a seven-speed automatic.

The typical power features are present, plus LED headlights and taillights, keyless entry with push-button start, dual-zone automatic climate control, leather seats (memory, lumbar, powered and heated up front), steering wheel paddle shifters, a moonroof, ambient lighting, adaptive air suspension, Bluetooth, and eight-inch infotainment screen. Standard active safety features include a rearview camera, pre-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, adaptive brake assist, and attention assist.

Since the AMG trim is an exercise in overkill, we'd opt for the CLS 550, choose the 4Matic for all-season driving, and toss in a number of optional safety features. Here's how we'd build it:

  • Model: 2018 Mercedes-Benz CLS 550 4Matic
  • Engine: 4.7-liter twin turbocharged V8
  • Output: 402 hp / 443 lb-ft
  • Transmission:Nine-speed automatic
  • Fuel Economy: 17 City / 25 Hwy
  • Options: Driver Assistance Package ($2,250, adaptive cruise control, steering assist, automatic emergency braking, pedestrian recognition, rear-end collision detection with front seat occupant crash preparation, blind-spot monitoring, lane keeping assist, front cross-traffic alert and pedestrian detection), Heated Steering Wheel ($250), Split-Folding Rear Seats ($440).
  • Base Price: $78,645 (including a $995 destination charge)
  • Best Value Price: $81,585

Performance

Mercedes-Benz CLS-CLass

A set of muscular V8 engines paired to advanced automatic transmissions along with a composed ride are the hallmarks of Mercedes' CLS-Class. In either front- or all-wheel drive, the twin turbo V8 CLS 550 provides impressive acceleration. The ride is comfortable enough to lend itself to long stretches of relaxed cruising, but when back roads beckon, the chassis is more than up to the task, courtesy of the standard adaptive shocks. The AMG-tuned CLS 63 AMG turns the wick up even further, offering near-supercar levels of acceleration, going from zero to sixty in just 3.5 seconds. The CLS 63's chassis also kicks handling up a notch courtesy of a wider track, sticky summer tires, and an adaptive suspension tuned by AMG.

Not that it matters much to CLS buyers, but the model's stunning performance comes at the expense (pun intended) of – depending on the model – average to poor fuel economy. RWD CLS 550 models return an EPA-estimated 18 miles per gallon in the city, 26 on the highway, and 21 combined, while AWD lowers those numbers to 17 mpg in the city, 25 on the highway, and 20 combined. As you might expect, the AMG CLS 63 trails those two models with an EPA-estimated 16 mpg in the city, 22 on the highway, and 18 combined.

Interior and Exterior

From its smartly textured grill emblazoned with the three-pointed star, to the arching curve of its aggressively tapered roofline, the CLS is a tour-de-force of styling cues that accentuate its stunning, rear-bias, long hood, short trunk lid design. That sheetmetal is wrapped around a lush and inviting cabin, gracefully sculpted and trimmed in colorful combinations of wood and leather. The supportive front seats adjust 14 ways, offering enough room even for tall occupants, while the sheer number of wood and trim options make the CLS seem more like a Maybach.

The cabin's shortcomings lie with its tight rear seat, small trunk, and awkward infotainment interface. Rated a four-seater, those in back pay the price for the swoopy roofline, which makes ingress and egress difficult. The tallest passengers may have to slouch in order to avoid contact with the roof. Likewise, the 11 cubic feet of trunk space is smaller than a Honda Civic's. Finally, M-B's COMAND interface, which controls the non touch-sensitive eight-inch display, requires users to follow confusing, indirect paths in order to operate phone, navigation, and audio functions – whether through the control knob, voice commands, or steering wheel switches.

The Best and Worst Things

We're attracted to the CLS-Class' gorgeous profile and beautifully-appointed cabin, but are turned off by the cramped rear seat and small trunk.

Right For? Wrong For?

Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class

Style-conscious buyers will appreciate the bold, graceful design and lush interiors offered by the entire CLS-Class, while enthusiasts will revel in the stunning performance of the AMG CLS 63.

A small trunk, seating for four, and lackluster fuel economy will have eco-friendly families looking elsewhere.

The Bottom Line

Despite a smallish trunk and back seat, poor fuel economy, and a finicky infotainment system, its stunning design, balanced handling, and luxurious cabin place the 2018 Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class near the top of its class.