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2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS550 4Matic

Mercedes-Benz CLS is belissimo! Add to ...

Driving isn’t just about the ride. It’s about the experience – taking the road less travelled or most heavily populated and making memories.

And if the drive takes place in Italy, it’s unforgettable – although I may be biased. Because my parents were born in southern Italy I have an affinity for the country. The lifestyle, the food, the landscape, the air, and the people – it’s no wonder Mercedes-Benz chose Florence to showcase its new 2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS four-door coupe.

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It’s little surprise the design of the second-generation CLS isn’t a drastic leap forward. After all, why mess with a good thing? But the look, especially from the front end, is bolder, more athletic with muscular air scoops, a long hood and a big three-pointed star.

One of the most striking features is the lighting design. An LED indicator strip in the headlamps illuminates in the shape of a C, making it recognizable even at night. The 71 LEDs, arranged in three levels from top to bottom, are low energy and have a long life, averaging 10,000 hours – five times longer than xenon. The LED high-performance headlamps are part of an optional LED lighting package that also includes another innovative feature – adaptive high-beam assist. It’s a great safety feature when driving at night; the system automatically dips the headlamps if it detects an oncoming vehicle with its lights on. The driver doesn’t do a thing to engage or disengage the high beams.

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While the new CLS550 is slightly wider, longer, and taller than its predecessor, the sloping rear is still its hallmark cue, creating an attractive silhouette from the side view with sharp creases along its body.

Despite the slanting roof, head room has improved for the rear-seat passengers. But it’s not by much – more significant is the increase in shoulder and leg-room in the rear seats. But be wary when stepping inside – it’s easy to bump your head when entering and exiting the rear.

The rear seatbacks now fold down, too, for more cargo-carrying capacity. You probably won’t need to use them, though – the trunk is long and large with an impressive 520 litres of space – sufficient to fit several golf bags.

For the first time, the four doors are made of aluminum – they’re 24 kg lighter than conventional steel doors. The hood, front fenders, the trunk lid and major parts of the chassis are made from aluminum, too.

Step inside the CLS, and you’ll feel the luxury instantly – with its real wood, rich leather, an elegant new steering wheel and instrument cluster, it feels more like an E-Class or an S-Class. The two front seats fit like a glove; they’re supportive and comfortable, especially with my tester’s massage function on the driver’s seat to knead tired back muscles on long drives.

Safety is a top priority in the CLS550 – there are countless standard safety features such as 4Matic all-wheel-drive and nine airbags, including two front pelvis airbags and a driver’s knee bag.

An optional Advanced Driving Assistance package includes Distronic plus, a radar-based cruise control that monitors the vehicle ahead and adjusts your speed to maintain a safe distance. Active blind spot assist monitors the blind spots to the sides of the vehicle and warns when it’s unsafe to make a lane change. Active lane keeping assist alerts you if you are unintentionally crossing a solid line. And that’s not all – if you don’t react, the system will apply brake force to the opposite wheels to bring the vehicle back on course.

Powering the CLS550 is a new engine- under the hood is a 4.6-litre twin-turbo V-8 mated to a revised seven-speed automatic transmission. The engine delivers 408 horsepower and 443 lb-ft of torque. Despite the power boost, Mercedes claims the engine is 10 per cent more fuel efficient than the outgoing 5.5-litre V-8. Carbon dioxide emissions are also reduced.

The CLS550 hugs the winding roads beautifully. Climbing up the Tuscan hills it’s a more luxurious ride than a sporty one. Off the line, it’s quick, and there’s no turbo lag, either. Gear changes are subtle; you can also use the shift paddles on the steering wheel for a sportier ride. In Europe, Mercedes-Benz offers diesel engines on the CLS, too. Too bad Canada won’t see them. The four-cylinder turbocharged diesel is a quiet, refined, clean, powerful ride with impressive mileage – only 5.1 litres/100 km.

The 2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS hits Canadian dealerships next year. The CLS550 4Matic goes on sale next fall; the CLS63 AMG next spring. Prices aren’t available yet.

pgentile@globeandmail.com

2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS550 4Matic

Type: Four-door, four-passenger luxury coupe

Base Price: Not available

Engine: 4.6-litre, twin-turbo, DOHC, V-8

Horsepower/torque: 408 hp/443 lb-ft

Transmission: Seven-speed automatic

Drive: All-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): not available; premium gas

Alternatives: Audi A7, Volkswagen Passat CC, Jaguar XF, Porsche Panamera

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