When Mercedes first introduced the original CLS-Class 13 years ago, it was a totally fresh type of car design, yet it kick-started a huge trend: the so-called four-door coupe.
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“The first CLS kind of invented that class, and now we see four-door coupes from everybody in all classes,” says Gorden Wagener, Mercedes-Benz Chief Design Officer. “It [the CLS] was the trend-setter, this is why we call it ‘the original.’”
The 2019 CLS-Class continues that legacy with an all-new design that builds upon the low-slung looks and sleek silhouette of its predecessor. While we’re already given you a thorough run-down of all the technical details surrounding the new CLS, here’s what you need to about its styling.
“The CLS is always a beautiful, sexy car, and this is why people drive it,” says Wagener. That’s driven primarily by its proportions, with a long wheelbase, short overhangs, and that low roofline.
“The CLS has the perfect proportion in the industry,” Wagener says. “It was the first time designers were allowed to do a car that looks as expressive and over-exaggerated as a design sketch.”
Version 3.0 of Sensual Purity
This is the latest version of a design language that Mercedes calls Sensual Purity; it’s essentially the third iteration of the Sensual Purity. Wagener explains that the name and the styling mantra play off the combination of beauty and rationality in design.
“We are having something that is super emotional and beautiful on one hand, and on the other hand very clean and timeless,” he says. “It’s like heart and brain, emotion and intelligence.”
The aggressive front end uses the grille shape from the AMG GT with pointed headlights and arrow-like running light shapes. “We call it the ‘Predator face’,” Wagener says, due to the “shark nose” forward slant to the fascia (noticeable from the side view). Those headlights add to the effect with arrow-like running lights: “The triangular shape even increases the wedge, so that gives the car a very aggressive look.”
Smoother Design Language
Earlier Sensual Purity cars had lots of sharp lines and creases, which made sense to introduce the design language: “We did that purposefully to come up with this very expressive design language to make that change obvious.”
But the newest cars – and the 2019 CLS especially – wear a softer look. That’s a deliberate transition, says Wagener, that reflects a cleaner approach to design.
“Modernity through design is typically transferred through something that is clean and pure,” he says, joking that during the design process, “If we like it, we take a line off. If we still like it, we take another line off. That’s our motto.”
Tapering Greenhouse Helps Style And Aerodynamics
By narrowing the passenger compartment toward the back of the car, Wagener says the Sensual Purity language creates a provocative shape over the rear wheels.
“Every Mercedes has a shoulder, or let’s say hips,” he says. “We are back with what we love as humans, you know? That give a very nice stance.”
There’s also a functional benefit: by narrowing the greenhouse, aerodynamic performance is improved.
No Visible Spoilers
Unlike many four-door coupes, the 2019 CLS doesn’t have any pop-up spoilers at the rear. There isn’t even an upkick to the trunklid; Wagener says that the entire shape of the rear window and the back of the car, along with an underbody diffuser, delivered adequate aerodynamic performance without the need to sully the lines with a wing.
“Typically you need a little ramp here for downforce, but we managed to do it without,” says Wagener.
The Taillights Add Some Visual Contrast
Recapitulating the sharp-edged, almost triangular shape of the headlights, the taillights break up the rest of the car’s styling language.
“We kind of contrast the graphics to the beautiful, let’s say soft body,” he says. “We put these very sharp, geometric graphics with very fast lines, similar to the DLO [daylight opening] lines.”
Bold Interior Pieces
Though the cabin design mostly carries over from the E-Class sedan, Wagener says his team still wanted to make a strong statement inside. The air vents, for instance, have a unique design: “We call it the ‘jet exhaust’ look.” And the use of real wood, stitched leather, and cold-to-the-touch metals helps deliver an analog feel despite all the car’s on-board technology.
“I keep saying this is kind of a hyper-analogue feature,” he says, likening it to the enduring appeal of a mechanical chronograph in the era of smartwatches. “It’s very important to contrast these analog solutions to the digital world.”
It’s A “Dream” To Style The CLS-Class
With the opportunity to make more of a statement than on, say, an E-Class sedan, designing the CLS-Class gives Wagener and his team a lot of liberties.
“This is dream proportions for a designer, with the low roofline, steep angles in the windshield,” he says. “It’s fun to design that car and it allows us to do such clean stuff.”