Mercedes CLS 500 (C218/219)

Mercedes CLS 500 – The best looking Merc?

I have a problem with Mercedes drivers. Well one in particular, the driver ahead of me on the Pacific Highway just south of Griffith, who has purchased a Mercedes CLS 500 but refuses to explore its depths of acceleration. Rather, he prefers to pull out when an overtaking lane arises and sticks at the same speed as the car he is apparently attempting to overtake. The words ‘city’ and ‘wanker’ escape from my lips and I try to cover them up with a cough before my youngest daughter picks them up.

These drivers enrage me. Why in hell do they even bother pulling out if they simply want to keep at the same speed? Equally, why do the drivers of the cars he is trying to pass decide to speed up when the brief two lane carriageway arrives, only then to decelerate when it ends? The lane width is the same and is designed for cars to drive at the speed limit people, not 5 to 10 km/h less, but on the limit.

I have to calm myself by stuffing yet another lolly in my mouth and open the window to get some fresh air.

I’ve never really liked the look of Mercs though. Well except for the Pagoda roof SL. And the 300 SL Gullwing. And the 300 SL Roadster.  And the 500 SL. So, at risk of sounding all Python-esque, apart from the SL’s then, they always seemed to be rather boring looking, old man type cars.  Square jawed, wonderfully made they have been but for overweight businessmen.

Mercedes cls500

Then in 2004 something wonderful happened. The designers in Stuttgart must have just returned from a lengthy, boozy holiday in Italy, or possibly France, and drunk on wine penned the CLS. And it took an American to do it too, for as the story goes, the original concept was meant for a Dodge model, not a barnstormer from Baden-Württemberg. Luckily someone nicked it off the Yanks before it was named the Gillette, or some such nonsense, and the most attractive Mercedes in years was born. A curvaceous coupe that, after having a five litre engine shoe horned into it, was given not two but four doors. Who had ever heard of such a thing? A coupe with space for two extra passengers and a way to easily and graciously get in and out of it, as long as the rear passengers were under six foot that is. You see, that wonderfully sloping roof does have its draw backs, but who cares when you’re driving it.


Initially two engine variants were offered; the 5 litre and an entry level 3.5 litre, but soon a 3 litre V6 diesel was added and then the mad men at AMG got hold of it and added the 55 and the simply bonkers C63 to the range. However, we are concerned with the 500 here, simply because of cost. No doubt we would all plump for the AMG if we had a lazy $75-120,000 available (at today’s second hand prices), but this site is concerned with affordable cars, so the miserly 500 V8 it is then. And honestly speaking, does a second slower up to 100 km/h really make that much difference? They are all limited to the same top speed so let’s assume it doesn’t. The 500 will sprint to 100 in a mere 6.1 seconds, reducing to 5.4 a year or so later with a new 5.5 litre engine. The AMG’s would do it in 4.7 and 4.5 respectively, so come on who is counting?

Power everything came as standard, as did expensive low profile tyres. However, parking sensors were only an option, so it is important you source a car with these included because you will need them. The angles of the car slope in such a way that it is difficult to ascertain where bumper stops and scrapes begin. It is also very much a four seat car, so families of five have no chance, so bear this in mind. Yes, rear passengers may not have much of a view, due to the high waistline and large seats and head rests in front of them, but tell them to desist with their moaning and enjoy the cossetting ride and comfy armchair provided.

But what is it like to drive?

Based on the E-class platform, Top Speed tells us that “Stuttgart widened the E-Class’ track, lowered its center of gravity, fitted larger wheels and brakes, and gave the CLS’ variable assistance rack and pinion steering system a faster ratio.”

Autocar at the time said it had “effortless torque and relentless acceleration.” It’s “slick seven-speed transmission kicks down a couple of ratios under full throttle, [and] you could be forgiven for thinking AMG has had a hand in the V8’s development. A near-perfect transmission and 530Nm of torque give the CLS relentless acceleration from any speed.

So it drives well then. Though this is no sports car, it is a grand tourer but Mercedes ensured it could take the corners as well as any car of its size and then many that are smaller and perceived to be more nimble.

For cars registered between 2005 and 2008 prices range from an amazing $39,999 for a vehicle with around 135,000 kms on the clock, up to around $60,000 with a mere 45,000 kms. If you bought a new one today, you would have to fork out $230,000 so for a wait of between six and eight years you can realise a 75% discount. Most available in Australia have driven just under 100,000 kms and are priced around the $45-50k mark.

So what’s wrong with them?

In a few words – not a lot. Though the CLS was based on the E-class, luckily it does not share its rather dubious reputation for reliability. The forums are low on noted problems and high on praise. However, as with any car so heavily electrically assisted, my Landie included, these things can go wrong in time, so switch on everything, press every button and test to see everything works.

There have been some reported issues with the automatic gearbox sticking in gear and at one point the CLS was recalled for possible faulty brake pedals, a loss of engine power, airbags not deploying as they should and the odd fuel leak. The brake issue was traced to faulty wiring within the Sensotronic control unit, and there was a faulty crankshaft sensor on cars built in 2006 and 2007 that led to the power loss. However, these issues should all have been dealt with at the time, so it is unlikely you’ll find them 7-8 years on.

So all in all, if you have a spare $40-50k and don’t take a look at one of these beauties, you should have your head examined. That is unless you are of the ilk of the aforementioned driver on the Pacific Highway, in which case, you should be shot at dawn for even considering it. Go buy yourself a Holden Barina, for then at least you’d spend more time at the service station getting it fixed than taking up valuable road space.