When Mercedes-Benz launched its first-generation CLS ‘four-door coupé’ it caught competitors completely by surprise. The car boasted the profile and stance of a performance two-door coupé, but in reality, it was a fairly large and reasonably roomy four-door saloon.

It was judged one of the most beautifully styled saloons on the road and was widely admired, and indeed copied, by other luxury carmakers. For 2019, Mercedes-Benz is bringing us a third-generation CLS and it features several quite radical enhancements. The basic styling premise featuring an arching waistline and low roof is thankfully left untouched. One worthwhile highlight for the new car is the addition of a third seat at the back. The CLS always had four seats, but now it’s become a full five-place saloon. There is a minor price to pay for that low roof though and it’s associated with rear headroom. This has never been particularly generous for tall people, but more than likely owners will rarely carry a full load of adult passengers in a sporty car like this. For those who must have space in the back for taller folk, Mercedes will be happy to sell them an S-Class saloon which has always had lots of headroom in the rear. Incidentally, the backrests can be folded down to create a more spacious load area.

At launch time, three new engines were on offer, all of six-cylinder layout. Two are diesel units of 286 and 340 horsepower respectively and one is a 367-horsepower twin-turbo petrol engine. All models come with Mercedes’ 4MATIC all-wheel drive system. A CLS 53 AMG variant will follow and this also uses a pair of turbochargers and, interestingly, an electric auxiliary compressor. All engines use a 9-speed automatic with manual override. The cockpit is fully digital with high-resolution displays and features some intriguing upgrades over earlier models. The instrument panel can be configured in three different styles, ‘Classic,’ ‘Sport’ and ‘Progressive.’ so owners can get exactly the look they feel comfortable with. More of the controls in the new CLS are located on the steering wheel and most are touch buttons. If that seems a chore, voice control can be used for several vehicle functions, including climate control, seat heating and ventilation, interior lights, a massage function, a head-up display and even what Mercedes calls ‘fragrancing/ionisation.’

As with any Mercedes-Benz product, fit and finish both inside and outside the car is something of an industry benchmark in the luxury segment. The quality of materials and the way all the components are assembled means that the car will look like new for many years to come with a little care. Mercedes has always put a lot of effort into safety and was introducing occupant protection technology long before government regulations demanded it. Expectedly, the CLS has just about every imaginable safety system built in, much of it related to state-of-the-art electronics. There are many hazard scenarios in which the car will take over from the driver and provide faster and more effective response from the brakes and other systems.

The CLS remains one of the most impressive examples of styling innovation from any carmaker and Mercedes-Benz has refined the characteristic design thoughtfully so as not to interfere with the original concept. The new car includes worthwhile numerous upgrades and the fifth seat will be welcomed by many. It remains a niche market car compared to other models by Mercedes which gives it a nice touch of exclusivity and originality. There are more practical large saloons on the luxury market, but this one is a model that’s hard to resist.

ENGINE: Petrol and diesel six-cylinders available plus AMG performance variant.

TRANSMISSION: 9-speed automatic.

ACCELERATION: Zero to 100 km/h in 4.5-seconds (AMG).

TOP SPEED: 270 km/h (AMG).

I LIKED: Wonderful styling that stands out even among rival luxury saloons in this class. Outstanding fit, finish and assembly quality. All models perform well, but the AMG package is especially tempting.

I DIDN’T LIKE: Not a standout saloon when it comes to rear seat headroom, but this is mostly a problem for taller occupants.

MARKET ALTERNATIVES: Porsche Panamera, Audi A7, BMW 6 Series Gran Coupé, Mercedes-Benz GT 4-door (upcoming).

WHO DRIVES ONE? People looking for a Mercedes that stands apart from most large 4-door saloons on the road. Buyers who need four doors, but would like to have a sporty element to their cars.

PRICE AND AVAILABILITY: Available now starting at €70.650.