Mercedes-Benz CLS 63 homage sketch by Niels van Roij

Design Icons: Revisiting the Trend-Setting Mercedes-Benz CLS (2004)

The Mercedes-Benz W219 CLS was a monumental achievement in car design when it launched in 2004. An original 2001 design sketch by American-born designer Michael Fink [though Peter Arcadipane also lays claim to the design –Ed.], the CLS was marketed as a four-door coupe and based on the W211 E-Class. Fink was also responsible for the first CLK, the C-Sportcoupe and both the Maybach 57 and 62.

At the time of its unveiling, the Mercedes-Benz press release stated the CLS-class was designed to combine the ‘strong, emotive charisma’ of a coupe with the ‘comfort and practicality’ of a sedan. Until then, no other car company had sought to combine the two vehicle typologies. Though its sleek roofline and low DLO sacrificed rear passenger space (the CLS was only available in a 2+2 arrangement) it was a small price to pay for an infinitely cooler car.

The CLS marked Mercedes-Benz’s return to the executive-size coupe market but, more importantly, it introduced a new segment to the luxury market then dominated by high-end sedans and coupes. The CLS also commanded a 10 percent price increase over the E-Class, making the CLS project a successful undertaking for the brand in the eyes of bean counters and marketers. The trend was set and many competitors followed with similar body styles.

In profile, the CLS’s prominent bone line was used for a number of reasons and combined with secondary design elements: The teardrop-shaped headlamps lead the eye backward over the bone line towards the car’s low roofline as well as towards the sharp-edged tail end, which creates a sporty cut-off look. The bone line also helps to develop an impression of solidity, combined with the wide C-pillar.

The facet on the shoulder originates from the area in front of the front wheels and runs all the way towards the cut-off tail, which accentuates not only the large dash-to-axle ratio but the entire length of the vehicle. It is a shame the bone line — and especially the character line below it — is lost in the taillights and doesn’t continue through the rear three-quarter.

Mercedes-Benz CLS 63 homage sketch by Niels van Roij

The specific CLS in this homage sketch (above) is the 63 AMG. I believe its body kit improves the stance by adding more visual weight and horizontal character on the lower end of the body. In particular, the front end of the car looks more trapezium-like. The five-spoke wheels, with a deeper dish in the rear compared to those in the front, complete and compliment the package well.

The clean surfacing combined with hard creases — especially on the side and rear end — of the CLS are seen, according to some, as a link to the great Bruno Sacco era of Teutonic, solid Mercedes-Benz design. And though the front end lacks definition and character compared to the rear end, the CLS has played a significant role in introducing an important new segment to modern automotive design, both for Mercedes-Benz and many competitors.


Founded in 2012, Form Trends tirelessly covers the automotive design industry in all corners of the globe to bring you exclusive content about cars, design, and the people behind the products.