The 2004 Mercedes-Benz CLS Unleashed a Tidal Wave of Compromised Pretend Coupes

The 2004 Mercedes-Benz CLS Unleashed a Tidal Wave of Compromised Pretend Coupes

Until the CLS, a coupe was a coupe. Then Mercedes invented a whole new kind of car, and inspired the rest of the industry to do the same.

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Photo: nakhon100 via Wikimedia Commons

Picture yourself in a German boardroom in 2001. You’re introducing a new concept car that’s going to revolutionize the automotive industry. It’ll bring two distinct body styles together in one cohesive package. Sure, it trades off a bit of functionality for form, but who cares?

Your creation is sleek and sexy, and nothing like it has ever been done before. You’ve created the C219 Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class, and you are so proud of your work.

Your mind is consumed with all the money you’re going to make your company and how much your bosses will love you. But what you don’t know, what you cannot possibly know, is the damage you’ve unleashed on society by creating this car.

A four-door coupe. This idea, once deemed impossible by the strict definitions of vehicle types, would set ripples through the world. SUVs would become coupes. Sedans would become SUVs. Wagons would become SUVs, and also die a slow painful death. This is your fault. This is all your fault.

Look at what you’ve done.

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BMW X6

BMW X6

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The CLS showed designers at BMW that they, too, could blend two vastly different segments to make a car nobody asked for. With this newfound power came newfound responsibility that BMW abused for years to come. In fact, BMW will show up on this list more than any other company.

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Volkswagen Passat CC

Volkswagen Passat CC

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Photo: Navigator84

The Passat CC (it lost the Passat name later) may be the closest thing to the CLS on this list, and the VW is important in its own way. The CC democratized four-door “coupe” styling. It started at less than half the price of a new CLS when it was introduced in 2008. Credit to VW designers: They saw something they liked and made it a people’s car.

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Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class Coupe

Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class Coupe

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Photo: SKas via Wikimedia Commons

This is an interesting case of a car company copying another company’s copy. Mercedes saw the success of the X6, a car I think is inspired by the CLS, and decided they wanted a piece of that pie too. That, my friends, is how we wound up with the GLE. I respect M-B a lot for this. They invented this mess, and then wanted a little bit more anyway.

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Acura ZDX

Acura ZDX

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Photo: Kevauto via Wikimedia Commons

I love the Acura ZDX. No, I will not be taking questions or telling you why. I like it. Leave me alone. I think it’s cool, okay? Acura perfected what BMW was doing with the X6. I even like the beak. Please, leave me be.

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BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe

BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe

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Photo: Andy Kalmowitz

Like I said, you’re going to see a lot of BMW on this list. If there’s anything the Ultimate Driving Machine company loves, it’s occupying space in niche automotive segments. Underneath the GC is just a regular old 3-series, but this one has a hatch! How novel. It’s a four-door version of a two-door version of a four-door.

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Audi A7

Audi A7

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Photo: Thomas doerfer via Wikimedia Commons

God damn. If there’s anything the Germans like doing, it’s copying each other. There was a time when the A7 was the CLS’s closest competitor. I suppose it technically still is, but when was the last time you saw a new CLS on the road? Exactly. This is a car for someone who can’t come to terms with the fact that they actually want a wagon.

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BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe

BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe

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Photo: BMW

This is actually a Mini underneath. It bears absolutely no relation to the reportedly wonderful, rear-wheel drive 2-Series coupe. It’s based on a front-wheel drive platform, and it’s ugly. At least it has pillarless doors.

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Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class

Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class

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This is the car that spawned the 2-Series GC. If that isn’t a strike against it, I don’t know what is. One thing in its favor is the CLA35 AMG. That thing is pretty cool.

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Porsche Cayenne Coupe

Porsche Cayenne Coupe

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Photo: Porsche

No idea why you’d get this over just a regular Cayenne. I mean, I know why someone would, but it isn’t a good reason.

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Toyota C-HR

Toyota C-HR

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Photo: Toyota

This one is a bit different than all the others in that it mixes three separate types of cars: coupe, hatchback and crossover. The C-HR does it well, actually, with strange styling that somehow works. You also have to respect that it’s the lone car on this list that isn’t very expensive. Points for that.

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BMW 8 Series Gran Coupe

BMW 8 Series Gran Coupe

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Man, oh man. BMW really is committing to the bit. The 8 Series Gran Coupe is basically an extra-large version of the 4 Series GC. But hey, at least you can get this one with a V8.

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Lamborghini Urus

Lamborghini Urus

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Photo: Lamborghini

BMW may be the brand with the most cars on this list, but VW Group is putting up a good fight. The Urus is the most expensive car on the list, which is a feat in itself. It may also be the worst looking. The Urus somehow finds a way to make a practical car impractical with that sloping roofline.

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Mercedes-AMG GT53/63

Mercedes-AMG GT53/63

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This right here is a weird vehicle. There isn’t a regular Mercedes-Benz variant, and it seems to make the CLS redundant—it’s roughly the same sizes, looks similar and occupies nearly the same space as the CLS. But hey, I don’t run the car company. What do I know? One thing I know is that you don’t see very many new CLSes running around anymore.

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BMW X4

BMW X4

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Photo: BMW

BMW must have seen how much money the X6 was making them, and decided to make more. That’s how the X4 was born. It’s a lower entry point to the same sort of attitude the X6 gives off.

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Porsche Panamera

Porsche Panamera

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Photo: Alexandre Prévot via Wikimedia Commons

I’ll admit it, the current generation of Panamera doesn’t quite belong in this list, but the first generation certainly does. It copied what the CLS tried to do. It was a whale of a thing, but it was fast. The new one is much, much better. It’s always good to learn from your mistakes.

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Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class Coupe

Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class Coupe

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Much like what BMW did with the X3 and X4, Mercedes did with the regular GLC. They made it less practical and more expensive. I appreciate that sort of gumption. Not many automakers just go out and say, “here’s a worse car, give us more money!”

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BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe

BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe

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Last but not least is the now-dead 6 Series Gran Coupe. It was another example of BMW making a four-door version of a two-door version of a four-door car (the 5 series). I will admit the 6 Series Gran Coupe is very pretty, in my opinion. Other than the original CLS it may be the prettiest.

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