With so many gears at its disposal, the 306-horsepower V8 is never far from its sweet spot, a circumstance that makes the sizable sedan feel quicker than its horsepower number would suggest. Mercedes claims a 0-to-60-mph sprint of 6.1 seconds, a believable number. Responses from the advanced transmission are satisfyingly quick, especially when left in the sport shift mode that livens up the performance even more. Manually shifting through the gears hardly seems necessary, but for those who find it worthwhile, there are optional steering wheel-mounted shift buttons available.

The fact that the CLS feels much like its E500 and S500 siblings through the gas pedal is no surprise and certainly no disappointment. Where it deviates slightly from the two is in the way it handles itself through the turns. It uses much of the same suspension and steering hardware, but subtle differences in the tuning of these components yield a feel unique to the CLS.

Mercedes' Airmatic suspension system comes standard, giving the CLS a level of adjustability to suit every type of driver. Left in its default comfort mode, the CLS responds with typical luxury car motions, soft when it needs to be and stiff enough to maintain complete control at all times. Harshness is nonexistent and even the cobblestone roads we encountered on our test-drive didn't upset the chassis. It's in this mode that the CLS does its best to mimic the comfort of the S-Class, and most drivers would find little reason to change it.

But with its coupelike profile comes the promise of acting like one, so the CLS offers two additional settings designed for more aggressive driving. We dialed the stiffest setting up during a romp through twisty country back roads and were surprised by just how much it shrunk the perceived dimensions of the CLS. Although it's nearly nine inches longer than an E-Class, it weighs barely a few pounds more, and as we transitioned from one curve to the next it was obvious that despite its accommodating rear seats, this was no S-Class. Unlike the big flagship that reminds you of its size when pushed, the CLS invites you to go harder at every turn. Quicker steering, less body roll and plenty of grip thanks to standard 18-inch wheels and tires give the CLS a legitimate claim to coupelike performance.

Long, low and masculine, the lines of the new CLS500 leave you curious and a bit confused at the same time — a state of mind that Mercedes no doubt fully intended. For when it comes to shaking up the rarefied air of the luxury car world, no amount of power under the hood or computers in the cabin can top the draw of an intriguing design. More stunning in person than in even the most flattering pictures, the CLS has a visual presence that few of its peers can match.