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Mercedes-Benz CLS 350 CDI Sport review (2011 onwards)
Model: Mercedes-Benz CLS 350 CDI Sport
Bodystyle: four-door coupe
Engine: 3.0 CDI V6 turbodiesel
Transmission: 7G-Tronic Plus seven-speed automatic
Date of test: February 2012
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What is it?
When Mercedes-Benz launched the original CLS it was a bit like your granddad suddenly revealing that he's bought a jet-ski. It may have been completely out of character but you found yourself gaining newfound respect for the stuffy old geezer off the back of it.
The elegant curves and confident creases of the CLS leapt out of a 2004 Mercedes model range that had previously seemed content to major in safe, traditional virtues. And if its striking looks weren't enough, the car also originated the whole four-door coupe concept, which has since been adopted across the luxury car market.
the first CLS was a game-changer in a few respects
Yes, the first CLS was a game-changer in a few respects but now there's another one. The second generation of Mercedes' much-loved coupe/saloon crossover has gained new looks and more efficient engines as well as an expanding pool of rivals. With 90% of first generation CLS customers choosing diesel, we chose to give the heavy-hitting 350 CDI model a run-out and see what it's made of.
Where does it fit?
Just as before, today's CLS fills in as a more stylish alternative to the E-Class executive saloon and a more practical alternative to the E-Class Coupe. Its bold four-door body is a major step up the Mercedes-Benz ladder though, costing around £15,000 more than those E-Class equivalents.
The CLS 250 CDI Sport model on test here has a not inconsequential list price of just under £53,000. That makes it a lot pricier than diesel versions of Audi's A7 Sportback with similar power. For its part, BMW offers the more driver-focused 6 Series Gran Coupe four-door at around £10,000 more than the CLS or the frumpy but enormous 5 Series GT hatchback for £10,000 less.
Is it for you?
So who buys a CLS? Well, as a concept, the four-door coupe makes undeniable sense. The buttoned-down, business-like image of mainstream executive saloons in the E-Class mould can be a turn-off for lots of people and the CLS manages to be a lot sexier without forcing its owners into the practicality shackles of a two-door coupe. It's got four adult-size seats and a big boot.
If the asking price is giving you palpitations, they might be eased slightly by the equipment list. As standard on the Sport model you get the 7G-Tronic Plus 7-speed automatic gearbox, the COMAND multi-media and satellite navigation system with DAB radio, adaptive headlights and a heap of safety kit. Naturally, there's then scope to bump the price skyward with options but the car is far from Spartan in Sport guise.
What does it do well?
The 3.0-litre diesel in the 350 CDI isn't the most powerful six-cylinder oil-burner out there but 261bhp and a thumping 457lb ft of torque means you're rarely left underwhelmed when you put your foot down. What you do get is effortless, surging acceleration that accompanied in the cabin only by a distant roar. The 0-60mph sprint takes 6.2s and the car would pass 155mph were it not for the limiter but it's done with minimal fuss.
The 0-60mph sprint takes 6.2s
The acoustic refinement of the CLS is well matched by the physical ride. The AirMATIC active air-suspension system is a £1,500 option but serves up cushy progress, even on scabby surfaces. In the softer Comfort mode the CLS can bang and judder over the worst bumps and holes but the stiffer Sport setting actually helps it cope better with rough British B-roads without making things overly harsh on the flat.
What doesn't it do well?
It might have coupe billing but the CLS is no sports car. A kerb weight of 1,815kg for this 350 CDI model can't be disguised completely by the polish of the chassis and the car doesn't dance through twisty sections all that nimbly at times.
The adaptive electronic power steering feels almost disconcertingly light around town but you really notice it gain weight and feel as the speeds increase. Once you become accustomed to its varying levels of assistance, there's a lot to like about the system.
What's it like to live with?
The four-seater cabin in the CLS oozes class with some really high-end materials in evidence. It's also bristling with technology and the Mercedes control interface doesn't always make everything as straightforward to use as it could be. You'll get used to using the column-mounted stalk to control the gearbox and the foot-operated parking brake but navigating the menus of the multi-media system might take more time to master. The boot is large but it's so long that you might have to clamber in to retrieve stuff from the far end.
The driving position is excellent
The driving position is excellent with a great range of adjustment but you can add to that by specifying the remarkable Dynamic Multicontour seats (for £1,310). Initially, it's like being perched on Robocop's lap with the chair mechanically jerking away beneath you like it's taken on a mind of its own. If you can relax a little bit though, you'll soon come to wonder how you ever managed without a car seat that moves to hold you in place through sharp corners, heats up, adjusts in a myriad different directions and (the best bit) massages your back on request. It's fantastic.
How green is it?
Considering the pace and luxurious feel of the CLS, combined economy of 46.3mpg is rather good. CO2 emissions of 160g/km should make certain that the CLS retains its popularity with executives who'd rather not add yet another E-Class of 5-Series to the office car park.
Would we buy it?
Imperious pace and comfort have long been Mercedes specialities but the CLS adds style and desirability at a level that cars carrying the three-pointed-star haven't always delivered as convincingly as their rivals.
To these eyes, this latest version isn't as interesting to look at as the original but it still moulds some dramatically swoopy lines around that plush four-seater cabin. As an all-round ownership proposition, this Merc appeals on all kinds of levels with the potent 3.0-litre diesel power perfectly complementing its easy-going style. Mercedes' four-door coupe might have spawned a host of imitators but it seems the original is still the best.
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First drive: Mercedes-Benz CLS
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