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Mercedes-Benz CLS review (2005-2011)
For a company that from the outside to many is still considered rather conservative, Mercedes seems to be having a bit of a wild time at the moment. In between developing stupendously quick AMG models with their vocal 5.5-litre supercharged V8s, dropping mighty V12 engines with Earth-turning torque into flagship models and offering the 200mph+ McLaren Mercedes SLR, the German firm is developing niches within niches to expand their reach even further. How else would you explain a four-door coupe? Surely they mean saloon?
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Indeed, the conventional idea of a coupe is a two-door, stylish alternative to a four-door saloon. More sporting, lithe looks and character an acceptable trade-off to the inherent loss of practicality by losing two doors and much of the rear passenger space. Mercedes knows this, and does very nicely in the coupe market with its CLK and CL, but, ever keen to exploit a niche Mercedes has created the CLS. The thinking behind it seems to be; coupe looks with saloon practicality. So how does it stack up?
Looks wise the CLS is certainly striking. It works better in some colours than others, silver, a Mercedes staple, doesn’t work as well as darker shades, but whatever the hue, it’s undoubtedly a dramatic looker. The small window area, high, broad sides and pronounced curvature of the front and rear give it proper coupe-esque looks, but there’s four doors there, meaning it’s a whole lot easier for people to get in the back.
Those doors are small, and inside, although there’s space for four, it feels very coupe-like in its cosiness. The low roof and small glass area help here, but the sculpted seats (only two in the rear) and the large central console make you feel snug without being claustrophobic. The large slab of matt finished burr walnut isn’t perhaps to everyone’s taste - and given the modern looks of the exterior lines and concept of the CLS – it’s somewhat traditional, but it all feels impeccably built and ergonomically sound too.
Two engines are offered from launch. The 3.5-litre V6 is the entry point, and is expected to cost around £41,000. Meanwhile, the 5.0-litre V8 should cost £50,000 when both go on sale in March. Obviously a 5.5-litre supercharged AMG version will be offered too, but the CLS 350 or the CLS 500 will prove enough for most.
The smaller engine, while losing two cylinders to its V8 relative, is no underachiever in the performance stakes. With 272bhp and 350Nm of torque it manages to sprint to 62mph in just 7.0 seconds and onto a 155mph (limited) maximum. The 5.0-litre V8 betters the 0-62mph time with just 6.1 seconds but it only adds 34bhp to produce 306bhp, the additional 100Nm of torque (up to 460Nm) making the CLS 500 feel quicker in the mid-range. Either sounds good, the larger V8 better, but you won’t feel short changed with the CLS 350.
Spend the extra £9,000 on the CLS 500 though and you gain Airmatic DC suspension, allowing you to choose between sporting and comfort settings. On winding Italian roads the CLS 500 displays its more sporting character, resisting roll and gripping well when pushed hard. The Airmatic suspension keeps everything under control, though expansion joints on the motorway are hit with a noisy thump. The steering is nicely weighted and accurate, but it still lacks the precise feedback demanded by keen drivers. The CLS proves a rapid and capable performer, but feels more suited to relaxed fast cruising than serious press-on driving.
As such it struggles to match rivals in its class for outright driver appeal, but it’s still a highly credible car. It looks sensational, is comfortable and opulently appointed. Offering real-word practicality to the owner looking for a more useable alternative to a conventional coupe it’s successful in carving its own niche, and is sure to attract buyers. That’s what Mercedes was after, and it seems that they’ve succeeded.
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