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Mercedes-Benz CLS review (2011 onwards)
Summary - Second-generation version of Mercedes' innovative four-door coupé isn't as revolutionary as the first but brings with it much improved performance, efficiency and emissions
We like - Still distinctive, cabin, refinement, steering feel, engines - 350 CDI in particular, much improved efficiency, oozes confidence and desirability
We don't like - Second-gen styling heavy-handed in places, interior less adventurous too, V6 petrol seems superfluous
Nobody saw the CLS coming when it first launched as the Vision CLS concept at the 2003 Frankfurt motor show. Normally a conservative brand, this swoopy, boldly styled four-door coupé was a massive gamble for Mercedes but one that's paid off handsomely.
Mercedes are meant to be solid and sensible rather than sexy but the CLS proved a new creative streak and rivals have been scrambling to catch up ever since, Audi only just revealing its A7 last month and BMW still with no direct answer.
This all-new CLS isn't quite as shocking as the first, the styling a clear evolution and, if anything, toning down the original car's dramatic 'banana car' profile and replacing it with some rather heavy-handed surface detailing.
Under the skin the core V6 petrol and diesel engines are evolutions of the existing ones, the 250 CDI twin-turbo four-cylinder diesel and a new twin-turbo petrol V8 joining later. Safety, aerodynamics and efficiency are all improved too but is it enough?
A staggering 90%-plus of CLS customers in the UK have opted for diesels, a revised V6 350 CDI carried over into the new car with a power hike from the standard 224hp to 265hp and torque up from 398lb ft to a thumping 457lb ft.
It's easy to understand the popularity of this six-cylinder diesel engine. With Mercedes' seven-speed 7G-Tronic gearbox, the CLS350 CDI is effortlessly rapid thanks to the engine's huge reserves of torque and easy-going refinement.
It's probably not quite as slinky as the V6 in the Jaguar XF Diesel S or as charismatic as the best BMW equivalents but the combination of a powerful CDI engine and the CLS's swoopy lines is clearly a proven winner.
So are CLS customers ready to go four-cylinder? We know the 250 CDI engine from the C- and E-Class and it's a cracker. The 3.5-litre V6 petrol is less attractive, being thirstier and less torquey than the diesel and barely a tenth quicker to 62mph.
Ride and handling
Of the big German three only Mercedes has nailed the ability to harmonise ride, steering and powertrain to give that elusive sense of flow that makes both long distance motorway driving and twisting country roads feel so effortless.
In this respect there's an almost Jaguar-like alertness to the way the CLS rides and steers, the latter especially impressive given that this is the first Mercedes to use an electric power steering system in place of the traditionally more feelsome hydraulic setup.
It boosts efficiency and slices 7g/km off the CO2 but making it as responsive and natural as a conventional system has been a big challenge for the engineers and required a bespoke front suspension setup.
We'll wait to drive it in the UK before ruling decisively but first impressions suggest that on 19-inch wheels the standard chassis is perhaps a little unyielding, the two-way adjustable Airmatic air suspension a worthwhile investment by this showing.
Mercedes has worked hard on improving interior quality of late and a return to old-school values of visibly high-class materials and workmanship continues in the CLS. A pity then the outgoing car's distinctive, elliptical facia has been replaced with a nondescript, slab-like dash.
There's more space though, shoulder room being especially generous. It's worth remembering the CLS is strictly a four-seater, in keeping with its coupé ethos. The boot is a usefully massive 520 litres though, meaning there's no need to pack light even when travelling four-up.
Economy and safety
Both economy and safety are significantly improved, the CLS350 CDI that accounts for the majority of sales in the current range going from 37.2mpg and 200g/km to 47mpg and 159g/km, scraping in below the 160g/km write-down limit for company cars.
That's a fuel consumption improvement of over a fifth compared with the outgoing car, the new CLS250 CDI being even better and able to achieve 55.3mpg and 134g/km. Petrol cars with the revised 7G-Tronic Plus gearbox get a new start-stop system too.
The CLS follows the E-Class's lead on introducing ever more sophisticated safety systems, having no fewer than 12 active safety functions available, including new lane keeping and blind spot assists that use the brakes to nudge the car back on course.
More significant is the world's first production-ready LED headlight system, comprising 71 separate LEDs and incorporating Mercedes' Intelligent Light System. The 'colour' of the beam is said to be closer to that of daylight too, reducing driver fatigue.
The MSN Cars verdict
The new CLS is further proof that Mercedes is on something of a roll at the moment and returning to its traditional strengths of quality, superb refinement and ceaseless technical innovation, not least in the fields of safety and efficiency.
It's a pity then that the new CLS is stylistically more cautious than the outgoing car, the fact 170,000 people bought into it suggesting Mercedes customers perhaps aren't as conservative as assumed. It's still a mightily impressive and very desirable car though - A7 beware.
|Need to know|
|Engines, petrol||3.5-litre V6, 4.6-litre V8 turbo|
|Engines, diesel||2.2-litre four-cyl turbo, 3.0-litre V6 turbo|
|Torque, lb ft||273-457|
|0-62 mph, secs||7.8-TBC|
|Top speed, mph||150-155 (limited)|
|Mpg combined||31.3 (provisional)-55.3|
|CO2, g/km / Tax||210g/km (provisional)-134g/km 30%-18%|
|Ride & handling||*****|
|MSN Cars verdict||****|
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