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Mercedes-Benz CLS Shooting Brake review (2012 onwards)
What - Mercedes-Benz CLS Shooting Brake
Where - Florence, Italy
Date - September 2012
Price - From £49,360 (CLS 250 CDI Shooting Brake)
Available - November 2012
Key rivals - Audi A7 Sportback Porsche Panamera, BMW 5 Series GT, Range Rover Sport, Jaguar XF Sportbrake
Summary: new Mercedes coupe-saloon-estate starts a new niche and should rightly do well: it recaptures the avant-garde spirit of the original CLS with a useful extra dose of practicality.
We like: elegant and head turning looks, sheer practicality, well-judged ride and handling, excellent V6 diesel
We don't like: not cheap, gruff-sounding 2.2 diesel, cabin should have more differentiation over the E-Class
Remember how, less than a decade ago, Mercedes invented an entirely new sector of car with the four-door coupe CLS? Now it's at it again: enter the five-door coupe-estate CLS Shooting Brake. Only this time, it's an idea that's been explored before.
Mercedes is fine with this, even referencing cars such as the 1970s Reliant Scimitar in its briefing video. Yes, really. Then, as now, it's been designed for buyers who need space, want something different but don't want an estate. Up to now, they may have compromised with an SUV: this is something much better suited.
This is a long, sleek, bold car that turns a lot of heads
It's striking to look at, led but not dominated by the long, gently arching roofline that flows into a steeply raked, near-fastback hatch. It seems to be more harmonious than the CLS coupe, boasting the confident elegance lacking in that car. A return to the distinction of the MkI CLS, if you like.
Most of the body panels are aluminium, cutting weight, and details such as the frameless side windows are wonderful. An E-Class estate looks extremely staid alongside it: this is a long, sleek, bold car that turns a lot of heads. That's why people will buy it - but now, there are practical justifications too.
UK buyers can choose from two diesels and a range-topping 5.5-litre V8 AMG model - with 557hp and a sublime engine note, this is predictably brilliant. The diesels are the key motors though, particularly the entry-level four-cylinder CLS 250 CDI.
The four-pot is effective, producing 204hp and a meaty 368lb ft of torque from just 1,600rpm. It's quiet when cruising too. However, the slightly gravelly engine note is a bit too intrusive at times, and not quite in keeping with the car's elegance. It's not shuddery and doesn't vibrate - it's actually very smooth - but the quality of the noise isn't there.
It is both fast and responsive
The CLS 350 CDI is the contrast: silkily smooth, this sublime 265hp engine also produces 479lb ft of torque between 1,600-2,400rpm, and reaches 62mph from rest in 6.6 seconds. It is, in short, both fast and responsive - and with a distant, delicious V6 hum that only hints at being a diesel during low sped running, there's no question which is the choice motor.
All CLS Shooting Brake get a seven-speed automatic that changes up too early in regular mode - default to Sport for the response you need. Even so, Mercedes' once-leading auto is feeling a little off the pace compared to the competition's marvelous eight-speed ZF auto.
Ride and handling
There are no big differences to the CLS coupe, meaning this has a similarly wide-ranging arsenal of talents. Ride quality retains the same impressive blend of long-travel suspension absorption and overall control, even on the test car's 19-inch alloys. Only occasionally was comfort spoiled by a thud.
Air suspension is standard on all CLS: the Shooting Brake adds standard self-leveling rear suspension, which ensures the rear doesn't sag even with heavy loads. Those who tow will love it: an optional foldaway tow bar makes it even simpler for them.
The steering is light but direct
It has loads of natural ability and balance, instilling confidence from the off. The steering is light but direct, body roll is there but the suspension is sharp enough for you to work with it rather than fight or drive round it. You don't expect it, but this is an unexpectedly pleasing car for drivers.
There is one subtle byproduct of the shooting brake rear, though - a little more bump-thump road noise over surface knobbles. Because the rear is larger and more open, there's more space for such noise to radiate and echo in. You soon stop noticing it but it is something CLS coupe drivers will observe.
Up front, there's no difference over the CLS coupe - which means you get the same slightly disappointing E-Class-derived dashboard. No bespoke CLS dash here. At least, with five colour choices, five trims, three leathers, three woods plus carbon fibre and even porcelain, you can make the fixtures and fittings your own.
The rear cabin has more headroom thanks to the extended roofline, and it's a full five-seat layout too. As with the front, the door openings are a bit compact and there's a small sill to step over, but this only adds to the coupe cockpit feel. Too-high front seats spoil this a little, alas.
An optional cherry wood boot deck
The boot is where the interest lies. A standard electric tailgate reveals a long load space that's wide and uncluttered: although, big, it breaks a Mercedes stipulation that estates must swallow fridges - but the carpet and trim is so plush here, you probably wouldn't want to put one in anyway. There's even an optional cherry wood deck, modeled on yacht decks.
It's very easy to load as the steeply raked rear creates a large overall opening despite narrowing towards the base, and optional aluminium rails stop loads sliding about very effectively. Handles by the bootlid remotely fold the rear seats flat, turning 590 litres into 1,550 litres. Yes, that's enormous: bigger than an Audi A6 Avant seats up, almost as big seats down.
Economy and safety
The 250 CDI is the one for fleets, as it has sub-160g/km CO2 emissions (although the legislation changes next April so the advantage won't remain for long). It averages up to 53.3mpg: the 350 CDI, which emits 161g/km CO2, averages 47.1mpg. The V8 is thirsty, but not disastrous: it averages 27.9mpg, and such a thirst is worth it.
To a brace of standard safety gadgetry, Mercedes offers optional full LED headlights, which give a beam even more like daylight than xenon lights. They're so good, 95% of buyers choose them. The optional Easy-Pack load securing option is also a good safety tick, for just £255.
The MSN Cars Verdict
The more you see the Mercedes CLS Shooting Brake on the road, the more striking it appears. It stops being a CLS with a new back end and becomes a more cohesive car in its own right. It's easily our choice out of the two, bringing back the distinctiveness of the original car with an added extra dose of practicality.
Fine to drive, with a magnificent V6 diesel option, it of course isn't cheap and the derivativeness of the interior is a pity, but it's otherwise a very appealing new Mercedes indeed. Maybe Reliant was on to something after all.
Need to know - Mercedes CLS Shooting Brake
Engines 2.2-litre four cylinder turbodiesel, 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 diesel, 5.5-litre V8 twin-turbo petrol, rear-wheel drive
Power, hp 204-557
Torque, lb ft 368-590
0-62mph, secs 7.8-4.3
Top speed, mph 155
MPG, combined 27.9-53.3
CO2, g/km/tax 139-235/tbc
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