Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class 350 CDI Sport
Upright grille is most obvious change
- Bold exterior styling a departure from the the softer looks of its predeccessor
- A more engaging driving experience tha its E-Class cousin
- AMG variant proves that style and performance can work together
- Cabin ambience possesses a bespoke-like feel
- CLS boasts a sizeable premium over equivalent E-Class in a bid to enhance its exclusivity status
- Modest rear headroom will have tall adults feeling a little uncomfortable
- Sport variant's ride quality can struggle on poorly surfaced ubran roads
- Long options list could prove dangerously tempting for your bank balance
From posh compact hatchbacks to luxurious limousines, Mercedes offers a car to suit every taste. Factor in what German firm calls a four-door coupe and, with the CLS, another niche is filled. This second generation car is a departure from the rounded and soft-curved original, as it attempts to compliment Mercedes' bolder design language.
The car market is full of odd machines that don't quite fit the conventional, established classes. Mercedes' CLS is one of those cars. It may be loosely based on a traditional executive motor but its style and interior ambience couldn't be further from the accepted norm. For some the conventional 'three-box saloon' will be their default choice, but for others cars like the CLS have become a welcome alternative.
A coupe is supposed to have only two doors but the CLS has double that and a saloon-like boot. What the big Merc does have in common with a coupe is its distinctive sloping roof. And it's this feature, along with an interior that gives hints at a coachbuilt feel, that sets it apart from other luxo barges.
But why go to all this trouble? The simple answer is exclusivity. You're likely to see many more E-Classes running around than CLS', which if you're a potential buyer is good news. And when CLS prices are significantly higher than that of a comparable E-Class, you expect more for your money, too. With its more intimate cabin ambience, there's little doubt that the CLS experience is a special one.
Standard equipment levels are relatively high - even for something with a three-pointed star badge. Thanks to a combination of generous amounts of convincing trim materials, leather upholstery and the CLS' trademark flowing fascia, you really do feel special when inside the car's sung cabin.
Our verdict on the Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class 350 CDI Sport
Executive saloons are just that, saloons, while the CLS boasts a more rakish profile despite possessing a quartet of doors itself. Unlike a comparable E-Class, the CLS delivers a more engaging drive and has a high-class cabin that easily exceeds anything from other makers' cars. It won't be for everyone, but if you want an executive car with character, this Merc could be the one for you.
There's no question that the CLS is not a cheap car, but anyone seeking exclusivity will find this a fair price for something so unusual. Diesel aside, the petrol models use their fair share of fuel and main dealer servicing will be priced at the appropriate executive levels. Factor in the many attractive optional extras Mercedes offers and you are dealing with serious amounts of money. The car's status and scarcity should help residuals, though, and opting for a tax-friendly diesel model will help soften the financial blow a little.
Space and practicality
Like any saloon the CLS' four-door form can be limiting, although if you treat the rear accommodation as occasional seating because of the modest headroom you won't be disappointed. Even the space available up front is more snug than spacious, confirming the car's status as a true four seater. The upside is a full-length centre console complete with useful storage areas, plus a decent size boot.
Controls and display
The CLS' cabin proves that the German firm hasn't lost its touch when it comes to quality switchgear and sensible ergonomics. The main dials are clear and concise, while the minor switchgear feels substantial and built to last. The COMAND infotainment system is initially not the easiest to navigate thanks to the number of buttons you're presented with but practice eventually makes perfect.
Plush seats, a low roofline and a dominant center console that stretches the full length of the cabin all help to promote a feeling of being cocooned from the outside world. Front seat occupants fare the best due to the car's sloping roof, while the ride is slightly firmer than what you'd experience in a softer damped E-Class - more so in the Sport variant. As you would expect at this level, road and engine noise have been kept to pleasing minimum.
For a car this noticeable it will pay to keep belongings in the cabin out of sight, as the CLS is something of a head turner. From a convenience angle you can opt for Mercedes' key-less entry package, which allows you to get in and start the car without having to reach for the key. As for the rest of the experience there are no great surprises, just the usual remote locking and anti-theft package.
The CLS boasts all the latest kit; airbags, traction control, stability control are all onboard. Most people will rejoice at the level of protection offered, but keen drivers will rue Mercedes' decision to make the various systems cut in rather early, thus thwarting any attempt to really exploit the car's fun side unless you switch everything off completely. For everyone else, the inclusion of new technology such as driver attention alert and advanced blind spot warning systems should easily satisfy the critics.
Comparisons will be drawn with Mercedes' E-Class but CLS has been developed twith its own personality. There's a greater focus on refinement than with the first-gen car; and the seven-speed auto gearbox shifts gears smoothly, ride quality is impressive - especially with air suspension - and the big CLS feels nimble even on winding B-roads. Good news for your wallet; in the real world, the 350 CDI diesel offers all the performance you could need, while the four-cylinder 250 CDI should please tax-obsessed fleet drivers. V8 petrol and AMG variants exist, but in reality are likley to be bit players.
Family car appeal
The CLS is more likely to appeal to buyers without children - and with good reason. The car's plush cabin is no place for small children with a tendency to rub chocolate into the upholstery. Strictly a four seater, the CLS would be better suited to transporting a more mature family. For everyone else, there's always the E-Class, an SUV like the ML or even the R-Class people carrier.
First car appeal
For all the car's plus points it's hardly an ideal choice. Given the asking price, its performance potential and the inevitable premium car-sized running costs, the CLS must rank as one of the least suitable first cars around.
Quality and image
Cabin materials feel and look expensive, the switchgear operates with a well-oiled efficiency and much work has gone into improving the reliability of the various electrical systems - a failing that caused a noticeable dip in consumer confidence in the past decade. Image-wise the CLS stands out thanks to a lack of any genuine rival, its rakish profile and low volume exclusive status.
At the front you could almost be getting into a regular E-Class as cabin access is adequate. The rear of is a different matter thanks to the car's sloping roof. The doors don't open as wide for starters, and headroom is less generous than in a regular saloon. There's no disguising the fact that tall occupants will feel compromised accessing and exciting the rear of the CLS. At the rear, the car's boot aperture is a good size.
Stereo and ICE (In car entertainment)
Thequality audio system offered in the CLS delivers a good sound in the snug cabin. Remote controls on the steering wheel are a welcome addition, although the main display and array of buttons take a little getting used to. It's the same with the sat-nav, which although is fast and responsive when on the move, takes while to learn thanks to its various options and menus.
Colours and trim
Dark reds and silver work especially well, although black adds a menacing look to the already butch-looking Sport and AMG variants. Inside, the CLS boasts a facia similar to that of the E-Class. Its various gloss and matte finishes plus the various wood and chrome trim options add a welcome high quality feel to the cabin. A bog standard E-Class this car is not.
When you're sat low down in the driver's seat it can be difficult to confidently reverse it into a parking space. Visibility aft might not be that impressive, but there are no problems with the view forward. The car's auto gearbox is easy to use, the steering is pleasingly light at low speeds and the parking sensors will make a huge difference if you're not a confident parker.
Space saver fitted as standard.
Petrol engine options - CLS 350 (306bhp); CLS 500 (408bhp); CLS 63 AMG (557bhp). Diesel engine option - CLS 250 CDI (204bhp); CLS 350 CDI (265bhp). All cars come with seven-speed auto gearbox. Trim level is dependent on engine size.
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