Road Test: Mercedes-Benz CLS
The CLS is cutting-edge design that plays to some traditional brand strengths, says Alex Grant.
SECTOR Executive PRICE £57,640-£74,050 FUEL 32.5-48.7mpg CO2 156-203g/km
WITH its compact products in order and variants to suit all lifestyles, Mercedes-Benz is continuing to make ‘premium’ accessible and versatile. It’s sold 1.35 million cars worldwide in a record first seven months of 2018, and even a challenging UK market hasn’t stopped the three-pointed star ranking among the best-selling brands.
The CLS is part of that ongoing evolution. It’s not a volume driver like the A-Class, but merging coupé and executive saloon plays to traditional brand strengths, and it defined a segment back in 2003. Although that gave it a head start, there are some diverse rivals to fend off, and generation three has had to up its game.
It has good foundations. Beneath noticeably cleaner and less fussy styling than its predecessor, a bit like the latest A-Class, the CLS is based on a platform familiar from the E-Class. It’s a five-seater for the first time, offered in the UK with a single, high-spec, AMG Line trim. As before, spec-for-spec it’s roughly on par with the Audi A7, undercuts the BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe, and faces a leftfield rival from the still impressive Tesla Model S.
However, this isn’t just a curvier E-Class. From launch, at least, the non-AMG range comprises three six-cylinder engines, all equipped with four-wheel drive and a nine-speed automatic gearbox. These include a ‘mild hybrid’ 282bhp petrol, which comes in at 184g/km, and two diesels; the 282bhp 350 d and 335bhp 400 d, as tested here, both at 156g/km. Baseline CO2 figures are lower outside the UK, as there’s an additional, smaller, 18-inch wheel option.
So, no hybrids. But big diesels still make sense in a car like this, built as it is for covering the length and breadth of the Continent in effortless comfort. It makes easy progress at motorway speeds, with almost no wind, road or engine noise and an 80-litre fuel tank to help eat up the miles. Motorway fuel economy of around 50mpg is impressive, and independent testing by Emissions Analytics has shown it’s one of the cleanest diesels on the market, easily coming under the limits set by the RDE2 standard during on-road use. Sadly, that’s not recognised by company car tax yet.
Inside, it feels like a high-spec E-Class. Standard UK specification includes the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster as well as the matching navigation screen, and the dashboard is trimmed in artificial leather and finished with plush aluminium and ash inserts. Three-quarter visibility is predictably tricky and the boot opening is narrow, but two of the three rear-seat passengers have plenty of head and leg room, and the bench folds flat too. In polluted areas and tunnels it’ll even switch the climate control to recirculate the air rather than drawing it in from outside.
But it is a little behind the new A-Class, which is spearheading a new generation of infotainment that hasn’t come to the CLS yet. It means brilliant new technology such as the augmented reality navigation display, which overlays directions over a live forward image, aren’t available, and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are optional. As in the E-Class, the steering wheel trackpad buttons are too sensitive while manoeuvring, and don’t allow track skipping without going into the Media menu on the home screen. Details, perhaps, but persistently irritating ones.
In fleet, at least, it’s a car that perhaps needs a plug-in or four-cylinder diesel option, and possibly the old car’s Shooting Brake variant to really drive volume. But for those who can, the CLS shows growing mainstream appeal hasn’t blunted the three-pointed star’s talent for premium.
As big a generational step forwards as the E-Class, the CLS’s only weak points are its limited engine range and the comparatively old technology compared to the new A-Class.
Key Fleet Model – Mercedes-Benz CLS 350 d 4MATIC AMG Line
Strengths – High-speed luxury with 50mpg fuel economy.
Weaknesses – Limited engine line-up, A-Class infotainment is a generation ahead.