An 'estate coupe'? Can that really work? Mercedes reckons so. Jonathan Crouch tries the CLS-Class Shooting Brake
Ten Second ReviewThe Mercedes CLS-Class Shooting Brake is an estate car - but not as we know it. A stylish combination of form and function, it's a more sporting, coupe-like take on the station wagon theme that delivers discreetly rewarding driving dynamics, a beautifully finished cabin and, perhaps most importantly of all, a level of practicality that CLS-owners have never enjoyed before. Something they wouldn't have wanted had that versatility diluted the style that sets this car apart. But it hasn't.
BackgroundThe Shooting Brake. Isn't that just another word for an 'estate car'? Well no, not really. A Shooting Brake, in contrast, is more of an occasional and much more stylised load-lugger, loved by sportsman - and especially shooting parties (hence the name) - from the 1950s and 1960s, particularly here in Britain. A kind of 'estate coupe' if you like, which is why virtually 'shooting brake' designs up to this point have had only three doors. But can the concept also work with five doors? Mercedes reckons so and to make sure we're aware of the fact, has christened what you might at first think to be simply an estate version of their executive CLS-Class model with the 'Shooting Brake' title.
This variant will help Mercedes' CLS-Class model against sector competitors like BMW's 5 Series Gran Turismo and Audi's A7 Sportback. Neither car is as stylish as an ordinary CLS, but both do provide the versatility of a rear hatch, something Mercedes originally couldn't offer. Hence the need for the second generation CLS-Class range to include this five-door 'Shooting Brake' derivative to sit alongside the existing and continuing four-door coupe.
Driving ExperienceIf you come to this Mercedes expecting it to feel like a big executive estate car, then you'll be pleasantly surprised. As you should be. After all, the whole point of a 'Shooting Brake' is the delivery of sports coupe driving dynamics with extra carriage space. If the car in question doesn't manage that, then all it really is a sleekly styled estate car - like, say, a Jaguar XF Sportbrake or a BMW 5 Series Touring. To live up to its name, this CLS really has to offer a little more than that out on the road. And fortunately, it does.
Show the car a corner and you'll appreciate steering that's direct and surprisingly incisive - very different from that of a comparable E-Class. Yes, there's body roll but you can't completely eliminate that on a car this big. What matters though is that this rear wheel drive Mercedes feels very agile for such a large vehicle, with impressive levels of grip.
The Shooting Brake range is built around the same two key diesel units fitted to most CLS-Class four-doors - a four cylinder 204bhp 250 CDI and a V6 265bhp 350 CDI. All Shooting Brake models ride pretty well, thanks in no small part to the fact that all are at least partly air-sprung, Mercedes having added a self-levelling AirMATIC system at the rear right across the range to cater for the unlikely scenario of this car being saddled with a heavy load. The flagship model in the range, the only one with petrol power, the 557bhp 63 AMG variant, which has 800Nm of torque and can be specced to go as fast as 186mph, has its own sportier suspension settings.
Design and BuildIs this really some kind of sportscar? You could almost believe it. Like all CLS-Class models, the front end is modelled on that used in the SLS AMG supercar and is dominated by LED High Performance Headlamps.At the side, the uninterrupted arc of the upper window line really does offer something of a coupe-like feel, despite all those doors.
At around 5m in length, this car is 16mm longer than a normal CLS four-door, but the really important difference is the way that this extension prolongs the height of the roofline to make this Shooting Brake a more comfortable proposition for rear seat passengers.
Out back, the standard-fit powered tailgate glides upwards to reveal a hefty 590-litre luggage compartment that's the largest in the class. Push forward the 60/40 split folding rear backrest and up to 1,550-litres of luggage room is revealed.
And at the wheel? Well it's very grand indeed. From the immaculately hand-stitched leather dash top to the centre analogue clock borrowed from the S-Class and the matt-silver inlays around the air vents, everything in the wrap-around cockpit is all beautifully crafted - a very high end place to be. And fantastically comfortable too, even if you don't opt for the sumptuous Dynamic Multicontour seats with their inbuilt massage function.
Market and ModelThis car is an exclusive choice and as such, you won't expect it to be inexpensive. It isn't. The CLS Shooting Brake price span sits in the £50,000 to £85,000 bracket and represents a model-for-model premium of around £1,800 over the four-door coupe CLS-Class. Most sales though will be in the £50,000 to £55,000 bracket for either of the two diesel Shooting Brake variants, with most customers likely to be tempted to find the £3,700 premium necessary to progress from the entry-level 250 CDI to the pokier 350 CDI variant we tried. Requiring an £85,000 budget, the single petrol-powered choice, the top 63 AMG Shooting Brake flagship will be a rare but very exclusive choice.
Standard equipment runs to things like an Active Parking Assist system that'll automatically steer you into a tight space, a powered tailgate, rear air suspension with self-levelling and Bi-xenon headlamps. That's in addition to CLS-Class staple items like 18-inch alloy wheels, satellite navigation, electrically-adjustable leather seats, cruise control, a high quality 8-speaker stereo with DAB digital radio, Bluetooth connectivity and Hill Start Assist that stops you rolling backwards at uphill junctions.
In terms of options, the main one you'll need to consider is the £3,000 AMG Sport package that I have here - and that most will want. Here, you get larger 19-inch wheels, an AMG bodykit, sports-tuned suspension and uprated brakes, gearshift paddle-shifters, an AMG multi-function steering wheel, stainless steel pedals and the full LED headlamp 'Intelligent Light System' with a full beam that dips itself at night.
Cost of OwnershipAs with all CLS-Class models, all Shooting Brake diesel variants are designated 'BlueEFFICIENCY' models. That means they're uncommonly frugal. How frugal? Well the entry-level 204PS CLS-Class 250 CDI Shooting Brake goes nearly 150mph and weighs nearly two tones yet, with a combined cycle fuel figure of 53.3mpg, is pretty much as frugal as an entry-level 60PS 1.25-litre Ford Fiesta supermini. Impressive isn't it?
Because this CLS 350 CDI diesel has six rather than four cylinders, it isn't quite that frugal but the combined cycle fuel return still isn't far behind, at 47.1mpg. My only real annoyance here is that it's only this pokier diesel that gets the largest 80-litre fuel tank as standard - the one you'll need for a really useful operating range. In terms of CO2, you're looking at 139g/km for the smaller diesel (which leaves it just outside the 10% company car write-down tax threshold) and 161g/km for this one.
So how has efficiency like this been achieved? The answer lies essentially in four areas: lightweight construction thanks to the use of all that aluminium, a start/stop system that cuts the engine at the lights or in traffic when you don't need it, sleek bodywork with a 0.29Cd drag factor and the efficient electromechanical power steering. Less of this kind of effort has been directed towards the running cost returns of the single petrol-engined model, the top 63 AMG. Having said that, its returns - 28mpg on the combined cycle and 235g/km of CO2 - aren't really too bad for a car with a throbbing 557PS petrol V8 under the bonnet.
SummaryIf you always liked the idea of a Mercedes CLS-Class but, a bit like me, always thought it would require too many practical compromises, then this Shooting Brake version may well be your ideal car. It'll fit into the way you live, rather than obliging you to create a lifestyle that suits it. But it'll still offer up a unique driveway statement in the way that a CLS has always done. In fact, arguably a more distinctive one.
The name may be a nod to past hunting wagons of the landed gentry but the concept is very much of our time: a large estate that doesn't drive like one, that's exquisitely finished, practically configured and affordable to run, if not to buy in the first place. It is very much, as I said at the beginning, the estate for people who wouldn't normally buy such a thing. And that makes it a very special car indeed.