NEW MODEL ICON
Mercedes has substantially improved its CLS, a car intended to bring coupe style to the four-door Executive sector. David Vivian sets the scene.
The aspect of updating the CLS that must have worried Mercedes most was the styling makeover. Mild or radical? You could argue both sides but Merc's design chief Gordon Wagener, at the risk of upsetting the applecart, has clearly gone for radical. And for that, read much more brutal, muscular and athletic. It's a look that's already courting some controversy, even if it is 10 per cent more aerodynamically efficient than before. But then that's not so different to the shock that greeted the original CLS before it was widely regarded as a modern classic. It might be wise to reserve judgement. Perhaps more predictable are the inclusion of new engines plus a raft of changes principally targeted at dynamics, weight and efficiency.
Ten Second ReviewTo say that expectations are sky high for the MK2 CLS is probably guilty of wild understatement. The car almost single-handedly responsible for inventing a new genre of four-door executive saloon - a proper four-seater with the swoopy fastback styling of a coupe - enters its second generation to face the imitators it spawned, including the Audi A7 Sportback.
BackgroundIf the CLS, launched in 2005, represented a spectacular return to form for Mercedes' often rather patchy styling efforts, it was also a wake-up call for saloon shapes in the wider world of car design, undoubtedly influencing the likes of the VW Passat CC, Vauxhall Insignia, Jaguars XF and XJ and, most recently, the Audi A7 Sportback.
The formula of giving the sober-looking E-class saloon a dramatic and almost achingly elegant new set of clothes aping the silhouette of a full-on coupe, sharpening the steering and recalibrating the suspension proved an instant hit. It also seemed to suggest that buyers were willing to sacrifice a good deal of rear headroom to have such a stunning shape parked in their driveway, especially as the bespoke cabin of the CLS was so much more inviting than that of the E-class. The wide span of engine choices, starting with the 3.0-litre turbodiesel and finishing with the CLS 55 AMG's monster 5.5-litre supercharged V8 (later replaced by an even more powerful naturally-aspirated 6.2-litre V8) gave the car broad market appeal.
Driving ExperienceBeneath the smarter, slightly lighter, skin (aluminium doors save 24kg apiece), there are plenty of technical advances to add to the CLS's already impressive mix of talents. All models come with Mercedes' own column shift seven-speed automatic transmission (now called GTronic Plus with a revised torque converter), but this is now wedded to an engine stop-start function; the combination is claimed to be significantly more fuel-efficient than before. The second generation CLS is also the first Merc to get electromechanical power steering and the first road car in the world, it is claimed, to have directional LED headlamps.
Under the skin, this car's track is 20mm wider than that of the old CLS, plus it has MacPherson strut/multi-link chassis hardware taken from the current E63 AMG saloon. As for the engines, the 3.0-litre V6 common rail turbodiesel that powers the CLS350 CDI (which will take the lion's share of UK sales) has been upgraded with a new turbo and lower compression ratio to deliver 265bhp - a breezy 41bhp more than before. There's also a lower-powered 204bhp CLS 250 CDI diesel. This is joined by a couple of petrol options, a naturally-aspirated 3.5-litre V6 direct injection petrol engine with 306bhp and a freshly developed 408bhp 4.7-litre twin turbo V8. This latter version, badged CLS500, is an exciting prospect, developing 20bhp and 52 lb ft of torque more than the naturally aspirated 5.5-litre V8 it replaces and is claimed to be 25% more fuel efficient. Unlike cheaper variants, it also comes with Airmatic air suspension as standard.
Design and BuildAs for styling, well all right, maybe after six years in production with only the slightest of aesthetic tweaks, the CLS was beginning to seem a little dated. But it still looked wonderfully graceful and sleek. The 'MK 2' keeps the same general proportioning, high waistline and almost impossibly raked roofline, but the panel surfaces have acquired much more muscular contours, the nose treatment is blunter and bolder and the rear now has huge tapered tail lamps. Styling is entirely subjective, of course, so perhaps a three-word summation is best: bold, brave, contemporary.
Inside, 'style statement' is writ just as large, the emphasis again being on boldness and clarity. As with its predecessor, this CLS shares materials and switchgear with the E-Class but in a unique and much less angular setting. The 'cosy' ambience created by the high beltline remains, as does the low-slung driving position which is 18mm nearer the ground than in the E-Class. Expect the usual excellent standards of build and finish.
The rear doors are longer than before, which should make getting into the back a little easier. No, it isn't as spacious as an E-Class inside, but Mercedes claims useful gains in head, shoulder and legroom all round and the boot is 15 litres bigger than before at 520 litres - generous by any standards.
Market and ModelThis CLS comes with just about everything needed to keep its occupants pampered, safe, informed and amused. It's offered with the Active Blind Spot Assist and Active Lane Keeping Assist systems we've already seen in the E-Class. In addition to other proven safety features like standard ESP stability control, traction control, anti-lock brakes, brake assist, Neck-Pro anti-whiplash front head restraints and the Pre-Safe advance crash system. The hand-stitched leather facia top is a nice touch and there's a total of five interior colours, five trim levels and three grades of leather to choose from.
The TFT display for the satnav and infotainment system has been made larger and repositioned higher on the facia. Plus the optional Comand APS multimedia system includes a DVD audio and video player, a 40-gigabyte hard drive, USB and auxiliary inputs and Linguatronic voice-activated operation. Music lovers should be well served by the Harman Kardon Logic 7 hi-fi and kept at exactly the right temperature by a revised 'Thermotronic' automatic climate control, which features separate driver, passenger and rear passenger temperature controls.