Mercedes' latest CLS sharpens up its act and nowhere is that more apparent than in the CLS350 BlueTEC diesel model. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
Powered by a 258PS diesel that drives through a nine-speed automatic gearbox and returns 52mpg, the CLS350 BlueTEC is a class act. The cabin's been refettled, there's more equipment and more tempting options and some quite astonishing lighting technology. You can't do much better if you're looking for a fifty grand GT car.
On the whole we don't burden beauty with too much of an expectation of practicality. Picasso's Guernica doesn't come with a handy wipe clean finish. I'm guessing Natalie Portman doesn't do her own oil changes and Chanel has yet to market the Gore-Tex XCR little black dress. Look closely, however, and you'll find just that blend in the automotive sector. Take the Mercedes-Benz CLS as an example. Here is a car that appeals to the aesthete. Underneath its swoopy styling are the underpinnings of the more prosaic E-Class saloon so this car really only exists as a style statement. Despite this, choose the CLS350 BlueTEC and it weighs in with a healthy dose of common sense. It's powered by a diesel engine that's powerful enough to do that sassy styling justice but which nevertheless gets the sort of economy that you once associated with penny-pinching superminis. Presence and parsimony don't normally coincide but here in the middle of that Venn diagram is this intriguing CLS model.
To some, 620Nm of torque is quite an abstract figure. It sounds a lot. It is a lot, and the CLS350 BlueTEC delivers this hefty slug of muscle with the needle showing just 1,600rpm. To put that number in perspective, a Lamborghini Huracan makes 560Nm and you nedd to rev its V10 engine to 6,500rpm to get there. This should make you realise that the CLS has a lot more sinew than its 258PS power output figure might suggest. It's pretty brisk off the line, getting through 62mph from rest in 6.5 seconds but as with all good turbodiesels, it does its best work in the midrange where this car's phenomenal nine-speed automatic can constantly plug you into the business part of the torque curve. The CLS always feels as if it's from the senior end of the Mercedes roster, being a little more relaxed on turn-in than you might expect given its aggressive looks and although the engine refinement of this BlueTEC diesel is well up to speed, the chassis does let a few harmonic frequencies into the cabin at speed on typically poor UK motorway surfaces. Otherwise there's very little to complain about. The driving position is perfect and endlessly adjustable, the brakes are mighty and the car's long distance credentials are undisputed.
Design and Build
There was a certain delicacy to the styling of the first CLS. It was almost as if a basic shape was decided on early in the design process and then all the details and extraneous gewgaws were pared back. Less really was more. The second generation model decided that more was, after all, more. The styling was busier with a more muscular bulge to its wheel arches and a front end that was more pit bull than its slightly feline predecessor. The latest revision is subtle, with both the saloon and the Shooting Brake estate getting a revised diamond radiator grille, a reprofiled front bumper with larger air intakes, LED headlamps as well as slightly darkened tail lights with multi-level function. The basic design of the interior looks much the same with the exception of a free-standing 8-inch colour display. Other changes include a redesigned three-spoke sports steering wheel and a central control panel that's more intuitive to operate. Five interior colours, six trim finishes and a range of leather grades means there's plenty of scope for personalisation. The 520-litre boot is huge for a coupe-shaped car.
Market and Model
You'll need to fork out £49,950 for the CLS350 BlueTEC in ritzy AMG Line trim which is a fair investment but when you think that this car can cover miles in the relaxed and refined style of a top-end Jaguar XJ or Bentley Continental, it seems far from overpriced. There are a few options that may tempt you into spending over fifty grand on the car, including a gorgeous Harmon Kardon sound system, keyless go, an electric roof, seat memory and reversing camera which together tack around £6,000 onto the asking price. Mercedes is very proud of the lighting technology on this CLS and it's easy to see why. The light pods are full LED, which offer great visibility but the MULTIBEAM LED option is something that really brings this car to life after dark. Here you get a bank of 24 high-performance LEDs that are dimmable through 255 stages. The software is clever enough to spot oncoming cars and keep them in a moving cone of dimmed light while shining brightly at all other areas. This camera-based system can also be used to swivel low beam lighting around a bend even before the steering wheel is turned. Roundabout lighting, verge lighting, follow you home lighting - you name it, the MULTIBEAM LED pack does it.
Cost of Ownership
The CLS350 CDI might deliver more torque than a Lamborghini but it can also sip less fuel than a Fiesta. Drive it with a little less of a lead boot and you might even approach the official combined fuel economy figure of 52.3mpg. Carbon dioxide emissions are rated at a very modest 142g/km which is less than a 1.8-litre automatic Honda Civic. The desirability of the CLS helps it perform strongly on the used market and the diesel-engined cars are the most sought after. Comparatively rare cars with evocative styling rarely fall out of bed by the time owners come to sell them on and this is no exception. Servicing is not cheap however and the car's coupe status hardly encourages generosity from the insurance industry.
The Mercedes-Benz CLS is an undoubted indulgence but your conscience will be salved somewhat should you opt for the CLS350 BlueTEC model. There's something very satisfying about owning a car that looks this special and has such brawn under the bonnet but which will still return better than fifty miles per gallon. The list of updates that this car has enjoyed extend much further than just what's plumbed beneath the bonnet. Mercedes has concentrated on functionality but at the same time has improved the feel of the cabin to give a better impression of quality. Yes, this car's cabin really does stand comparison with luxury cars twice it price and its engine is a belter. That would seem to make it a bit of a bargain.