Whether or not you “get” the whole concept of a four-door coupé, you can’t help but be impressed when you peer into the rear accommodation of a Mercedes-Benz CLS. On the one hand, you think, it’s completely daft to have a car as big as this (we’re talking 4.9m long) that can only carry four people. On the other, you just want to sink into one of those soft leather seats, lean back and nod off as your chauffeur whisks you down to the south of France.
You’d get there pretty quickly too, at least in the case of the 350 CDI tested here. The figures read 265bhp at 3,800rpm and, more tellingly, 457lb ft of torque on tap from 1,600rpm through to 2,400rpm from the turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 diesel mill, all channelled to the rear wheels through a seven-speed automatic gearbox. It's a combination that makes travel completely effortless. Use even half of the available throttle travel and this is a seriously quick car, all that torque making mincemeat of the 1,815kg kerb weight. Figures of 0-62mph in 6.2secs, 155mph flat out and 46.3mpg on the Combined cycle still seem remarkable when they come from the same car, even when you know BMW, Jaguar and Audi do big diesels just as well, if not better.
The optional (to the tune of £1,500) Airmatic suspension does its best in the face of the heavy body, enormous wheels and low profile tyres, only really failing when it comes to the sharpest of bumps and potholes. Hit the latter and the lack of sidewall in the tyres means that the shock is sent right through the car’s body, yet further evidence that smaller wheels and bigger tyres are the sensible choice for driving in the UK.
That aside, the CLS is an excellent, relaxed cruiser with plenty of traction and grip. The steering, an eletromechnical setup, is decently weighted and accurate, the brakes powerful and the gearbox smoother than a Roger Moore voiceover. That it is operated by a column shift setup only adds to the CLS’s considerable sense of individuality.
What this isn’t, despite all the talk of coupés, is a sports car. Start to lean on the grip and you’ll find that the electronics are slightly too eager to intervene, while the big, heavy engine also means that this isn’t a car that feels comfortable being flung around, particularly on narrow, bumpy British roads. Better to adopt an approach whereby you back off in corners and let that effortless surge propel you back up to speed on the straights.
A word should go too to the “Dynamic Multi-Contour Seat Package”, which offers you a massage on the move and side bolsters that inflate to hold you in place through corners. OK, at £3,105 it’s an obscenely expensive option, but then if you’re worried about that you’re probably not going to be considering a £50,000 car in the first place.
Other worthwhile luxuries include the excellent auto dipping headlights (£895), the slide out “Easy-Pack boot box” (£160), heated steering wheel (£265) and the active cruise control (part of the Driving Assistance Package Plus at £2,295). Admittedly, the result won’t be a cheap car (our test model came in at the best part of £70,000), but it feels premium enough to justify the outlay.
There's no doubt that for the same money an E-class makes a lot more sense, being just as well built, very similar to drive and arguably better looking, too. However, the CLS somwhow feels like the classier product. Perhaps that's because you'd need to buy it with the heart rather than the head. A proper Mercedes then, and all the better for it.
Price: from £46,360 for 250 CDI BlueEfficiency to £80,645 for 63 AMG
Engine: 3.5-litre (306bhp), 4.6-litre (408bhp), 5.5-litre (525bhp) petrol and 2.1-litre (204bhp), 3.0-litre (265bhp) turbodiesel