What are you driving?
The new-for-2018 Mercedes-Benz CLS, the third-generation of what its maker refers to as part of its coupe line-up. It certainly looks a lot slinkier than the E-Class it shares so much with, but it has four doors and a boot lid, and it's no more compact than the E-Class either. Setting it apart, however, are the frameless doors and sharp new front-end design, married with quite a curvy, if bulbous rear.
Here we're testing the entry-level powertrain, denoted by the '300 d' badge, though paired with the sporty-looking AMG-Line trim, which adds a lot of equipment and a worthwhile visual upgrade inside and out, for a circa €7,000 premium on this model. The CLS 300 d is, despite what the badge might suggest, powered by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel engine and while it's paired with a slick nine-speed auto like all other versions of the Benz CLS, it's the only variant that makes do with rear-wheel drive. The CLS 350 d, 400 d and CLS 450 all use 4Matic four-wheel drive.
Name its best bits
Though I didn't think much of the new Mercedes front-end on the CLS (shared with the Mercedes A-Class) when it was first revealed in images, it looks fantastic in real life and this car grabs a huge amount of attention. From certain angles it's menacing and aggressive in AMG-Line specification, as you'd expect, though the rear overhang is very long, which makes its bum look big and awkward at times. Nonetheless, most seem to approve of the design. For owners, the coupe image is extended inside by the use of four frameless doors, adding to the sense of occasion.
The cabin lives up to the promise of that, too, especially as the impressive 'Widescreen Cockpit' is standard, and the stylised vents are the same as those used in the E-Class Coupe and Cabriolet. It's a suitably lavish interior, made of high quality materials, and there's plenty of space inside, despite its coupe-like billing.
On the road, the CLS majors on comfort and refinement, so treat it as more of a luxury car that looks sporty rather than a sporty car with a bit of luxury inside. The four-cylinder engine note is kept at bay for the most part and it has plenty of oomph to shift the big car along with intent, especially if you choose the Sport driving mode. On a smooth road, it can also feel fleet of foot.
Anything that bugs you?
I alluded to it in the previous section, as, if you take this CLS onto a more challenging back road, with a less-than-perfect surface, it isn't quite so impressive, struggling to control the wheel and body movements to a comfortable level. In essence, it isn't a car for those that love driving, so don't be fooled by the AMG badging and svelte roofline. Also, somewhat bizarrely in this day and age, the steering wheel is noticeably offset to the left. Sub-optimal as the kids might say.
And why have you given it this rating?
Other than not being sporty to drive, the Mercedes CLS is hard to fault. Its expressive design will appeal to those that want something more special than the E-Class, but still value the core comfort and refinement. While you pay for the privilege, the CLS is also distinctly well-equipped as standard and feels in a class above most executive cars in the sector.