What are you driving?
This is the new Mercedes-Benz CLS 350 d, using the same new 3.0-litre straight-six diesel engine as the recently-updated S-Class. If the CLS 53 AMG is the four-door coupe for those who fancy themselves as a tyro Lewis Hamilton, then this is the CLS for those who still like to stay on the good side of their accountant. All of the style of the AMG model (only the wheels, grille and some body kit details are different), but with the potential for 50mpg and relatively affordable motor tax.
Name its best bits
I know we're supposed to be storming the battlements of Castle Diesel right now, pitchforks and torches in hand, but the inconvenient truth is that this is a truly brilliant engine. Theoretically, a straight-six layout is always the best for engine refinement, and the CLS's 350 d engine proves that theory right, and can probably show you its workings afterwards. Never mind the caveat of 'by diesel standards' - this engine is refined almost to the point of being turbine-like, and if you didn't tell someone it was a diesel, they'd probably never guess until you pinned the throttle to the floor.
If you do so, the 350 d is pretty lively, too. Yes, there's a more powerful 400 d version, but it has only an extra 100Nm of torque, so I'm not sure that there's much point in upgrading. Do you really need a diesel four-door coupe that can do better than a 5.7-second 0-100km/h time? I don't...
The word that sums up the CLS 350 d is 'effortless.' It glides along on a whiff of throttle, stubbornly showing a 1,000km touring range even when you're being cheeky with the loud pedal, rarely rising above the level of a discrete murmur unless you properly cane it.
The chassis is good too, although we didn't get to drive a version on basic steel suspension. All our cars came with optional adaptive air springs, and the comfort levels are just tremendous. It takes the sharpest of speed bumps to upset the CLS's composure, and at a cruise it's ultra-stable and ultra-comfortable.
It's also reasonably entertaining. The steering weights up nicely in Dynamic mode and anyway feels rather sweeter than what you'd get in an equivalent BMW. There's not a huge amount of feedback, but the chassis inherent stability (helped by the 2.9-metre wheelbase) inspires huge confidence, so the CLS is more or less as much at home storming the hairpins as it is dominating the outside lane of the Autobahn.
The interior is gorgeous too, lifted from the E-Class range (and to an extent the S-Class), with excellent seats and surprisingly good space in the back. There's even, for the first time, a fifth seatbelt in the CLS, so in spite of its coupe styling, it's practical.
Anything that bugs you?
Very little, and most of what does bug us is pretty subjective. Or perhaps we should say subjectively pretty, because we're not sure that the new CLS is quite good looking enough. It's far from ugly, and it looks cleaner and smoother than the previous model, but arguably there's a bit too much of other Mercedes models in here, especially the new A-Class around the grille and lights. It's not that we think it's not good looking - more that the original 2004 CLS was so ground-breaking in its styling that this one just seems a touch too generic. It is entirely possible, though, that as with so many Mercedes designs, this one might well age beautifully, and we may be singing a different stylistic tune in a year or so.
Mind you, we have a similar concern with the cabin, which is basically lifted wholesale from the E-Class. Now, it's a terrific cabin (we love the twinned 12.3-inch digital displays) with amazing levels of quality, fit, and finish. But... But the original CLS took standard E-Class parts and used them in a cabin that was distinctive and different. Impressive though this interior is, if you're spending a whole lot more on a CLS, shouldn't you expect something a little more distinctive for your cash?
Oh, and there's not going to be a swoopy Shooting Brake estate version this time around, and frankly we're livid about that.
And why have you given it this rating?
It's really good to drive, ultra refined, has a gorgeous cabin and is beautifully made. If it looked as striking as the original, we'd give it five stars.
I want to know more
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