Despite the name, this CLS Shooting Brake isn’t a huntsman’s best friend. For a start, it cannot be adapted to four-wheel drive for right-hand-drive markets, as the driveshaft to the front wheels comes out of the right-hand side of the engine, just where useful things such as the steering column would get in the way. That’s a shame, because in four-wheel-drive trim with a V6 diesel, there would be few better luxury cars; the Shooting Brake could be a fascinating, less bolshie SUV alternative.
Which CLS Shooting Brake variants are available in the UK?
There are three engines available in the UK, the new four-pot 250 CDI starting at just under £50,000, a £53,000 V6 350 CDI and the £83,000 63 AMG, which turns the CLS into possibly the world’s fastest dog basket. But less practical and notably more expensive than the E-class, and £1785 more than an equivalent CLS, it is difficult to entirely understand who the Shooting Brake customer is, fitting as it does into no currently defined buying pattern. I’m not entirely sure if Mercedes-Benz does either, to the point where it won’t sell it in the United States dues to likely lack of demand. In Europe, however, it hopes to nick a few bored urban SUV drivers and entice some owners of saloons who dream of something a little less conformist. But then the original Mercedes CLS was sent into the world with similarly indistinct motives back in 2005 and, like that car, striking styling is in the Shooting Brake’s favour: it is more elegant than an empire-line evening dress, with its languorous window arcs, although from behind, dead square on, there’s a whiff of the Panamera about it, with its low concave window and leaf-shaped rear lights. Fortunately the CLS is slinkier-hipped than the bulbous Porsche.
And is it as striking inside?
If you’re sitting in the elegantly appointed three (not two like the CLS) rear seats there’s a surprising amount of headroom thanks to scalloped roof lining, but you might feel slightly blindfolded if you’re tall, as the ceiling plunges rearwards, but it is of little consequence really, as the cabin is a very high quality place throughout.
The boot can be fitted with an optional cherry-wood deck for a (perceived) more luxurious feel, but who on earth needs their boot made of wood (probably easily scratched) other than somebody with absolutely no grip on reality? It’s not the most accommodating space either, with rear arches encroaching, the aperture through which dogs might leap barely wider than that of a supermini, and the shallow window cutting across the space, or your Labrador’s nose, if they’re not careful. At 590 litres with the seats up, there’s a bit more volume that an Audi A6 Avant, and not a great deal more than a standard CLS. But crucially, with a press of a button the rear seats tumble to almost flat to give nearly three times the capacity, and that’s where the Shooting Brake comes into its own.
Is the CLS 250 CDI a decent drive?
Our first stint was in the entry-level 250 CDI and it was disappointing and underwhelming, as when a pretty girl turns out to have a voice like a trawlerman.
Four cylinders and 2.1 litres is all well and good for CO2 emissions and lower tax brackets, but it variously graunches, growls and thrashes under acceleration, gears being desperately plucked from the auto ’box like someone ploughing through their recycling bin in search of a lost lottery ticket. None of which makes for edifying progress, and while it has adequate pace, it comes at such a cost to refinement that it all doesn’t really seem worth the effort. There’s an insoluble contradiction here: this is not an especially practical, or cheap, choice of car (you’d have an E-class if you were going down that route), so why choose an engine predicated on, and compromised by, that premise?
It’s not helped by the optional Airmatic front suspension, which in any mode you choose tends towards more pitch fore and aft under braking and acceleration, resulting in understeering antics. So equipped, the CLS also struggles to smooth out the sudden, jagged stuff on road surfaces, lending a crashy tone to the whole affair, like a ghastly guest singing Tinkerty Tonk at the Steinway after dinner. These elements combine to create the impression of a car that isn’t very luxurious, and leaves the driver feeling rather harried and unconvinced.
It’s disconcerting when your expectations of excellence aren’t met. However, expectation, come into the drawing room and have a cup of tea and a nice piece of Victoria sponge with excellence at last.
How does the CLS 350CDI compare?
The 350 CDI is a completely different thing – refined, fast, smooth and eminently sporting.
With standard springs and dampers up front (all get the E-class’s self-levelling air suspension at the back), ride quality is vastly improved, it turns in more sharply, holds its line and comportment in a far more unwavering manner. Even if it found out the lord of the manor had been tupping the scullery maid, it wouldn’t twitch an eyebrow. Added to that is its six-pot engine, punching with the smooth gait of horses on a dawn gallop, powerful, muscular, and beautifully rhythmic.
And the CLS63 AMG?
Then there’s the AMG, a thing with no notable reason for existence other than being joyously bonkers. Its explosive V8 bi-turbo would drown out the most fervent shoot, and it accelerates with ludicrous intent every time you graze the throttle.
Yet it has lots of traction too, thanks to AMG’s increasingly sophisticated ESP and ride-control systems. With the extra mass over the rear wheels, you might expect this to be pendulous and scarily oversteery under heavy throttle, but it leaps forward with all the agility of an upstreaming salmon. Magnificent. Where once AMG cars were slightly vulgar flappers, fun to start with but tiring in the end, they are now proving a benchmark in high performance big cars. BMW take note.
Whether in 63 AMG or 350 CDI form, the Mercedes CLS Shooting Brake is anachronistic, elegant and a wonderful sporting estate for the discerning gentleman, or lady, whether your idea of a good bag is 200 dead pheasants or something leathery from Louis Vuitton.