It’s facelift time for Merc’s banana-shaped CLS, a coupe/saloon crossover based on the dull old E-class. It hasn’t been around for long so there are no big changes for this mid-life refresh, just minor cosmetic tweaks to keep it looking contemporary in a line-up of newer Benz products.
So guide me through the headline stuff for the Mercedes CLS320 CDI
Hold onto your hats because the grille now contains two horizontal bars instead of four, the new larger door mirrors contain arrow-shaped direction indicators and the previously oval tailpipes are now trapezoidal. Both bumpers have also been smoothed off and 18-inch wheels are now standard. We’ve made light of the changes but they do improve an already striking looking car.
What about inside?
A revised instrument cluster features white dials on a strange background of horizontal lines but the most welcome change is the replacement of the old car’s big four-spoke wheel for a much sportier and more 'grabbable' three-spoker. Heated leather seats are now standard and the wood-covered wraparound dash ensures the CLS’s cabin remains one of the most interesting big four-doors in which to spend time.
It’s still not for those who care about practicality though. While the front of the Merc’s passenger compartment has ample room for plus-sized adults, the sloping roofline that gives the car its coupeness robs headroom so that anyone over 6ft will feel the pinch. Wearing hats inside is strictly for midgets.
Click 'Next' to read the rest of Chris's first drive
Anything new under the bonnet?
No, the line-up still consists of three petrol models (350, 500 and 63 AMG) and one lone diesel (320 CDI). The last of these outsells the rest combined several times over, taking 83 percent of sales. Although it hasn’t enjoyed any changes, the 3.0-litre diesel sounds more hushed than I remember and its 221bhp pulls it along at a useful lick: 62mph comes up in 7.0sec, its top speed falls just 2mph short of the 155mph artificial limit imposed on the 6.2-litre AMG range-topper and it can do 37.2mpg on the combined cycle. You can see why it's so popular.
Sounds impressive for a big executive barge
It’s not bad but BMW’s similarly sized if less stylish 530d auto takes a couple of tenths out of the Merc to 62mph, does 42.8mpg and emits 30g/km less than the CLS. The Benz rides far better though with an assured big-car feel that smothers most imperfections with ease despite now having 18-inch wheels as standard.
And thanks to its quicker steering rack the CLS is more agile and communicative than its sensible E-class brother, if not quite able to shrug off its mass as well as Jaguar’s gymnastic XF. But it is incredibly quiet, barely a whisper of wind, tyre and engine noise creeping into the cabin. And for many buyers, that will be a more welcome character strength.
The Jaguar is probably the biggest impediment to CLS ownership for potential buyers. While lacking the Merc’s ultimate wow factor and outright performance, the XF is undoubtedly stylish, more fun to drive, packed with standard equipment including satellite navigation. On top of that it’s nearly £10k cheaper outright and also cheaper to run on a contract hire business deal. Great car though the CLS is, it’s got its work cut out to surmount those hurdles.