You'll notice the similarities between the Mercedes CLS and VW Passat CC, but which is the better buy?
The Passat CC looks suspiciously like a 2008 tribute act, covering Merc’s 2004 smash hit. Back then, the CLS quickly gained status as something of a style icon. It may be a simplistic guess, but surely Volkswagen’s marketeers must have noticed the similarity.
If we had £25k to satisfy the need for a swift, refined and well engineered four-door coupe, the CC would be top of the pops – not least because the chart’s a bit empty of four door coupes.
There is a new entry now though, a climber through falling prices. The CLS500 can now be had for Passat CC money. The question is how tempting a proposition is a fresh faced, un-creased TSI Passat when put face-to-face with the original 383bhp Bauhaus coupe?
The black 5.5-litre car we’ve got is from the used forecourt of Mercedes Kingston. It’s done a very reasonable 22,000 miles and is priced almost exactly the same as the CC. Financially, that’s where the similarity ends. The Merc will cost more to run, and not by small amounts. Insurance, fuel, tyres – the lot.
Surprisingly, the CLS feels a touch baggy, with a driver’s seat of matured comfort and an autobox which slurs first-to-second in a very relaxed manner. The air suspension compressor is vocal too.
That said, the slim-windowed Merc still stands out (even with this car’s slightly incongruous multi-spoke wheels). The CC suddenly looks more Mamma Mia than Abba. The Passat is, in its own right, suave and elegantly proportioned, but the Merc looks lower and meaner.
Inside, the CC is lighter and brighter with touch-screen multimedia, two-tone leather and a brushed aluminium console. Four at a time can experience both cars; the Passat has slightly more rear headroom, the CLS more cosseting seats. The appeal of freshly-minted quality over slightly tired and shiny gives the nose to the VW.
In nearby leafy lanes, the CC shows its dynamic character and holds up well in terms of refinement. Performance is strong, too, with lag-free pick-up and a slick six-speeder. Of course, the optional dual clutch 'box would have been a fairer comparison for Merc’s traditional auto.
Meanwhile, the 500 starts to raise its game and blow away the forecourt cobwebs. The changes get smoother, and whilst the softest of its three suspension settings is suspiciously floaty, the fabulously supple ride in other settings betters the Passat. The Merc’s pacey, sonorous V8 is a definite Number One smash hit.
Neither is a sports car, but the CLS has the greater capacity to entertain, to cosset and to feel more special. Mercedes should feel flattered that VW has gone to the trouble of making such a stylish and capable copy, but copy it is. If you can afford to run it, the CLS will give the greater rewards. The impersonator Passat must practice its act.
To read the full comparison test buy this week's Autocar magazine, on sale now.