Design tweaks are succesful, but minimal changes could have gone further

What is it?

An automotive game of spot the difference. Four years after Mercedes launched the banana shaped, four door coupé CLS it has given it the most mild of facelifts.

Essentially, ever-so-slightly tweaked bumpers, larger wing mirrors and inside, a new infotainment system. The give away sign distinguishing the new model from old, the grille, which now features two horizontal louvers rather than four. Or if you’re following, the new trapezoidal exhausts and LED rear lights. I told you it was radical.

The 350 CGI engine tested here is not new, but the most recently introduced of the four engines available in the CLS. CGI is Mercedes jargon for direct injection technology, used primarily to achieve better economy and lower emission, in the case of the CLS bringing the CO2 figure below Ken’s 225g/km limit, while still producing 288bhp.

Mercedes are not using CGI across all applications of the 350 V6 engine, in the C-Class the engine retains conventional injection with 268bhp, while the recently fettled SLK and SL roadsters get the engine in two further states of tune, 301bhp and 311bhp respectfully.

What’s it like?

Unsurprisingly it’s very, very similar to the current model. The visual tweaks do help lift the design, not so much at the front, which remains the CLS’ least successful angle, but at the back, the deep bumper and more prominent horizontal styling line giving a broader stance. It is in profile, though, where there have been no changes except that 18” alloys are now standard, that the CLS appears most distinctive.

When launched, the CLS cabin architecture, with its curved wood and uncluttered design looked quite radical next to the then current crop of Mercedes product. But now with new S, CL and C-Class models showing both new technology and a new design language the CLS feels quite conventional. That the new model gets white coloured dials is hardly worth mentioning, but the new hard-drive navigation system, complete with music register is a useful update.

To drive the CLS is exactly as it ever was. Competent, in the sense it goes where you point it, and will corner at quite some lick, but shows very little enthusiasm in doing so. Next to the dynamism displayed by the new C-Class, and even the recently perked up SLK, the CLS feels slightly wooden. That won’t matter to some buyers, but that the CLS doesn’t ride with quite the same sophistication as the C-Class, should.

The CGI engine feels brisk enough, but with direct injection comes a little extra harshness at higher revs, and an engine note less velvety. Luckily, these slight negatives are certainly outweighed by the advantages of improved economy and congestion charge savings.

Should I buy one?

4000 people in the UK do each year, and we can hardly blame them. You will soon be able to buy a VW Passat with very similar styling to the CLS, for a much less weighty outlay, but for those wanting a prestige badge the CLS remains uniquely appealing. So tame is this refresh, it is unlikely to attract any additional customers, the flip side that it is unlikely to put anyone off either.

What Mercedes are hoping though, is that it will see the CLS through the next couple of years, when it will stay in production beyond the current E-Class on which it is based. In this last respect perhaps, we feel that time will show, that Mercedes revisions could have gone a little further.

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Jamie Corstorphine

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blktoy 17 April 2008

Re: Mercedes-Benz CLS350

I think its a beauty ! I also remember your road testers saying it handled better than an M5..............

Roy Fullee 17 April 2008

Re: Mercedes-Benz CLS350

Looks are of a personal taste but i reckon the CLS looks stunning, especially in AMG guise. Either way, no-one can deny the CLS is a striking looking car but judging by this report it seems Autocar have gone lukewarm on the car.

When launched this mag thought the car was superb, but now it appears to be little more than average while the looks now seem to be a negative asset. At this rate, the CLS will be regarded as dreadful in a years time.