Broadly more capable than its predecessor, although, to these eyes, less stylish

What is it?

When the first-generation Mercedes-Benz CLS was released in 2004, it had things more or less its own way. There wasn't exactly a plethora of four-door coupés for it to argue against.

You might argue there aren't any four-door coupés around now, either. But this newly muscularised (at the expense of some of its elegance) second-generation CLS does at least have some proper, direct competitors. There's Audi's A7 (which, to my eyes, now outdoes the latest CLS in the sleek stakes) and the BMW 5-series GT (which doesn't but, bless it, is having a go).

See pics of the Mercedes-Benz CLS 350 CDI in action

Our test CLS was a left-hooker, briefly visiting the UK for a head-to-head test against an A7 to be screened on these pages in a couple of weeks' time. Previously, we've been impressed with the CLS abroad, so the pertinent question is: how does it translate to British roads?

What’s it like?

The CLS feels keener, flatter and sharper than the E-class, which, given that it's notionally a more dynamic version of that car in all senses, is the way it ought to be.

Mercedes has made a big play of the new electric power steering system on the CLS (its first). It's smooth, accurate and well weighted, albeit fairly devoid of feel, like most systems of its kind. There were some slightly inelegant buttons on the steering wheel of our test car, too.

Driving a left-hooker in the UK seldom flatters a car's ride because you sit over the worst parts of the road. Our CLS, which had standard coil springs rather than the optional air springs, was generally good, but not without an occasional thump over bigger imperfections. The dynamism enhancements have not come without a small penalty, but it's far from one you'd complain about too vigorously.

Nor is there much cause to complaint about the drivetrain. The 350 CDI V6 diesel (actually a 3.0) is smooth and exceptionally quiet and uses the ratios of its seven-speed auto intelligently. It is, however, slightly reluctant to kick down in start-up E mode and is preferable in S.

Should I buy one?

All told, the CLS is still an impressive car – although certainly not one that's going to have things all its own way any more.

Mercedes-Benz CLS 350 CDI

Price: £49,988; Top speed: 155mph (limited); 0-62mph: 6.2sec; Economy: 47.1mpg (combined); CO2: 159g/km; Kerb weight: 1740kg; Engine: V6, 2987cc, turbodiesel; Power: 261bhp at 3800rpm; Torque: 457lb ft at 1600-2400rpm; Gearbox: 7-spd auto

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

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Paul J 18 January 2011

Re: Mercedes-Benz CLS350 CDI

Lupe wrote:
Its a Minger!

Paul J 18 January 2011

Re: Mercedes-Benz CLS350 CDI

J400uk wrote:
Looks stunning

KArkhon 12 January 2011

Re: Mercedes-Benz CLS350 CDI

I love it. The interior, the exterior, everything is beautiful...
BTW I have to ask again, what on earth does series 5 GT have to do with CLS and A7? It's a COMPLETELY different car in an absolutely different class. Only a blind person would call it a four-door coupe.