Steer along an appropriate stretch of road in the Mercedes-Benz CLS and it rewards with a subtle and well resolved poise and response. It never feels like a sports car, but it feels tauter and more alert to driver input than an E-Class saloon. This is primarily down to firmer suspension and heavier steering, but the result is more than simply a less forgiving, low-roofed E-Class.
As with many other Mercedes models, the way the flagship CLS 63 S rides and handles make it an entirely different car. It comes close to matching the CLK Black Series for overall entertainment while maintaining the traditional AMG virtues of refinement and comfort. The CLS’s great agility and body control belie its substantial mass (1910kg), and it’s an engaging car to drive fast.
The CLS’s standard suspension set-up includes two-phase passive dampers, whose tuning offers a firmer response to big chassis inputs (like big cornering forces) than to small ones (like town-speed ripples). Thus equipped, and on relatively modest 18-inch wheels, the CLS displays a well resolved blend of ride comfort and body control. In less taxing driving, the CLS settles as the softer damper settings cast imperfections aside. There’s a little patter over uneven surfaces, but its ride is more cosseting than, say, an Audi A7’s, so it’s as relaxing as you’d expect a £50k car to be.
At higher speeds, the accurate steering requires nothing but a nudge for lane changes, and its stability and refinement make it a seriously good cruiser. Turn up the wick and you’ll find the CLS’s turn-in is precise, and once the long nose is tucked in the car will hold its line well unless provoked. In dry conditions it is inclined to wash into gentle understeer if pushed too hard, although with the right approach you can allow the rear axle a little slip to aid a tighter line. It’s prone to shifting uncomfortably on its dampers if you hit a mid-corner bump, though.
Other quibbles? The steering’s weight is sometimes inconsistent at town speeds, and the CLS is generally less satisfying to drive than a Jaguar XF, but it offers as broad a palette of dynamic ability as we’ve come to expect in this class.