What is it?
A reboot for the big-booted version of Mercedes’ enduringly alluring CLS. Both the four-door version and this, the Shooting Brake, had the car-industry equivalent of a visit to Harley Street earlier this year, with new headlights, grille and bumpers being grafted on, along with some mid-cycle revisions to their interiors.
The engine range has been updated and a nine-speed automatic gearbox fitted to selected derivatives, among them this six-cylinder 350 Bluetec version we're driving. As a result, it qualifies for three per cent lower benefit in kind tax than its predecessor.
Mercedes has also taken the opportunity to cut the CLS’s list price, with this version of the car coming to market for almost £1600 less than the old 350 CDI – without accounting for added standard equipment.
What's it like?
To these eyes, there’s no more visually persuasive argument not to buy a more conventional executive option than the CLS Shooting Brake. The elongated silhouette and gently curving roofline look so graceful and utterly distinctive they’ll have you convinced all by themselves, before you’ve really considered the extra passenger space and cargo room the car provides. Comparisons with the likes of the Porsche Panamera and Audi A7 only make the Benz look better.
On the inside, only the new eight-inch display for the ‘Comand Online’ multimedia system really strikes you, although there’s a new steering wheel and some subtle differences to the switchgear and upholstery. The bigger display is welcome – although there seems to be a lot of wasted space around the edges of the screen – likewise the added connected media functionality, which allows you to update social media and browse the web from the car.
The nine-speed gearbox is Mercedes’ own, and it suits both the CLS and the 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel engine very well. It shifts smoothly without hunting for the perfect ratio as you feed in power and has a knack for keeping the engine spinning between 2000 and 3000rpm where its best work is done.
Flexing your right foot conjures a strong, unhurried response. Unfortunately, keeping it pinned to the carpet reveals how much progress Mercedes still has to make with its headline V6 diesel, compared with its German premium-brand rivals. The 3.0-litre unit doesn’t like to rev, and begins to feel asthmatic above 3500rpm – from where the Volkswagen Group’s BiTDI will keep pulling for another 1000rpm or more. That the engine produces fully 20 per cent less peak power than, say, Audi’s equivalent A7 is disappointing enough on its own but, if anything, the way that power is produced is the bigger issue.
The car’s blend of comfort and sporting poise suits it well. Using (standard) self-levelling air springs on the rear-end in place of steel coils, the Shooting Brake rides considerably better than the four-door CLS and handles B-roads with assured competence at cross-country speeds. The car is nicely balanced through a bend, although its air-sprung rear end could handle quick changes of direction better. Its low-speed ride could also be improved, feeling quite firm and fussy.
Should I buy one?
The Shooting Brake remains a powerfully appealing car that’s as classy to spend time in as almost any big Benz. The new transmission and infotainment system refine its act further, while to drive, the car plays both grand tourer and sporting entertainer convincingly.
However, in the year of its tenth birthday, the CLS has fallen off the pace a little too far to be considered a class-leading car. The Porsche Panamera Diesel now offers more athletic performance and handling than Mercedes can match with its old-fashioned 350 Bluetec engine, and while the Audi A7 BiTDi doesn’t have the CLS’s charm, it more than makes up for that in other ways.
It’s still easy to make a case for the Shooting Brake, provided you like it. Regardless, you’d have to concede that, until Mercedes does more to bring the car’s engine range up to date, picking a CLS means choosing style over substance.
Mercedes-Benz CLS 350 Bluetec AMG Line Shooting Brake
Price £51,400; 0-62mph 6.6sec;
Top speed 152mph;
; CO2 149g/km;
Kerb weight 1935kg
; Engine V6, 2987cc, turbodiesel
Power 255bhp at 3600rpm;
Torque 457lb ft at 1600-2400rpm;
Gearbox 9-spd automatic