What is it?
This is the new Mercedes CLS, in entry-level 350d 4Matic flavour. The gap between top-end and entry-level is smaller than ever for the model's third generation, with the 350d sitting below the 400d, 450 and AMG 53 versions. There’s no V8-powered AMG 63 this time around.
The 350d is the least powerful model, with 278bhp and 443lb ft coming from a new 2.9-litre six-cylinder diesel engine. The 3.0-litre petrol 450 gets a 48V mild hybrid system, but the 350d is diesel-only. Mercedes claims it achieves 48.7mpg and emits 156g/km of CO2.
As the entry-level CLS (for now - there’s a 350 petrol on the way), it does without some more luxurious features, such as adaptive cruise control, but still gets adaptive dampers, a suite of cameras to make parking easier and 19in alloys. It’s available only in sporty AMG Line trim, after all.
The CLS's platform and chassis are lifted straight from the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, while its styling shows you what to expect from most of the Mercedes-Benz range as it switches to its new design language. The A-Class already shares the same face.
What's it like?
You wouldn’t think the 350d is the entry-level car, given its pace. The dash from 0-62mph takes 5.7sec, although a hump in power delivery means it takes a moment to pick up its heroic pace. The car responds far more smoothly to a more progressive pedal press than a sudden one.
When spinning up, the car provides just the right amount of audible drama and grips relentlessly thanks to its 4Matic four-wheel drive. The exhaust almost betrays its traditionally gravelly diesel roots for a throaty exhaust note in Sport mode. It’s an audible feast.
It’s an audible drought on the inside, though. You wouldn’t think the engine is being worked that hard, given its refinement. When not under full acceleration, the diesel six-pot doesn’t communicate vibrations inside whatsoever, and once up to speed, it's eyebrow-raisingly, relaxingly hushed, wind noise aside.
What is audible in the cabin are the driver's grumbles as they try to get head-to-toe comfortable - the footwell isn't tall enough, so the footrest, which annoyingly only has room for half the width of a shoe, is awkward to use and doesn't accommodate even an average-sized shoe properly.