Sometimes it’s good to be short. Like when you have to wiggle into an economy-class airline seat or spend time in the back seat of our long-term Mercedes CLS 250 CDI.
Accompanied by Mrs S and driven by our trusted chauffeur Vijay to some do or the other, where parking is a pain (I hate giving cars to a valet), I found myself, more often than not, sitting in the back of the four-door coupé where space is rather tight. Or so I thought. Despite its curved roofline, the CLS surprised me with its headroom. Okay, I’m just 5 feet 6 inches, but I could still fit a good three fingers between my head and the roof lining. Legroom was decent too and in fact, the rear seats, divided by a smart and practical console in the middle, is a snug and cosy place to be. The only issue was the small rear windows that cut outside visibility quite a bit. I was also worried that in peak summer the CLS’ air-con wouldn’t be effective, just like the E-class on which it is based. But there was no problem at all with the cooling if you toggle down the temperature which can be controlled separately for the rear vents.
I have to admit, it felt good turning up at events in the CLS which certainly got its fair share of looks. The car’s a stunner, especially at night, under glitzy lights which really bring out the coupé lines. In natural light, however, and under a monsoon sky, the dark-blue paint shade looks a bit dull, especially if the car isn’t properly washed. By the time it left our garage, it looked liked it could do with a thorough polish or wax job.
The more I lived with the CLS the more I enjoyed its classy touches, such as the frameless door, the exquisitely detailed LED lights, and the tasteful interior wood trim which looks genuinely natural. The cabin was one of the highlights of the CLS and felt every bit as special as the exterior. The light-coloured trim gave a certain airiness to the cabin whilst the 14-speaker Harman Kardon system enveloped it with the most fabulous sound. The thing is that living with the CLS makes you feel special and you always think you’re sitting in an expensive car.
But what it’s like to drive? The truth is that despite its sporting pretensions, it’s not particularly exciting and doesn’t get your pulse racing the way the exterior does. In fact, like many Mercs, the CLS is best for relaxed driving than heart-pounding stints at the wheel. Mercedes’ ubiquitous 2,143cc diesel in this 250 CDI guise produces 204hp and 500Nm has sufficient poke.
Using it as a daily driver, I learnt to appreciate this engine’s nice swell of torque that kicks in at low revs and is ideal for wafting along with the flow of traffic. It’s just that the power delivery is more measured than manic and the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission isn’t the most responsive either. To get the most out of the gearbox, it’s best to work the paddle shifters, which is what I did on my customary drive to Mahabaleshwar. I find this 250km run the best way to get acquainted with any car.
My worries about low ground clearance were put to rest during my speed-breaker test on SH92, the Khopoli to Pali ‘highway’ en route to Mahabaleshwar. This stretch of road has ten badly designed speed humps coming at you in annoyingly quick succession near the Adlabs Imagica theme park. Looks like someone put them there to prepare you for the jolts and shocks of some of the rides at the park. No doubt, I had to crawl over each one them and I braced myself for the sickening crunch of the underbody grounding, but surprisingly that didn’t happen. What I did have to be careful about was the low and long front overhang. The CLS’ shallow angle of approach made the chin vulnerable when descending steep driveways.
Pushing down on the nicely sprung throttle pedal hard for quick overtaking manoeuvres on the largely single-lane NH17 revealed the harsh side of the engine. There’s adequate punch and nice kick in the mid-range to make the job easy, but the four-cylinder motor becomes loud at high revs. Engine refinement is not what you expect from a car that’s priced between the E-class and S-class.
Ride and handling too, is a bit of a mixed bag. The squat stance and firm suspension allied to a well-weighted steering made the blast up the 40km Ambenali ghat to Mahabaleshwar a delight, but it was easy to use up the suspension’s limited travel which was prone to crashing through even the mildest of potholes if you weren’t careful. In fact, the overall ride quality, a hallmark in other big Mercs, was disappointing, and it’s only on smooth roads that the CLS gave you a degree of ride comfort to befit its status.
And status is what the CLS gives you by the bucketload. After this six-month-long stint, I realised that it was not the way the CLS drove but the way it made you feel, that left a lasting impression.