Mercedes CLS 350 review, test drive
2nd Dec 2011 5:20 pm
Mercedes almost single-handedly invented the ‘four-door coupe’, but can this new version be just as alluring and nicer to drive?
The long right-hander ahead stretches as far as I can see. Almost subconsciously, I pile a bit more pressure on the throttle. The suspension hunkers down, the rear wheels bite the tarmac a little bit harder and, apart from the increase in pace, everything remains completely calm inside the cabin. What’s immediately clear is that, though this car is based on the current E-class, the new CLS delivers a driving experience that surpasses its donor. The nearly 2.9-metre wheelbase and wide footprint give it amazing stability around longer corners, and once settled into the bend, the near-five-metre length and 1735kg kerb weight seem to somehow shrink. The Airmatic suspension lowers the ride height, the suspension gets a bit stiffer when you select Sport, and the already impressive body control tightens up even further.
The direct, electromechanical steering is lacking in feel, but it is very precise and that makes it easy to place the immense CLS in a corner quite easily, even at triple-digit speeds. However, more weight and feedback would have been welcome. Through sharper corners, it becomes apparent that the CLS is no lightweight supercar. Push it hard and the rear-wheel-drive car understeers and the ESP cuts in rapidly. Get carried away and take your eyes off the clocks, and you’ll find yourself at speeds worryingly close to the two-tonne mark. Which is why more bite and feel from the first few millimetres of brake travel would have been nice too.
It may be called a 350 like the E-class, but this motor is different. Developing a much healthier 306bhp and 37kgm of torque this creamy-smooth, direct-injection engine has ample torque right from 1500rpm. In many cars, the message from the accelerator seems to pass through a government agency and a translation service before reaching the engine. But in the CLS the right pedal and the motor seem to be connected via ESP (Extra-Sensory Perception). A light dab of the accelerator sends the CLS rolling forward smoothly. Press down with greater urgency and the motor hauls you forward briskly, and like all very torquey motors, the resulting change often pins your head to headrest. The 7G-tronic gearbox, however, is a bit slow on the downshift and using the paddles can be a bit frustrating at times. All put together, the CLS manages 0-100kph in a claimed 6.95 seconds, which is plenty quick.
Back in 2004 I dismissed the first-generation CLS as unnecessary and frumpy. But that was only until I saw it in the metal. After that I promptly fell hopelessly and nonsensically in love with it. Mercedes’ second take on the four-door coupe design is also a bit hard to swallow. Although this time, I’m giving it a more patient hearing. The new C218 CLS is attention grabbing, albeit in a technical and futuristic manner. While the last CLS’ design could be represented with just a few light strokes, the new CLS has a frenzy of highlights and a barrage of hectic lines. There is plenty of muscle here and the low roof, tight-fitting boot and the LED lamps give it a presence you just can’t ignore, and that’s just what Merc wants. Taking it easy in the CLS is quite rewarding too. In Comfort mode, a thick carpet seems to cushion the ride and passengers are not tossed around. However, some thuds over deep ruts do reveal an underlying stiffness, but that is only to be expected.
Passengers won’t feel short-changed in the CLS either. It exudes a dignified ambience, the rear seats are sculpted to feel almost like bucket seats, and though there is space only for two in the rear, this is a genuinely usable backseat that offers great underthigh support. It doesn’t hurt that the CLS has almost the same amount of legroom in the rear as an S-Class either. However, headroom is in short supply and the low roof demands some dexterity when getting in or out.
While it can be argued that the new CLS can’t top its predecessor for sheer class, there is no doubt it is a much better car. It is very attractive to look at, very quick both in a straight line and around corners, and it is very comfortable and very refined as well. It is beautifully built, will stand out as something special in any parking lot and the Rs 71.1-lakh (ex-showroom Mumbai) price isn’t too bad either, considering this car looks like it could cost upwards of a crore. Wish you could buy it with a diesel though.