What is it?
This is the facelifted version of Mercedes-Benz’s swoopy four-door coupé. Yes, the car got a minor update last year as well but the visual and mechanical changes are more far-reaching this time around. At the same time, the CLS has become a fair bit cheaper to buy too. So, there’s plenty to talk of. Let’s go one by one, shall we?
It’d be an injustice to start any CLS review without a word on the styling first. Because this car is plain and simply as sexy as they come. It's wide, low and still stands out for its ‘sportscar with four doors’ design. There are quite a few new bits to tell you this is the 2015 model year car too. The new grille, for instance, is noticeably more rounded, features a single slat (earlier CLS’ used to feature two-slat grilles) and comes embellished with an elegant diamond-pattern mesh. The restyled bumper serves to tidy up the front too and, if you notice, no longer houses auxiliary lamps; all frontal illumination is taken care of by the new LED headlights. Each headlight comprises 36 LEDs of which 24 automatically (and constantly) adjust the lighting pattern to maximise coverage without dazzling drivers of oncoming cars. Clever as the system behind them is, the sci-fi headlights also look rather attractive. In terms of design, there’s nothing different at the sides and rear to report. Still, the surfacing on the doors, the frameless doors themselves and the stretched-out tail continue to look really special.
Within the cabin, the most noticeable change is the larger, new screen for the infotainment system. The tablet-like screen (something seen on all newer Mercs) does sit awkwardly atop the dash (again, something common to newer Mercs) but offers lots more in terms of functionality. In addition to satellite navigation, a handy 360-degree camera and Bluetooth telephone feature, the system can also connect to the internet using your paired phone’s connection. You can open web pages and log in to social networking sites while the car is stationary – a good way to kill time on long traffic halts. The system also allows you to stream music from internet radio channels on the go which helps make the most of the 14 fantastic-sounding Harmon Kardon speakers scattered across the cabin. However, the dial-operated COMAND online infotainment system isn’t the most intuitive to use and can be frustrating to feed commands in to.
The rest of the dashboard is the same as before and remains beautifully finished with perhaps a button too many on its centre console. As before, front seat comfort is good but the low roof means the windows are small, ingress-egress requires some flexibility and headroom isn’t in abundance. The last bit is more pronounced in the back, marking the CLS down as a car for the chauffeur-driven. Those who choose to be ferried around in one will still like the elegant manner in which the centre console extends into the back and divides the rear section into two defined zones.
What is it like to drive?
In a word, different. And that’s got to do with the engine that resides under the CLS’ chiselled bonnet. Sadly, the silky smooth 302bhp, 3.5-litre petrol V6 the CLS used to come with is no longer available to Indian buyers. In its place, India-bound CLS gets Merc’s tried and tested four-cylinder, 2.1-litre diesel engine. It’s the same engine that powers a whole host of Mercs, but here the engine makes 204bhp and 50.9kgm. In a car that weighs 1850kg and looks as sporty as the CLS, the numbers appear adequate but not quite special. Still, we’ll give the engine a fair hearing.
Start the engine up and it sounds unmistakably diesel – idle is quite gravelly. Things do settle down as you get moving. To be fair, if you drive with a light foot, the engine note won’t intrude much into the general quietness of the cabin. Then again, if you keep your foot pinned to the throttle, the engine will start to sound quite strained as it closes in on its 4500rpm rev limiter. However, the speedo numbers climb faster than the engine note will have you believe and performance, in general, is quite good. This isn’t the fastest-revving engine so it's unexciting in that sense, but there’s no lack of power in everyday driving. There is an ‘S’ mode too but it doesn’t dial up the engine’s eagerness by all that big a margin. You can make things more exciting by operating the paddle shifters to work the seven-speed gearbox though. Shifts are quick enough and the gearbox is also quite nice in full auto mode.
On the road, you’ll also notice how polished the CLS’ ride quality is. It doesn’t quite steam roll over small imperfections as well as the E-class but it still does a very good job. And like all large Mercs, ride quality only gets better with speed. The CLS’ standard adjustable air suspension can also be firmed up when set to its Sport setting but that means you have to settle for a jiggly ride in exchange for slightly better body control around bends. On our roads, it’s not a trade-off you’d like to make. That’s also because the CLS isn’t the most agile of cars, suspension wizardry notwithstanding. The CLS feels its size at all times and the steering, though precise, could do with more weight at speed.
Should I buy one?
The CLS was designed to turn heads and in this facelifted form, it continues to do so with consummate ease. Sure, it’s not the most practical or even the most comfortable of large sedans but it offers a certain degree of glamour that makes it unquestionably tempting. The new 2.1-litre diesel engine is also up to the job if out and out performance is not high on your list of must-haves. Still, we can’t help but think the 3.0-litre V6 diesel from the E 350 CDI would have perhaps been a better fit on the CLS. But if there’s a positive of Mercedes opting for the smaller diesel engine, it's in terms of price. The fully-imported CLS 250 CDI has been priced at Rs 76.5 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi) which makes it a good Rs 13.5 lakh cheaper than what the petrol CLS 350 was last available for.
In effect, the CLS is no longer solely an emotional choice. It’s become one that makes better financial sense too.