Mercedes-Benz CLS 350 BlueEFFICIENCY: 3.5-litre six-cylinder petrol direct-injection with seven-speed automatic transmission, rear-wheel drive 225kW/370Nm. $159,200 (Manufacturer’s List Price)
It’s big, it’s imposing and it’s very, very, agile. Even though I’ve got the right pedal banged fair and square up against the firewall, the Mercedes-Benz CLS is showing no signs of being unsettled in some difficult off-camber bends. It’s mighty impressive for a large executive four-door cruiser.
That said, I doubt whether the buyer in this luxury segment will ever have the motivation or requirement to punish their daily drive in this kind of fashion and at this kind of pace, but it’s nice to know the ability is there if you need it.
It’s confusing, I know. Is the CLS a four-door version of the CL-Class or is it in fact a C-Class variant of some sort. I suppose to the uninitiated, it could be any of the above.
The CLS is actually based on the E-Class platform, but you’d never know that looking at the car from side-on, such is the perceived length of this thing. In fact, you’d swear it was a close cousin of the CL Coupe, itself based on the S-Class sedan.
It certainly looks more coupe than sedan and that’s precisely what Mercedes-Benz had in mind when it created the coupe-styled sedan segment with the Vision CLS concept, which was first revealed at the 2003 Frankfurt motor show.
Series production commenced in 2004 and it’s been a successful model for Benz ever since, with well over 170,000 sold globally. It’s easy to see why too, on the styling front alone. If Darth Vader were alive, he’d be driving the latest model CLS complete with all 71 LED lamps that form the futuristic headlamps, or waiting in the queue for a ‘Black Series’ version.
Officially known as the 2011 C218 CLS, it’s considerably more aggressive than the previous model thanks to styling cues from the SLS - most notably the oversize three-pointed star and the grille. The wheel arches are now heavily flared and there’s some interesting sculpture lines down the side of the car. The front splitter also incorporates an extra large air intake, which I suspect channels cool air towards the brake rotors. I said earlier the CLS was imposing; just take a look at that enormous sloping bonnet, not to mention its sheer width.
Standard rims on the CLS 350 BlueEFFICIENCY are 18-inch alloys shod with split size rubber; 255/40 series up front and massive 285/35s down the back. Our press car came with optional 19-inch 5-spoke numbers, which are must have item in my view.
It’s also incredibly low-slung with a roofline that stands just over 1.4 metres tall, and that’s lower than some sports cars these days.
They’re not the only changes; the new CLS has been aerodynamically enhanced so that despite it’s additional width, wind resistance has been cut by 10 per cent. Moreover, the car has a Cd value of just 0.26. That’s remarkable for a car of these proportions and is thanks in part to the fact that Mercedes-Benz was the first car maker to build their own wind tunnel.
Lightweight technology comes into play too, with the CLS benefiting further from substantial use of aluminium, including the doors, which contribute a weight reduction of 24kg alone. Add to that the bonnet, front wings, boot lid, parcel shelf and much of the suspension components and what you get is a remarkable 6.9L/100km fuel consumption.
It might not have the ballistic firepower of its CLS 63 AMG sibling, but rest assured, the CLS 350 BlueEFICIENCY is no slouch. Armed with 225kW and 370Nm of torque, this V6 executive express will take you from standstill to 100km/h in six seconds flat. That’s even more impressive when you consider it’s naturally aspirated and sips less fuel that many cars in the small-car segment.
It’s a smooth revving engine with plenty of torque if you need to keep the hammer down for high-speed highway overtakes. The seven-speed auto transmission, known as G-Tronic PLUS, is similarly svelte with almost imperceptible shifts when driven casually.
You can use the paddle shifters if you want to hold the gear ratios a little longer before shifting up, but there’s almost no point to the exercise, given how well this transmission adapts to your driving style.
For a large car capable of transporting four large adults and their baggage in sublime comfort at speed, the CLS 350 does corners with equal aplomb. Put the car into a series of S-bends and you’d never know that you were piloting close to a five-metre car. Its turn-in manners are impeccable for a car of these dimensions, and that’s using a fair old dollop of throttle. There’s some initial body roll, but it’s only slight and doesn’t affect the car’s composure in the slightest.
Mercedes-Benz has well and truly sorted the suspension tuning on the CLS 350, which is pretty much a direct transplant from the current E-Class, but has been specially optimised for the CLS. It’s the same story with its multi-link rear suspension, which has again been modified to provide a high-performance level of ride and handling. Some of the credit must surely go the electromechanical steering; it has a nice weight to it at speed or when cornering, but lightens up for those parallel parking manoeuvres. For a large car, steering response to driver input is both quick and direct. It almost begs you to throw it around as you would a performance version of the C-Class.
Despite its size and cornering prowess, it’s the near perfect compromise between handling and ride comfort that impresses most with the CLS 350. Sydney potholes and poor road surfaces don’t worry the big Mercedes, and if you happen to be on a smooth piece of road, ride comfort in all pews is simply first class.
Yes, it goes hard, but it’s a six not an eight, so don’t expect the same kind of engine note that you get from the sensational C 63 AMG, because you’ll be disappointed. There’s a sporty-like growl from around 4500rpm, but overall, the exhaust note isn’t all that inspiring. That said, I suspect that most buyers of this model CLS aren’t buying it for its mechanical symphony but rather it’s superb styling and effortless driveability and comfort.
Inside, the CLS oozes class. The four individual leather seats offer five-star comfort and infinite combinations of seat adjustment and bolster for those over-enthusiastic driving moments.
The four-seat architecture in the CLS offers limousine-quality leg and shoulder room for all passengers and despite the low roofline, although headroom is compromised for taller rear-seat passengers.
The highlight of the extensive standard equipment inventory is the Harman/Kardon Logic 7 surround sound system. I often found myself parked in the driveway with the volume dialed up to concert level and in a state of euphoria until the track was over, such is the sound reproduction from this unit.
There’s the COMAND APS (cockpit management and data system) with a seven-inch screen along with a digital TV tuner and every other electronic convenience you can think of – and all standard feature kit. The nappa leather sports steering wheel is both a treat to hold and look at, as is the proper wood and metal trim and switchgear. This is old world private club marrying up nicely with technology. Even the wood door trim and fascia is illuminated with a warm yellow glow on the bottom edge as part of the ambient lighting in the car. That’s exquisite attention to detail, especially in a car with a price tag less than many of its competitors.
The CLS is equipped with a full suite of active and passive safety gear and that includes no fewer than 11 airbags and a range of high tech warning systems including Merc's Attention Assist driver fatigue detection system and Lane Keeping Assist – both of which could save your life. We tested this particular feature, which is linked to the car’s ESP. The car veered onto the edge of the broken white lines on the road and instantly the steering wheel vibrated in my hands to warn me of impending danger, and that’s only a fraction of what these systems can do in terms of crash avoidance when working in concert with each other.
I particularly like the Blind Spot Assist that Mercedes-Benz uses, as it shows a large orange triangle in the side mirror, along with an audible warning beep if the system detects a car in your blind spot.
With a list price of $159,200, or just $6400 more than the smaller but more powerful C 63 AMG, the CLS 350 is a lot of car for the money. The value proposition is further enhanced when you factor in the exhaustive inventory of creature comforts and the raft of advanced safety systems on board the car. Add to that the sublime ride and handling prowess of the CLS-Class and the end result is an exceptionally high-value package.
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