As a wagon-esque version of a four-door ‘coupe’, it’s fair to call the Mercedes-Benz CLS Shooting Brake a niche within a niche.
Mercedes genuinely created a fresh, modern segment in 2004 when it launched the original CLS, a sedan with a dramatically sloping rear roofline. It’s been copied ever since, including by Audi (with the A7) and BMW (with the 6 Gran Coupe).
Now the German car maker believes it can achieve further, incremental success with a styling variation of the common wagon.
There are two variant choices initially: the Mercedes-Benz CLS250 CDI Shooting Brake and Mercedes-Benz CLS350 Shooting Brake. A CLS63 AMG with the company’s madcap twin-turbo 5.5-litre V8 arrives in May.
The diesel-powered entry-level model, with a 150kW/500Nm 2.1-litre four-cylinder, starts at $129,000.
At launch, we tested the CLS350 that employs the 225kW/370Nm 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine also well known from other Mercedes models. Both engines are teamed with a seven-speed auto.
The CLS350 Shooting Brake costs $179,000 before on-road charges are added, an additional $8930 over the regular CLS350.
That would be a fair hit for just a slightly more practical variant, but the Shooting Brake coupe-wagon also gains some extra features over its coupe-sedan sibling.
An AMG Sports Package that’s optional on the CLS is standard on the CLS Shooting brake, adding sportier elements such as bodywork, suspension and 19-inch wheels.
The bodywork is longer, too, of course. The Shooting Brake, a term popularised in England in the 1960s and 1970s with sporty two-doors featuring tailgates, takes the CLS closer to five metres (and hits that mark exactly in the CLS63 AMG variant that follows in 2013).
As with the CLS ‘coupe’, though, there are still four doors for the Shooting Brake that was previewed by a 2010 concept that used the alternative spelling of Break.
Being a wagon, we’ll start at the rear for our assessment.
The wide hatch door operates automatically at the touch of a button (key fob to open; tailgate button to close).
Once open it reveals a conveniently broad aperture and low loading lip, and while the curvature of the rear roofline steals some space compared with your typical flat-roofed wagon, inside there’s a good-sized 590-litre boot that is bigger than the regular CLS’s. For just under $5000, you can even have your cargo floor made from American cherry wood (pictured below).
Opening the hydraulic boot floor reveals a temporary rather than full-size spare wheel.
The boot is long enough that the rear seatbacks are out of reach of normal arms, but good thinking from Mercedes sees levers embedded into the rear side sections of the boot. A simple pull automatically releases the 60/40 seatbacks into not-quite-flat position, and a new cargo capacity maximum of 1550 litres.
Take a first glance at the profile of the Mercedes-Benz CLS Shooting Brake and you’d be forgiven for thinking there might be a fair amount of scalp-scraping going on in the back seat.
The car’s design is deceptive, though, because the roofline is higher than the glasshouse that tapers dramatically towards the rear suggests. Take a seat in the back and the amount of headroom is surprisingly abundant.
Knee space is also good but not limo-like, though the combination of tinted rear glass and the high window line and shallow glass area means it’s not the brightest of rear accommodations.
The outboard seats are scalloped and angled upwards, though taller passengers may prefer longer cushions for the outboard seats on longer journeys.
They’re infinitely more comfortable than the centre middle seat, though. While Mercedes pitches the CLS Shooting Brake as a five-seater, most passengers would want to avoid the middle.
Best to leave that empty and allow two rear passengers to share the centre armrest that includes a lidded tray section and flip-out cupholders, while centre vents are accompanied by temperature and fan control so they can decide how warm or cool they want to be.
There’s nothing in the front seats, of course, to prevent the CLS’s cabin befitting a luxury wagon – coupe style or not.
Those seats are immensely comfortable courtesy of generous under-thigh support and bolstering that doesn’t squeeze too tightly.
And from a driver’s perspective, the CLS Shooting Brake is a great vehicle for tackling long journeys in. Especially scenic ones.
The CLS350’s petrol V6 is smooth and strong, building momentum in a meaningful manner without being explosive.
And while the engine’s 370Nm of torque aren’t enough for higher gears to be held on steeper gradients, the seven-speed auto generally does well when left to its own devices.
There’s a natural firmness to the CLS’s ride from its 255/35R19 rubber, though overall the Shooting Brake walks a good line between comfort and handling.
It’s particularly in its element on flowing country roads, where there’s grip, poise and a sensation that the CLS coupe-wagon hybrid doesn’t feel its size (4956mm long, up 16mm on the sedan) or weight (65kg heavier at 1865kg).
An equivalent wagon version of the E-Class – with which the CLS shares its underpinnings – would of course be a more sensible choice. It has more boot space, can fit up to seven people via a third row of seating, and is almost a whole B-Class cheaper at $33,565.
But the CLS Shooting Brake is not designed to be a rationale purchase decision, and that’s what helped to make the original CLS so successful.
And there are few wagons that can turn heads.