Monday 29 May 2017

Car with a sense of occasion

Mercedes' CLS 350 was the perfect car in which to mark the end of an era -- the last school run, says Campbell Spray

Last Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning were very special for me. It probably should have been for my daughter as well but she dismissed my sense of occasion with a hug and a wave.

Bookending the Leaving Cert Irish exams, it was the last time I would take her to or collect her from school. For the past six years I have driven across Dublin or previously in from the Strawberry Beds or North Kildare to the High School in Rathgar to drop and pick up her, and until three years ago her brother.

This has been done in a different car each week as I put them through the test for this column.

It probably perplexed the High School officials at the gate as we arrived in everything from the utmost luxury and various enormous off-roaders to petite city cars and more recently hybrids and plug-ins.

Sometimes the children were rather embarrassed by the vehicle du jour; other times when they were younger they were excited to find that they might have individual TV sets or gaming consoles for the drive home.

Yet they never approved of me turning up in a convertible with the top down -- just too bling and mid-life crisis.

It was great that the last car for the exam run was the Mercedes-Benz CLS, a four-door coupe of beautiful looks, fantastic comfort and perfect road manners that is likely to be the finest car I drive this year. Of course, it is for a very rarefied audience.

Although the range starts at €65,750, I was testing the CLS 350 CDI BlueEfficiency which was loaded with extras and came in at a massive €89,000.

I had driven the car before during its international launch in Florence but it was even better on roads I knew and while doing mundane chores for a week.

However, it really came into its own last Sunday when the appalling weather dictated that we went for long drive. It radiated a confidence that meant it shone through the day to give us a real treat.

It has a massive boot which will apparently take four sets of golf clubs or -- as my daughter tested -- an 18-year-old girl and her large dog with a lot of room to spare. During the week, I was complimented on the CLS and people said that "it was my sort of car". One can but dream.

I turned up in the CLS last Monday for Mercedes' launch of their new C-Class Coupe and SLK two-seat convertible. This increases to eight the number of new models introduced by the company in the past year.

Mercedes is facing great pressure in Ireland from very aggressive marketing from its two big German competitors, BMW and Audi, who are far more directly controlled.

Mercedes is the last car franchise remaining with the once all-powerful Motor Distributors on the Naas Road in Dublin controlled by the O'Flaherty family.

The packed launch amid the classic Mercs in the MDL museum emphasised an old gentlemanly order that is much missing these days and has its work cut out to keep its place in the modern world.

Both new cars are at the forefront of the company's aim to get a lot of younger buyers and at the launch there was a lot of talk about how it is to make great use of Facebook and other new media.

I don't understand it all or necessarily believe in the bits I do but quality will always prevail. A lot is changing but much stays the same.

Sunday Independent

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