Friday 23 February 2018

A new icon for Mercedes

Mercedes CLS 350 CDI
Mercedes CLS 350 CDI

When we were young we always used to have one or two favourite animals on the boggy acres that grudgingly yielded enough to sustain them. We loved the weakest lamb or the smallest calf. Or the one with the nicest colour or markings. We championed their cause, and favoured them with extra bits of hay or whatever. I even remember plucking fresh grass for a poor sick calf once and bringing it into the old shed.

Despite my heroics, the poor thing followed many a predecessor to an early grave. However, within days and a few tears, we had a new champion. Make that champions, because we always had a few favourites on the go at the same time. It was the way of things.

It is the nature of nature, and indeed the nature of cars, that we do so because, let's face it, we are, at heart, a fickle enough lot.

I don't mind admitting I loved the old Mercedes CLS. It was the first four-door coupe of its kind.

Yes, it required bending low to get into the rear seats and there wasn't that much headroom for taller passengers. Yes it was more leisurely than robustly energetic but what a wonderful car to look at, and so easy to drive.

Mercedes updated and tweaked it. Rivals looked on with what must have been something approaching apoplectic envy as the CLS got rave reviews and scooped buyers into its plush cabin.

Then along came BMW, and most recently Audi, with real competition.

And like my childhood alter ego, a new favourite emerged -- the Audi A7.

However, just as it was settling in, along come Mercedes with a brand new CLS. And now I'm all confused.

The Audi is dynamic, looks great and drives wonderfully. It appeals to the energetic driver in me.

However, the CLS with its bolder front and superb cabin, slick-smooth transmission and wonderful looks tugs at the heart strings of the more mature -- let's be honest -- snobby driver in me.

It has real depth and a range of equipment that reads like space odyssey backup. This is a cabin I really like. Class.

Now I am as guilty as anyone of overlooking that area of a car, often putting too much emphasis on the drive and the dynamics. This is a cabin to enjoy.

My only criticism is that it felt a bit more cramped than the old one -- it isn't. Maybe I got bigger -- a good few extra kilos appear to have piled on since the first test in the first CLS -- but I also felt it was just a tad too demanding to get into and out of. That is the price one pays for looks of this kind. Worth it? Probably.

The 3-litre diesel is a big improvement. Not only did it pack a real punch of power (261bhp), it had an edge to it, real bite when I dug down the right foot. And they've improved the suspension to such an extent that even the Woodfield Bog road didn't upset us.

Anyway, between the lot, there's greater cohesion to this, a real solid, firm grip on the corners, a bit more sport in the suspension and a slight touch of devil-may-care when you put it in Sport mode (my selection of preference for most of the driving).

Sometimes I mention how easy -- or not -- a car is to drive. By that I mean, it takes care of all the little things: you are not endlessly on edge readjusting steering and acceleration. This just glided along. I wasn't feeling the best in the course of one leg of my test drives. You know that old fluey, down-at-heels feeling when all you want to do is climb into the leaba but you have many miles to go before you do.

That's when I really appreciated the comfort of this, the warm air on my face and the utter simplicity of just letting it cruise along.

Is there an easier car to drive? So many people are intimidated by big cars but this embraced me.

There is a real financial upside too, if one can say that about a motor that costs €70,000-plus.

This diesel engine is much cleaner and emissions overall are down -- that's the BlueEFFICIENCY drive they have which shaves a whole range of small savings off the fuel consumption. In this case, they all bring the emissions-based road tax into the €447-a-year category. Not bad for a luxury car of this stature.

That also contributes in part to the price: in this case the 350 CDI is around €13,000 less expensive than the 320 CDI it succeeds. And that's not allowing for the significantly improved level of equipment, as well as all the technological banquets that have been spread throughout.

The big challenge for Mercedes, as any current owner will tell you, is to make the second edition of a modern icon as memorable as the first without changing the look and feel too much.

The bigger, bolder front makes a statement, as they say, and the rear slopes more markedly but it is still very much a CLS.

And yes, I like it a lot.

I still think the Audi A7 is a better driving car. There is just a sense of greater dynamism. That's my honest opinion.

But I really like this for its exceptional looks -- I will forever be a fan -- measured ways, colossal equipment, impressive poise and power.

Can I have two favourites please? Please? Just like in the old days back down on the farm . . .

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