Thursday 19 July 2018

Campbell Spray: So slowly going round the Benz with irrational attitude to some cars I test from pedestrians

From cyclists with no lights to the 'Book on One' packing up for the summer, Campbell Spray is getting angry - but can a new Mercedes help?

STATEMENT OF INTENT: The Mercedes-Benz CLS
STATEMENT OF INTENT: The Mercedes-Benz CLS
Campbell Spray

Campbell Spray

Are we getting angrier or does our preoccupation with mobile devices leave us unable to deal with the real world? I ask this for two reasons.

Firstly, it may be a sign of increasing age but my tolerance level for law-breakers - even minor ones - is getting lower and lower. I roar out as cyclists whizz down the main road outside our house in the dark without any lights or reflective clothing. And then there are the people, often very able, who cycle at speed down the pavements during the day when there is absolutely no reason why they are not using the road.

Secondly, the irrational attitude to some cars I test from pedestrians is hard to believe. At the time of the height of the recent economic crash, it often wasn't nice to be testing a new, big SUV - the looks, gestures and shouts that I got were not pretty, but, in a way, understandable. The same is not true now as we edge towards full employment. Yet only last week, when I was driving the new Mercedes-Benz CLS Coupe, there were nasty incidents.

The first was when I returned to the car, after it had been parked around the corner from the office for a couple of hours, and discovered that two people had spat at it. The following day, when I was driving down the NCR towards Phoenix Park, another car undertook me at speed very dangerously and then revelled at my and my passengers' discomfiture.

The Merc was the CLS300d AMG line Automatic, which although having a starting price of €71,990, came in at an eye-watering €86,331. Of course, it looks great and is absolutely packed with extras including a COMAND system that is like Amazon's Electra.

Even as standard it has the top-notch safety systems that Mercedes is priding itself on and has very sleek touches inside like "grey open-pored ash wood trim". But at that price it should. The four-door coupe will get you to 100kmh in 6.4 seconds on to a top of 250kmh while still being in a tax band that costs just more than €7 a week.

It is a brilliant drive but in many ways, like many a four-door coupe before it, it isn't very practical. Of course, there are two comfortable seats in the rear but don't try and get in three people unless for the shortest of journeys. It will be uncomfortable for everyone involved. However, the rear headroom will be a factor for anybody above average height. Getting in and out won't be easy and their head will hit the roof. Rightly, the Mercedes press release says the back is good now for "three occupants" - that doesn't mean full-size adults. Ziggy, our Jack Russell, is an occupant.

Like most people, I was knocked out by the original CLS 14 years ago and the car - built on the E-Class frame and almost identical inside - has spawned a whole host of premium class competitors as well as upstarts like the rather good Hyundai i30 Fastback. The latest CLS, which may not be so knockout gorgeous for its time as the model was in 2004, has more tech than Nasa and can almost be driven from your Samsung Galaxy. But for many reasons - including the intro to this piece - I don't want to go there.

Mercedes is still very much attached to its diesels - and with its heritage that is understandable. The 2-litre six cylinder engine in the test car is quite knockout in sustained power. It is so quiet on the motorway that you could almost be in an EV. It is effortless, rather than exciting to drive, but put the foot down and something special happens - including a look from passenger and dog that isn't as good.

The Mercedes is an engineering masterpiece. It is a touring car, ideal for long spins to a hotel break down the country. But in Sport mode it can be a bit harsh. It isn't a family car despite the massive boot and rear bucket seats. It is not as good as it pretends to be but is still a powerful statement of intent by Mercedes that it will try and see off its johnny-come-lately competitors. It definitely doesn't deserve to be spat at.

And then after I had written this and gone for Ziggy's late-night walk and for a shout at more cyclists I heard that RTE's Book on One has gone on holiday for the summer. Isn't that just spitting at an audience who love this nice wind-down to their day. It's saying we don't care, we're off on our hols, see if you are still alive in September or whatever. God, I get angry these days.

Sunday Independent

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