Monday 18 November 2019

The new CLS from Mercedes: Not love at first sight - but it's love at first drive

First drive in Barcelona: Mercedes CLS

Mercedes CLS
Mercedes CLS
Mercedes CLS

Aidan Timmons

It took me an entire day in the company of the new Mercedes CLS to be convinced of its looks, so anyone who writes off the package based on first impressions would be advised to scratch further beneath the surface.

The pointy and creased bits from the old model have been flattened. So too have the headlamps and tail lights. They've made a concerted effort to distil many of traditional CLS styling cues as part of the new design that will run across the Merc range.

That's a good thing if you'll be soon in the market for the revised A-Class and, oddly, not as damning as I thought it would be for those stumping around €80,000 (prices still to be confirmed; vary broadly depending on kit) for a high-end premium 4dr coupe.

The CLS still looks individual enough. The biggest change on the inside is that it now has three, properly sized, rear seats. I spent time as a rear passenger and can attest to the excellent leg room, head clearance and overall comfort.

With 520 litres of boot space, volume is generous. It passed my hypothetical 'could I fit in two sets of golf clubs?' test.

There are massive improvements from a driver's perspective. The usual hiding place for the cruise control stalk, concealed behind the steering wheel, has been replaced with a function you can set from the steering wheel.

The 12.3in digital display is as neat as a kitchen in an IKEA catalogue. A place for everything, and everything in its place. The controls are triplicated: on the steering wheel, control wheel and touch pad. That's a tad excessive. The pad is a vestige.

Of the new range of engines (all compliant with the new WLTP emissions testing criteria), I spent most time in the 6cyl in-line 3-litre diesel, badged as the CLS 350d. A brief spin in the AMG 53 with EQ Boost (an electric starter and generator to reduce turbo lag) was exhilarating, but we won't see many here. The CLS 220d (forthcoming) is likely to be the best seller, and the petrol hybrid CLS 450 4Matic rounds out the range.

However, in the absence of the 220d, I focused on the big diesel. The 4Matic all-wheel drive system would have more than matched our recent Arctic weather conditions. With 286bhp and 600Nms of torque, performance is crackerjack without theatrics. It might have taken me a day to like the look of the CLS, but it was love at first drive.

With the optional, continuously adjustable dampening front suspension, the CLS glides with poise. I left the car in Comfort mode most of the time. Both it and I were peas in a pod in that setting, but Sport mode delivered a crispness to spirited driving.

The engine, chassis, 9spd gearbox and suspension are a formidable team that devours motorways. It's a thoroughbred that behaves like a dainty showjumper. Sometimes you just can't beat a big, posh, properly sorted Merc.

The head-up display automatically adjusts depending on the light, so you end up spending more time with your eyes on the road than faffing about with controls.

The combination of the Presafe Plus system and Evasive Steering Assist detects if pedestrians step into the car's path and helps to steer the car to avoid collision.

I am in the camp that thinks fully autonomous driving is still some way off, but these interim systems are seriously clever.

A notable trick is the Active Distance Control Distronic system, where the sat-nav and car constantly communicate with each another to serve up the most appropriate gear for impending corners.

The new CLS is a chess master, where the next few moves are calculated far in advance. And when you stop, you can even park using your mobile phone from outside the car.

With more practicality and a smattering of tasty options, the CLS is an entirely convincing package for a limited number of buyers here.

They say the good times are back, so if you fancy treating yourself, then the new CLS is a gift that will keep on giving.

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