Mercedes-Benz CLS Estate (2012 - ) review
The CLS Shooting Brake is a more practical version of the CLS four-door coupe that aims to entice buyers who might otherwise have chosen a Jaguar XF Sportbrake or BMW 5 Series Touring
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It’s quite a bold step to give one of the first ‘four-door coupes’ the estate-car treatment, but Mercedes has done a good job. The front is – as ever on a Mercedes – dominated by the company’s trademark grille, but here it’s flanked by all-LED headlights, with integrated daytime running lights; and, in profile, the car’s coupe-like lines are exaggerated by the way the top of the rear window-line drops much more sharply than the roofline. With just one trim on the mainstream models, you also get a sporty AMG bodykit – including front and rear aprons and side skirts – to complement the metallic paint, bulging wheelarches and standard 19-inch alloys. Beyond that, there are just a few options, and only if you choose the CLS 63 AMG do you get a (slightly) different-looking car, with a bespoke bodykit, twin exhausts and red-painted brake calipers.
True, the interior of the CLS is not as distinctive as the exterior, but there’s no faulting the build quality or the choice of materials; and, the ambient lighting (with three colours to choose from) lends it further upmarket feel. For the driver, it’s a pretty good place to be, too: there’s plenty of head- and legroom, a good range of adjustment on the seat and steering wheel, and the dials are easy to read. Our only disappointment is that the Comand system (which operates pretty much all of the infotainment system) takes a while to get used to, with a tricky menu system and shortcut buttons located away from the main control knob.
If you approach the CLS thinking it’s a full-on estate car, you’ll be disappointed; it's better to think of it as a slightly more practical coupe. Up front, there’s enough room for a couple of six-foot adults, as well as plenty of stowage around the cabin, but it’s in the rear where the CLS reveals its true colours. Not only does the low roofline make it tricky for tall passengers to get in and out, the narrow centre seat and large raised tunnel in the floor means this is best seen as no more than a four-seater. Still, once the two adults are in place, they’ll find there’s enough room in the back for a couple of six-footers. Likewise, the boot is a decent size – not far off what you’ll find in the Jaguar XF Sportbrake, Audi A6 Avant or BMW 5 Series Touring – but it’s spoiled by the way the rear lights narrow the boot opening and the high lip you have to lift luggage over. And, of course, if you want a ‘proper’ Merc estate, try the E-Class, which is considerably more practical and versatile – and thousands of pounds cheaper.
Ride and handling
Despite the semi-sporty looks and AMG Line trim name, the CLS is still an executive car at heart: treat it as a civilised grand tourer and you’ll hit its sweet spot. Truth is, the play in the steering and the lack of feel soon tell you this is no sports car, but if you stick to faster, more open roads, you’ll be playing to the car’s strengths. With little body roll and lots of grip, it’s easy to keep up a good pace. However, the car does have some drawbacks, with a firm ride even on the standard suspension and a little more wind noise from around the rear of the car than we’d like.
As befits such a niche car, there’s only a limited range of engines available; and, unless you go for the high-performance AMG model, your engine will be diesel-powered. Thus far, we’ve only driven the less powerful of the two, the four-cylinder unit in the CLS 220, and what it lacks in outright performance, it more than makes up for with good flexibility that suits the car’s nature. Peak torque comes at less than 1,500rpm, so you never need to work the engine too much – good news, as it’s not terribly refined when revved hard – and our only disappointment is that the standard seven-speed automatic gearbox can be a little slow to respond, as well as being all too eager to change up a gear, occasionally leaving you in the wrong ratio. On paper at least, the CLS 350 promises significantly more performance without any sacrifice in flexibility, and if its 6.6-second 0-62mph time still isn’t enough, there’s always the CLS 63 AMG, which has a petrol-powered 577bhp V8 engine and is almost indecently fast.
The first thing you realise about the CLS is that style doesn’t come cheap. If you just want a classy Mercedes estate, then the equivalent E-Class estate is both cheaper and more practical. Likewise, the Jaguar XF Sportbrake and BMW 5 Series Touring make the CLS look dear; and, compared to these rivals, its insurance costs look a little steep, but the fuel economy (particularly from the CLS 220) compares well to its rivals’, and strong residual values will help to keep down the Merc’s whole-life costs.
Mercedes may have a reputation for excellent quality and reliability, but that’s not what the statistics show. In fact, Mercedes sits well down in Warranty Direct’s Reliability Index, and the CLS has hardly impressed, either, with a low rating. On the other hand, owners of previous versions of the CLS on this website paint a generally rosier picture.
The CLS has not been tested by Euro NCAP, but given that all Mercedes passenger cars since 2009 have achieved the maximum five stars in crash tests, we think it’s safe to assume the CLS would do very well. Beyond that, it has an extensive range of safety equipment fitted as standard, including Attention Assist, Collision Prevention, nine airbags, and anti-whiplash head restraints on the front seats, while the optional Driver Assistance Package features Blind Spot Assist, Lane-Keeping Assist and the Pre-Safe Brake system, which can automatically apply the brakes in an emergency situation.
The CLS is an expensive car, but it comes with a suitably lavish array of standard equipment. Mainstream versions all come in AMG Line trim, which includes DAB radio, heated front seats, self-levelling rear suspension, dual-zone climate control, leather upholstery, Bluetooth and sat-nav. Among the options are a reversing camera, electric sunroof and an uprated stereo system. Above that, the range-topping CLS 63 AMG comes with its own specification, including a bespoke interior and luxury fittings, as well as a host of uprated parts to cope with its power and performance.
Style will be the biggest attraction for the CLS Shooting Brake, but the good news is that those sleek lines hide reasonable practicality. Yes, you’ll need to be prepared to pay a premium for these looks, but there’s enough quality and kit here to go some way to justifying the cost.