Car reviews - Mercedes-Benz - CLS-class - Shooting Brake
Smooth drivetrain, quiet cabin, interior ambience, extra practicality over four-door CLS, elegant styling, fuss-free cornering
Room for improvement
Daft parking brake, some surfaces can upset the ride
6 Dec 2012
WE WOULD love to have been a fly on the wall during the meeting in which it was decided to produce the Mercedes-Benz CLS Shooting Brake.
It would be a laughable concept if a) the standard CLS four-door coupe was not so well executed and b) it didn’t look so damn good.
Perhaps a designer walked into the boardroom with a scale model or computer rendering done in their spare time because in isolation, the idea of a coupe-styled wagon based on the underpinnings and mechanicals of an E-Class Estate sounds contrived at best.
Anyway, we are glad they had the meeting and glad that enough men in suits at Stuttgart voted to put this car into production.
In doing so, Mercedes has recaptured some of the elegance of its original wagon, the indestructible W123 Touring first unveiled at the 1977 Frankfurt motor show and still often seen plying roads around the world.
We wonder if so many CLS Shooting Brakes will still be doing service more than three decades from now? It certainly has the potential to become a design classic.
The Shooting Brake also represents the democratisation the CLS range as it is available in a new lesser-specified variant powered by a four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine priced a cool $30,000 less than the least expensive four-door CLS.
Unfortunately that variant was unavilable for us to test drive, but watch this space, as we will publish a full road test of the entry-level CLS250 CDI in due course.
For now, we concentrate on the only other available model, the CLS350 that is powered by a smooth 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine.
We must wait until March to get our hands on the rip-snorting CLS63 AMG version replete with twin-turbo V8.
Climbing aboard we were impressed with the neat, tasteful and expensive-feeling interior.
We also liked the clear, classy-looking instruments with a high-quality multi-function graphic display in the centre of the speedometer.
Despite the comfortable seats having almost endless adjustment – including a bewildering array of pneumatic controls for lumbar, thigh and side support – front headroom for your six-foot correspondent and co-driver was best described as adequate.
There were a few centimetres of clearance above our heads but it felt a little claustrophobic – a price we would happily pay for style and infinitely preferable to good-looking but ill-fitting shoes.
That said, we were pleasantly surprised to find more room for the tall or bouffant in the rear, which also departs from the the four-seat formula of the four-door with a three-seater bench for extra practicality.
Knee-room is fine back there too, if not limo-like, and being the mid-range CLS350, the car we drove had separate climate control settings for rear passengers.
All in all it is a better place to be than the back of a four-door CLS – and try cramming 1550 litres of luggage or 30 kilos of labrador into that car without ruining the leather upholstery.
Those who remember motor show images of the Shooting Brake’s concept car progenitor and the final production version may remember coveting its stunning cherry wood luggage area floor that looks like it was stolen from a luxury yacht moored at Monaco.
Well, it costs an extra $4900, comes with a cover to prevent scratches and in our opinion, does not look quite as good in real life as it does in the photos, so we recommend finding a Benz dealer who can provide prospective purchasers with a look at it before ticking that option box.
On the move – once we had dealt with that silly foot-operated, lever de-activated parking brake – we were impressed by the serenity of progress, with a muted woofle emanating from the V6 only when pushed.
We seldom noticed any wind noise and impressively for a wagon – sorry, five-door coupe – road rumble from the rear was well suppressed on most surfaces.
Most of the time we enjoyed a firm but well-damped and generally smooth ride, with only repeated undulations on one section of worn tarmac upsetting proceedings.
We think that may have been due to the big 19-inch AMG alloy wheels that come standard on the Shooting Brake.
That blemish on its record aside, it all added up to a relaxing experience, especially with all the driver-assistance gadgets like adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assistance and blind-spot monitoring allowing us to just enjoy the ride.
Hitting full throttle on a freeway on-ramp delivered sufficient, rather than scintillating acceleration, the transmission was smooth and braking was confidence inspiring, with plenty of pedal feel.
We found the steering – controlled via a comfortably chunky and sporty-looking wheel – to be well-weighted and accurate.
For times when it is necessary to hustle the Shooting Brake along, body-roll is well controlled, quick direction changes such as on roundabouts can be executed at relatively high speeds without fuss and there is plenty of grip on offer.
And remember the front seat bolsters can be pumped up to rib-crushing levels if the going gets twisty.
The Shooting Brake truly feels like a well resolved, thoroughly-engineered and competent car that is fun to look at and can be fun to drive, too.
It looks and feels expensive, gels well as a package and achieves its aim of mixing practicality with style.
It also has no direct competitors, so owning one will be like gaining membership of an exclusive club.
As a result, the Shooting Brake will loom large as a benchmark next time the boffins at Benz come up with a good idea.
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