First drive: Mercedes CLS

The latest version of Mercedes CLS promises to retain the four-door coupe's rakish charm and good driving dynamics while adding in a better-quality interior and some seriously clever tech. AOL Cars gets behind the wheel at launch in Barcelona to see what it's like.

What is it?

The Mercedes CLS popularised the four-door coupe bodystyle that's since been adopted by Audi and Mercedes. The original CLS broke the mold of what a large, luxurious executive car could look like, but the second-generation car failed to set hearts alight in the way its predecessor managed.

This third-generation model appears to have its mojo back, though, with a silhouette more akin to the original as well as a tech-filled interior shared with the E-Class.

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What's new?

The CLS uses Mercedes' latest design language – the only other car we've seen that on so far is the upcoming A-Class hatchback, and it's easy to see the similarities despite the two sitting at opposite ends of the firm's line-up.

The biggest changes are going on under the skin, though. The CLS gains a range of new engines, offering better performance and improved fuel economy across the range. There's a return to six-cylinder power – every CLS features a straight-six engine – and performance is impressive, with every one dipping below a six-second 0-60mph sprint. There's also a brand-new 3.0-litre engine for the Mercedes-AMG CLS 53, designed to bridge the gap between the regular line-up and the firebreathing '63' models when they arrive.

What's under the bonnet?

Our test car was the 350d model, which packs a 3.0-litre engine with 282bhp and 600Nm of torque. It's likely to be the most popular engine choice in the UK thanks to an official fuel economy figure of 48.7mpg, while CO2 figures of 156g/km keep tax low for business users. That's not to say it's slow – 0-60mph is dispatched in just 5.5 seconds and top speed is an electronically limited 155mph.

Drive is sent through a smooth nine-speed gearbox to all four wheels, giving better traction and improved cornerning ability in wet conditions. Want a bit more punch? You can go for a 400d version, which produces 330bhp and an impressive 700Nm of torque.

What's it like to drive?

First of all, we should point out that the test route we took our cars on was unseasonably covered in snow. Yep, snow – in Barcelona. In the interests of protecting its shiny new cars, Mercedes saw fit to put all the cars on winter tyres and smaller, 18-inch alloy wheels, which impacted the car's ride. All cars come on 19-inch wheels as standard.

Although the ride was softer due to the larger tyres, it was clear to feel the CLS still has solid steering – if lacking in feel – and the engine is punch at low speed and refined at high speed. We got a stretch on a clear section of motorway and found the suspension supple and the ride composed, while the cabin remains refined at speed.

How does it look?

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First Drive: Mercedes-Benz CLS
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The new CLS certainly moves things forward from the previous-generation car. It's easy to see that the CLS and the new A-Class are related, too, with both featuring Mercedes' latest design language.

The headlights are flatter than before, while the long, rakish roofline remains. The front end is aggressive, but the rear is less impactful – it just seems a bit droopy. The whole package is instantly recognisable as a Mercedes but lacks some of the visual drama we've come to expect from the CLS.

What's it like inside?

While the exterior of the CLS class doesn't provoke any strong reactions, the interior certainly does – it's fantastic. It's lifted mostly from the E-Class saloon, but features touches taken directly from the S-Class – such as the steering wheel.

The CLS also comes with space for five, rather than four. We actually miss the two individual rear seats of the old car, but the five-seat layout does make things much more practical. The whole interior feels beautifully put-together, too, with wood finishing trim lifting the cabin ambiance.

What's the spec like?

In the UK, choice is limited to just a single trim level – AMG-Line. This features a more dynamic exterior look than other, more basic trim packages, but with a base price of £57,510, you'd certainly hope it to be well equipped.

Thankfully the CLS doesn't disappoint. A full leather interior is standard, as are 19-inch alloy wheels, a reversing camera and a 12.3-inch infotainment screen.

The latter transforms the look of the cabin, and makes it feel much more upmarket. It's also far easier to interact with than the smaller screens of sister models.

Verdict

The CLS certainly makes for an attractive option if you're in the market for an executive saloon. It's generously equipped, has a fine range of engines and drives well. But there's no denying that it doesn't break new ground in the same way as the original CLS did, and with talented rivals such as the BMW 6-Series GT and the new Audi A7 Sportback, there's a lot more competition, too.

Facts at a glance
Model: Mercedes CLS350d
Price: £57,510
Engine: Six-cylinder diesel
Power: 282bhp
Torque: 600Nm
Max speed: 155mph
0-60mph: 5.5 seconds
MPG: 48.7
Emissions: 156g/km

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