CLS in Telegraph
They panned the 7 speed transmission!
Coupé d'état (Filed: 16/10/2004)
The new Mercedes CLS breaks the mould, says Chris Thorp
By definition, a coupé has two doors. The somewhat selfish notion behind a car that is intended to attract attention to the owner dictates that to provide rear-seat passengers with their own means of entry is superfluous. Or so we thought… At last year's Frankfurt Motor Show, Mercedes broke all the rules and pulled the covers off a concept that has now become a production reality. Originally called the VisionCLS, the road-going car is one of the typically conservative marque's most daring models for years, and aims to break new ground in what can only be described as a sector misnomer. Enter, the striking new CLS four-door coupé.
While the new model can easily be recognised as a Mercedes, it's as though the stuffy, squared-off shapes that constrain other models in the line-up have been pushed aside to create a truly stunning, curvaceous saloon. And the CLS wears its rear doors well; without them, the sleek rise and fall of the design simply couldn't achieve the same balance. Only at the rear could the appearance be significantly improved, where the drooping tail and lengthy overhang make the car look overweight.
However, it's a fact that keeping an eye on the scales wasn't a priority in this project. The new model falls in between the E-class, with which it shares many of its mechanical parts, and the luxury S-class, with a minimum weight of 1,730kg. No two-door model will be produced for fear of treading on the toes of the CL-class.
Once inside, it's clear that the elegant lines applied to the exterior continue into the cabin. While the switchgear will be familiar to owners of the current E-class, the dashboard is beautifully curved and trimmed in matt-finish walnut veneer. The overall feeling is one of austere opulence.
However, take a seat in the rear and the compromises demanded by that elegant roof line are obvious. Headroom is clearly restricted, although tall passengers can still find a comfortable position. The good news is that there is space for their luggage as well - the boot is quite shallow, but offers a 505-litre capacity, which is only 35 less than the E-class saloon.
When the CLS is launched next March, customers will have the choice of 268bhp, 3·5-litre V6 and 302bhp, 5·0-litre V8 engines, while a hot, 469bhp AMG version will join the range next summer. Although not officially confirmed, we can also expect to see a V6 diesel variant on the price lists at a later date.
Whether you opt for V6 or V8 power, there is ample performance on tap, but it's the rest of the driving experience that sets it apart from other models in the range. Attack a series of bends and the sleek CLS grips and handles with confidence, giving a far more direct and rewarding feel through the steering than run-of-the-mill Mercedes saloons. CLS side view
Thanks to AIRMATIC suspension (standard on the CLS 500, optional on the 350) the driver can control the vehicle dynamics from behind the wheel. Select "Comfort" and the adjustable air suspension enters its softest setting, perfect for long-haul motorway cruising. Don't expect the same unruffled progress available to E-class and S-class owners, but the CLS rides well for a sporty coupé. Venture on to a more challenging road and the option of two "Sport" modes take all of the slack and body roll away, permitting surprisingly brisk cornering speeds.
The only disappointment is the seven-speed automatic transmission, which is fitted as standard. In everyday conditions it hunts for gears and never seems to settle, only coming into its own when the driver takes manual control via the steering wheel-mounted sequential shift buttons. Unfortunately, only the CLS 55 AMG will come with the smoother five-speed auto.
It seems that not even Mercedes bosses are certain about the appeal of this unique four-door. The CLS is expected to attract those who are used to the practicality of a saloon, yet no longer need masses of space. With prices starting at about £41,000 for the CLS 350 and rising to approximately £50,000 for the 500, buyers will have to turn away from some tempting rivals.
But is there really any need for a car that falls somewhere between coupé and saloon? The bottom line is that it really doesn't matter how many doors it has: the CLS is beautifully designed and involving to drive. For many buyers there will be no better way to enjoy graceful pace.
Mercedes-Benz CLS
Price/availability: to be confirmed; about £41,000 for the entry-level CLS 350 and £50,000 for the CLS 500. On sale March 2005. Flagship CLS 55 AMG due next summer, V6 diesel model expected later.
Engine/transmission: 3,498cc V6 petrol with 24 valves; 268bhp at 6,000rpm, 258lb ft of torque at 2,400rpm. 4,966cc V8 with 24 valves; 302bhp at 5,600rpm, 339lb ft at 2,700rpm. Seven-speed automatic transmission with sequential manual function. Rear-wheel drive.
Performance: 3·5 V6: top speed limited to 155mph, 0-62mph in 7·0sec, EU Combined fuel consumption 28mpg, CO2 emissions 241g/km. 5·0 V8: 155mph, 6·1sec, 25.0mpg, 268g/km.
We like: Sleek styling, beautifully crafted dashboard, sharp handling characteristics, weighty steering, decent boot capacity.
We don't like: Questionable merits of seven-speed automatic gearbox with no alternative on 350 and 500, price difference between V6 and V8
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