Demand for CLS exceeds supply?

Envy on four wheels (Filed: 25/06/2005)
Andrew English stirs up green-eyed monsters with the Mercedes CLS

The average Mercedes owner is a fairly happy cove. Rolling along the Queen's highway, surrounded by acres of butter-soft hides inlaid with amber wood veneers, the dashboard packed with high technology whose function he doesn't exactly understand, but he's sure it will save his hide in the event of an accident. Mercedes CLS Refreshing sparkle: the crease down the sides gives the CLS its beauty
The three-pointed star on his bonnet marks him out as someone of means, with taste and style. He might pop into the golf club this evening for a gin, or perhaps go home and goose the au pair. Such happy thoughts occupy his brain, when WHOOSSHH! Something low, grey, fast and very big comes past.
Some yobbo with a Japanese car, he thinks, probably driving without a jacket on. Then he starts. Gadzooks! It's a Mercedes.
You can do that in the CLS. In fact you can get envious glances from the cabins of pretty much any Mercedes, from the bored, sultry blonde in the passenger seat of a footballer's AMG, the disapproving family-filled A-class and the business execs in their Sportline E-classes, there's raw envy on all their faces. A black TVR Cerbera drove past me on the way home.
With black-painted alloys it looked a bit Gotham City, but the CLS is the real deal, all the way back to its Chris-Craft speedboat rear end. That TVR driver looked really cool, until he craned round to ogle the Merc.
It's hardly surprising when you consider what a beautiful car the CLS is. The bodywork crease that runs down its side seems to be all there is to the design, almost as if the entire car were created round a single line on a fresh piece of cartridge paper. That line also gives the design a light, refreshing sparkle, which prevents it becoming too serious and self-conscious - a traditional Mercedes problem.
The CLS is the sort of car that you want to drive, want to own and want to stand next to, with your best suit on. "If only we could get some more," said my Mercedes UK mole. Turns out, demand is such that the company could sell twice its allocation and even senior Mercedes managers aren't allowed a CLS as their company car.
Inside, the design is not quite as startling, but it is attractive, with a pleasant picture-of-wood-veneer finish to the dashboard. It's a stacked dash, too - I lost count at 107 switches. That said, most of the gadgets work pretty well and they largely keep to their own internal logic; press and something happens, press again and it stops happening.
The seats are something else, quite the weirdest known to man which, for the princely optional sum of 2,230, will cosset, pummel, cool and, when cornering, inflate the outside cushion and support you. They're standard on the new S-class (see News).
Sadly, that roof line also cuts through the rear seat passengers' heads, especially if they are more than 6ft tall. The boot, too, is shallow, but huge and very long.
The V8 engine is creamily smooth, quick and if not exactly economical, at least powerful enough to hold top gear for pretty much the whole journey, so you should creep into the low 20mpgs on a long run. The seven-speed gearbox with its two overdrive ratios, isn't the match of the ZF automatic gearbox fitted to VW Group cars and Jaguars, but changes feel positive and it only occasionally gets confused between ratios.
The steering feels well weighted and accurate, but there's little feel and on bad surfaces you are relying on the car's considerable grip and prodigious safety systems to keep you out of trouble.
The brakes are awesome, the air suspension is also, most of the time, although hard driving on poor surfaces will have the bodyshell shuddering in much the same way that the air-suspended Mercedes E-class wobbled itself out of the Car of the Year drive-offs a couple of years ago.
Sure, it's got a few problems, the CLS, but they're Mercedes problems. This is a big coup par excellence, a match for such cars as the Bentley Continental GT and quite a lot of fun. Small wonder Mercedes can't make enough of them. Envy's a terrible but (occasionally) quite beautiful thing.
Mercedes-Benz CLS
Price/availability: 52,120, plus 9,770 of extras on this test car. On sale now.
Engine/transmission: 4,966cc, V8 306bhp at 5,600rpm and 339lb ft of torque at 2,700rpm. Seven-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive. Performance: top speed limited to 155mph, 0-62mph 6.1sec, EU Urban fuel consumption 17.2mpg, CO2 emissions 268g/km.
We like: The beautiful gothic shape, the comfort, the performance and the presence. Making other Mercedes owners jealous.
We don't like: The fuel consumption, the size, the price, the expensive options list and the lack of head-room in the rear seats.
Alternatives: Bentley Continental GT 112,750. BMW 645Ci 50,450. Ferrari 612 Scaglietti 170,500. Maserati Quattroporte 74,550.
16 October 2004: Coupe d'etat [Mercedes-Benz CLS test drive]
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I should be so lucky.
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