Envy on four wheels
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.
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
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
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
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
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
Sure, it's got a few problems, the CLS, but they're Mercedes problems.
This is a big coupé 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
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]