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Mercedes CLS vs rivals

Mercedes’ original CLS set the standard for a four-door coupé. Can the new car hit similar heights? We pitch it into a dogfight with Audi and Porsche rivals

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Ask any designer, and they will tell you that curves add glamour. Whether you’re styling an aircraft hangar or saloon car, sleek lines are a guaranteed way to attract attention.

Mercedes was the first luxury maker to get to grips with this. After years of making elegant but straight-laced saloons, 

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Video: watch CarBuyer's video review of the Mercedes CLS

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it came up with the stunning CLS. Sitting somewhere between its existing E-Class executive and S-Class luxury cars, the four-door coupé mixed jaw-dropping looks with serene comfort and punchy performance.

The all-new model picks up where its predecessor left off, but this time it has competition. Audi is never one to ignore a new niche, and its A7 is aimed directly at the CLS. The only difference is that it features five doors rather than four.

Is there about to be a changing of the guard? The standard CLS 350 costs £49,988, which is £1,918 more than A7 3.0 TFSI SE. And with four-wheel drive and turbo power, the early odds are stacked in its favour. 

But there is an added complication. Porsche introduced the Panamera V6 last May, and while it carries a hefty premium over its more mainstream rivals here, the cheapest model in the line-up promises the strongest performance and most prestige. And the V6 accounted for a third of the giant hatchback’s sales in 2010, so it’s proving popular, too.  

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We find out if a Porsche win is a flight of fancy, or whether the CLS and A7 will have their wings clipped by the Panamera.

Verdict

The success of these three cars depends heavily on their styling and the image they project. They need to deliver on many fronts to win buyers in this demanding sector, though – and the new Mercedes provides the best mix of the attributes required. 

It can play the role of relaxed cruiser to perfection, but if the mood takes you, its rear-wheel-drive chassis can entertain, too. Factor in its fantastic styling, cosseting cabin and surprisingly efficient powerplant, and the CLS takes a well deserved victory.

However, it’s run very close by the Audi – which is fast, great to drive and features a beautifully appointed interior. Plus, in SE trim, it represents decent value in this company. If only it didn’t look quite so similar to its cheaper A5 cousin.

Bringing up the rear here is the Panamera. There’s no doubting the desirability and pedigree of the Porsche badge, while keen drivers will enjoy the sports car-inspired handling. Adding to its appeal is a cabin that combines first-rate fit and finish with plenty of space. But the hefty price tag overshadows its exclusivity – the car costs £15,183 more than our winner.

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