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Mercedes CLS 350

All-new saloon picks up where original left off, serving up strong blend of style, grace, comfort and performance

How do you follow a car like the CLS? The striking saloon defined a new sector of the market when it arrived amid a frenzy of flashbulbs in 2005. And the appeal of its coupé-inspired styling barely diminished over the years, so the firm’s designers faced a tough assignment.

But if those striking looks were key to the Mercedes’ appeal, this isn’t about to change. The new model shares the sleek profile and rounded roofline of the original, while the front end features the company’s new corporate face, with a thrusting grille and LED daytime running lights providing an aggressive and confident stance. 

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

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The tail is more conventional than before, and does without the downswept light clusters and pinched rear of the first CLS. Yet the overall effect is still really attractive. And unlike the Audi, which looks very similar to the A5 Sportback, it won’t be mistaken for anything else in its maker’s line-up.

However, inside, there are overtones of the S-Class in the CLS’ material quality and standard of fit and finish, which is a good thing. The cabin is superbly built and owes more to its luxury car stablemate than the more affordable E-Class. 

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There’s just the right mix of gadgets, traditional trim and simplicity. Its uncluttered layout, user-friendly multifunction instruments and central COMAND system are all designed to minimise stress behind the wheel, and they do this superbly. 

Comfortable seats are matched to a fine driving position, and the column shift for the auto box liberates space on the centre console for the classy rotary COMAND controller. It’s not as immediately intuitive to use as the Audi’s MMI set-up, but quickly becomes second nature. 

Look at the sweeping roofline of the CLS and you would be forgiven for assuming rear headroom will be at a premium, yet there’s plenty of space for tall adults. The centre console extends the length of the cabin, and separates a pair of individual rear seats. This cosseting design provides an edge in the back over the larger Audi, which uses a conventional rear bench. 

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You don’t buy a CLS for its practicality, though. The sleek four-door is the only true saloon here, and while its 520-litre boot is big, versatility is compromised by its more restricted opening and absence of standard fold-flat seats. The latter can be added as a £445 option. Elsewhere, you’re not left wanting for kit, as everything from bi-zone climate control to metallic paint comes as standard. 

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Take to the road, and the simplicity and comfort of the cabin are translated to the driving experience. The Direct Control suspension system features dampers that automatically adjust to suit the conditions. There are no driving modes to choose between, or buttons to press, but it works well. Add our test car’s modest 18-inch alloys, and it provided the best blend of comfort, handling ability and fun. 

The Audi and Porsche both offer a range of chassis settings and generate more grip, but the CLS hits the spot in a sector where serene comfort is as important as handling ability. And it’s one of the most entertaining non-AMG Mercedes models we’ve driven for years.

Although the light steering lacks feedback, and the seven-speed gearbox has the least sporty character of our trio, the way it slurs its shifts smoothly and efficiently is perfectly in keeping with the car’s four-seater GT credentials. 

Refinement is also top class. Despite pillarless doors, the cabin is whisper-quiet at motorway speeds, and around town. The CLS does trail its rivals against the clock, covering 0-60mph in 6.2 seconds, but the normally aspirated 3.5-litre V6 delivers purposeful performance. While the turbocharged Audi provides more mid-range muscle, neither model lacks overtaking punch. 

And when you reach the end of your journey, you realise the Mercedes rewards you with class-leading efficiency. So if you want pace, grace, comfort and economy, the CLS has all the bases covered.

Details

Chart position: 1
WHY: The original CLS set the four-door coupé template. New car follows its curvy lead, but is the only true saloon in this test.

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