CLS Shooting Brake vs 5 Series Touring

It clearly scores on style, but now newcomer squares up to traditional estate

We've already seen how the Mercedes CLS Shooting Brake measures up to a slinky four-door rival, but many buyers will be asking why they should pay a premium for the niche Mercedes over a traditional estate car.

To answer that question, we’ve lined up the newcomer with one of the best all-round estates on the market: the BMW 535d M Sport Touring. Although the 5 Series Touring isn’t the most spacious choice in its class, a conventional squared-off design means it offers more room than the Shooting Brake. This range-topping diesel model is also renowned for its agile rear-wheel-drive handling, while the BMW badge still holds enough premium appeal to give the CLS a real run for its money.

Still, it’s easy to overlook all of those talents at first glance. This 5 Series could easily be mistaken for a lesser model in the range due to its dull design; while M Sport trim adds larger 18-inch wheels and a discreet bodykit, it’s never going to attract the same attention as the gorgeous Shooting Brake.

In other words, if you’re looking for a car with a practical edge that makes a statement, the Touring falls a little short – although the company car park kudos of the BMW badge can’t be underestimated.

Still, under the humdrum styling, the 5 Series benefits from some really clever packaging. Despite being shorter overall than the Mercedes, at 4,907mm, its 2,968mm wheelbase is 94mm longer and that frees up a significant amount of space behind the driver. It’s also taller than its rival, so it can accommodate passengers of all shapes and sizes more easily than the CLS, too.

The rear seats can be folded in a 40:20:40 split, so longer items can be carried with four people on board, and a number of handy features – including a glass shopping hatch that opens separately from the tailgate – help owners make the most of the 535d’s maximum 1,670-litre carrying capacity.

Owners of entry-level 5 Series will be familiar with the cabin, which is beautifully built and logically laid out. It also feels a bit more modern than the Mercedes’, thanks to its gloss black instruments and large central display screen, while a recent software update means the iDrive system is even easier to use.

Yet apart from the thick-rimmed M Sport steering wheel, there isn’t much in the cabin to make the BMW feel unique. Where the CLS comes with striking details like stainless steel pedals and metallic switches, the 5 Series is all black plastics and functional design – everything works well, but it doesn’t feel quite as special as the Shooting Brake.

Even so, the Touring comes with more standard equipment than the CLS, including important goodies such as heated seats and keyless go; to get these in the Mercedes will set you back £350 and £930 respectively.

The 535d also features Drive Performance Control. Activated by a small button near the gearlever, this alters the throttle response, traction control, engine and steering through settings ranging from ECO PRO mode for maximum efficiency to Sport+ for the most focused and firm driving dynamics. This gives the 535d the ability to switch from hushed cruiser to more potent performance car in an instant – something that’s helped by the addition of £985 optional adaptive dampers.

Depsite feeling bigger inside, the BMW is 70kg lighter than the Shooting Brake, so its stronger pace at the track came as no surprise. The slick eight-speed box is a real highlight as it changes gear more quickly and smoothly than the Mercedes’ set-up. In the real world the car is devastatingly quick, although it does a good job of insulating you from the sensation of speed. Refinement is excellent and the six-cylinder engine is a muted performer.

Quick steering, strong grip and balanced rear-drive handling mean the 5 will appeal to keen drivers, although there’s no escaping its bulky dimensions on narrow roads.

Both cars are comfortable, but the CLS is a little less composed over bumps, with the occasional judder being sent through the steering wheel by ruts in the road. Still, if our 5 Series didn’t have the optional adaptive suspension, we doubt it would match the new Mercedes for overall comfort. Even BMW recognises this, as it allows buyers to delete the stiffer M Sport springs from the spec sheet for no extra cost. Talking of cost, the BMW appears to have the edge with its much lower purchase price, plus the fact it will be cheaper to service and insure. The CLS hits back with its strong used values.

So the 535d Touring is definitely the sensible choice of this pair, but while it’s hugely impressive as an all-rounder, it lacks the ‘must have’ factor of the Mercedes. Will buyers be blinded by this, and overlook the CLS’ higher price and less practical interior?

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