Mercedes CLS 250 CDI Shooting Brake

The sporty and stylish CLS Shooting Brake is a real head-turner – but is the price too high?

If money was no object, then the Mercedes would be the worthy winner of this test. Not only is it even more stylish than the Jaguar, it also features a classier cabin, is a little sharper to drive and benefits from an extra dose of refinement. Yet the CLS doesn’t pull out a clear enough advantage over the XF Sportbrake to justify its much higher price tag.

Traditionally, Mercedes estates have been sensible, not stylish, but that’s all changed with the CLS Shooting Brake. By combining the sleek looks of the four-door with a dash of practicality, the brand has created a real ‘must-have’ car.

Even in entry-level 250 CDI form, the rakish Mercedes looks the part. With its low-slung roofline, graceful proportions and frameless side windows, it oozes classy appeal. Go for the AMG Sport version tested here and you get a deeper bumper, 19-inch alloy wheels and powerful LED headlamps. Even metallic paint comes as standard.

Better still, the Merc feels just as special inside. The dash is logically laid-out and looks more modern than the XF’s, while the switches operate with precision. There’s also lots of seat and steering wheel adjustment, and the column-mounted gearlever frees up space for storage. The only problem is that tall drivers might catch the low header rail.

As you’d expect, fit and finish are first-rate, with quality materials used throughout. Soft leather covers the seats and subtle dark wood trim features on the dash and door inlays. There’s also plenty of standard kit, including sat-nav, dual-zone climate control, DAB radio and a powered tailgate. However, you’ll have to fork out £350 for heated seats and another £950 for keyless entry – both are standard on the cheaper Jaguar. Still, what the Mercedes lacks in gadgets, it makes up for in space.

Rear seat occupants get fractionally more room than in the Jag, and with the back seats in place, the Shooting Brake’s long boot will swallow a healthy 590 litres – 40 more than the XF’s. Practical additions include a 12V socket and fold-out hooks for shopping bags, while lights set into the C-pillars mean you don’t have to fumble around at night.

As with the Jaguar, there are self-levelling air springs at the back, so the CLS takes heavy cargo in its stride. There are some niggles, though. The price you pay for the low-slung roof and steeply raked tailgate is a seats-down carrying capacity of 1,550 litres – the more upright Jaguar can squeeze in an extra 125 litres. Also, the £255 charge for the CLS’ Easy Pack load-securing system is a bit steep.

There are few complaints about the driving experience, though. When started from cold, the 2.1-litre engine suffers from the traditional diesel clatter, but once you’re on the move, it’s smooth and hushed. And with 500Nm of torque available from 1,600rpm, it delivers strong mid-range acceleration: it was a tenth of a second faster from 0-60mph than the Jaguar, setting a time of eight seconds flat. Equally impressive is the seven-speed auto.

The CLS also feels more assured through a series of corners than the XF. The direct steering is more naturally weighted, while the AMG Sport version’s stiffer and lower suspension gives strong grip and excellent body control, allowing you to attack bends with confidence. Unfortunately, the trade-off for this is a firm ride at low speeds.

Things improve on the motorway, where the stiffer suspension is less of an issue. Better still, there’s virtually no wind and road noise, while a tall top gear means that at 70mph the Merc’s engine turns over at just 1,750rpm.

It’s a good thing the car is so relaxing to drive, because its £52,400 price will come as a shock: it’s a whopping £7,705 more than the better-equipped Jaguar. Even if you choose the entry-level SE, you’ll still spend £49,390. And while the Shooting Brake has stronger residuals, that’s not enough to offset the price.

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