Paris is within range, and being car lovers the chance to cross the English Channel and stretch our legs on the other side is never sniffed at. Granted Paris is hardly a grand tour, in fact it’s less than three hundred miles if you go by either Arras or Amiens, but a 0330 ferry makes it a different proposition altogether. It means leaving London at 0130, it means being tired, and it left us with just three hours on arrival at Calais to reach our morning coffee scheduled with Laurens van den Acker, currently Renault’s design boss.
The small hours of an insidiously cold February morning set the scene to find out what it is that makes the Mercedes-Benz CLS Shooting Brake unique.
New CLS is more reserved than the 2004 original - if you ignore the back
In 2004 the first-generation CLS broke new ground with a four-door coupé design brief. Everybody liked it; it featured long hard lines but soft detailing, and viewed from the front three-quarter it had (and still has) a stance that shames more than a few bona fide ‘sports’ cars. The CLS was a hit.
Having been delivered only the day before, the tarmac at Dover was the first time I really had a chance to take in the Shooting Brake version of the new CLS, and there’s a lot that catches the eye.
The second-generation car has been brought into line with Mercedes’ recent nipping and tucking, with tauter surfacing and a more geometric approach to design, the now-angular headlights and wing mirrors being chief giveaways. It works, although in typically Teutonic fashion with little verve or swagger. But if any car in the Mercedes line up begged to be rebodied as a shooting brake – and if the ConceptFASCINATION is anything to go by then they had originally earmarked the E-Class to be ‘broken’ – it’s the expressive CLS. Its very DNA is different from the rest of the Mercedes range, its remit to be unapologetically elegant, and to represent – for once - form over function. Fast-forward four years, past 2010’s Shooting Break Concept, and this is what we’re left with. Basking in the artificially warm spotlights of Dover’s landing zone it looks fantastic.
Production version has barely changed from the 2010 Shooting Break Concept
Half-empty most of the time, the French autoroutes are all but deserted early in the morning and it was here that the CLS started to make a lot of sense (as if an unabashed design statement even needs to). It’s hard to say exactly why, but when driving the Brake you’re very aware that you’re driving something different. There’s a locomotive feel that comes with the estate body, and although you could never describe a near-two ton car with only 204bhp as ‘pulling like a train’, it achieves a planted, swift and stately feel that its contemporaries struggle to match. The biturbo AMG variant forcibly beats motorways into submission, no doubt.
Although the 250 CDI engine is the baby of the range it sits at the head of the five-metre Brake well, and at reasonable motorway speeds manages over 50mpg; all-new aluminium doors that save 24kg over the old ones help reduce fuel economy. Mercedes’ figure of 60.1mpg for extra urban consumption, then, isn’t actually too far wide of the mark for once, and although this car didn’t have the enlarged 80-litre fuel tank that the E-Class we took to Paris last year did (giving a real world range of nearly 1,000 miles), it was thirty miles short of Calais on the return journey before the Brake needed a drink. That’s around five hundred miles range spread between fast autoroutes and shuddering Parisian rush-hour traffic. The CLS can hold its head high.
Inside you can’t really ask for more, and the CLS is again a variation on the E-Class theme. Stitched leather contrasts smooth, frigid metals and the dashboard features a sharp ridge at the top that mimics the Brake’s chiseled exterior aesthetic. At odds with this Teutonic character are low-slung seats that look like modern interpretations of those found in the 300SL Gullwing. Luxurious, yes, but also hyper-processed.
Interior differes slightly from the E-Class, but it's tried and trusted
Of course, the Brake has all the modern accoutrements including a quick-witted ECO stop-start system which aids fuel economy, and aluminium is also used in the construction of the tailgate, bonnet, fenders, suspension and even the engine, which is admirably refined given that aluminium is, for want of a better word, noisy, being less stiff than steel. Contrary to other reports, however, the 250 CDI engine doesn’t struggle with the car’s mass and emits just 139g/km carbon dioxide.
One of the great things about the Brake is that it actually looks driven from the rear wheels and very agile for a car of its size. The way Mercedes’ new character line falls into the defined rear haunch – sadly eviscerated from the face-lifted E-Class – echoes the falling window line and places the emphasis of forward motion. Again, very locomotive. Compromise has had to be made in designing the D-pillar, which would ideally follow the upper window line exactly, but the overall ‘shooting brake’ form is applied well. The car looked so good on Versailles’ cobbled surfaces that small pockets of onlookers formed whilst it was being photographed. When was the last time an estate car drew crowds?
Falling character line is a hallmark of Mercedes' new design strategy
On the return journey it became clear that the CLS is the sort of exercise in frivolity that we need. It’s a niche crafted from a niche, and so far removed from anything else you can buy that even if you detest the way it looks you must surely appreciate that it exists. To me it works, not just dynamically (its foundations are found in the almost faultless E-Class Estate) but aesthetically, too, remembering that it’s easy to look silly by building something different for the sake of it. If you nail it, however, then more the glory for you. That it’s Mercedes that is taking the glory it is perhaps the biggest surprise of all.
Mercedes CLS Shooting Brake 250 CDI
Engine: 2,143 4-cyl diesel Power: 204bhp Top Speed: 146mph 0-60mph: 7.8s Economy: 53.3mpg combined Emissions: 139g/km CO2 Price: £49,355
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