Stunning new Merc CLS driven in SA
The original CLS was a brave leap out of character for Mercedes-Benz, a company whose saloon portfolio had until then consisted of sensible booted cars that never really pushed the design boundaries in any meaningful way.
In fact, this radically styled sedan with a coupe-like roofline might not have been universally liked, some even comparing its tail end to the worst of the Ford Falcons, but it did start something of a trend - think Audi A7, Porsche Panamera and Aston Martin Rapide. Even BMW is working on a four-door version of its 6 Series.
What you see here, then, is Merc's attempt to raise the game with its second generation CLS, just launched in South Africa. While instantly recognizable as a CLS in profile, there's a lot more creasing in its shape and the front and rear ends are less daring but more elegant. In my eyes this is a supermodel among sedans and that SLS-like face is something I'd love to look at every day.
While offering the same basic spread of models as before (CLS 350, 500 and 63 AMG) a lot has gone on beneath that pretty surface and perhaps the most impressive engineering feat is that it's up to 25 percent more efficient.
This is achieved not only through engine technologies like direct injection and idle-stop systems but also via weight reduction - the doors being made of aluminium for instance - and slippery aerodynamics.
The biggest 'clean-up' takes place under the CLS 350's bonnet, Mercedes claiming a combined consumption figure of just 6.8 litres per 100km, despite the engine being 10kW more powerful than before. Its outputs of 225kW at 6500rpm and 370Nm at 3500rpm are, according to claims, enough to get the sedan from 0-100km/h in 6.1 seconds and to a top speed of 250km/h.
While boasting many of the technological attributes of the V6, the 4633cc V8 engine in the CLS 500 gains biturbocharging, with outputs rising gainfully to 300kW and 600Nm (from 285 and 530). It might be a bit thirstier, consuming nine litres per 100km, but it will jolt from 0-100 in a claimed 5.2 seconds. Both engines feed the rear wheels through a 7G-Tronic seven-speed automatic gearbox.
I spent a few hours with the CLS 500 on some twisty stretches in the region of George and this engine proved most satisfying. If we're talking performance alone, I'd say I never craved for the extra ponies under the bonnet of its AMG sibling - the 500 is smooth, responsive and blindingly quick.
It might be fast enough, but I did wish for a more vocal soundtrack from that gargly V8 and a throttle-blip on the downchange would have been nice. And even though the gearbox offers a manual mode operated via steering paddles, it still overrides you as you near the redline.
Pushed through the bends, the CLS inspired confidence and impressed with its stability and the new electromechanical power steering system proved as accurate as you'd expect from something in this league but a bit more weighting would have been appreciated. Despite the car's agility, the ride quality is nothing short of supple, especially with the suspension set in comfort mode.
If the CLS 500's more gentlemanly nature doesn't quite do it for you, all is solved with the CLS 63 AMG, which takes a more aggressive approach in every aspect of its chassis, styling and performance. The latter is sorted by the new 5.5-litre biturbo V8 motor, which thumps out 386kW at 5250rpm and 700Nm at 1700rpm. We'll bring you up to speed with this AMG with a full road test early next week.
Other technical highlights in the new CLS include LED high performance headlights, and driving assistance systems like Active Blind Spot Assist and Active Lane Keeping Assist that uses the ESP to gently nudge the car back on course when necessary. You can also order an automatic parallel parking device among the many gadgets available.
One thing you do get as standard though is the Comand APS multimedia system, with a 17.7cm colour display, 40gb hard drive, voice operation and a text-to-speech function.
This is housed within an interior that is well-designed, comfortable and smart and although I was unimpressed by the large mass of imitation wood on the dashboard of our launch unit, the interior colour and material scheme is very customizable.
Starting at a notch below R800 000, the new CLS commands a hefty premium over the E-Class it's based on and even its Audi A7 rival but those prepared to find the extra money will no doubt find satisfaction in a car that's attractive in almost every sense of the world.
CLS 350 - R793 000
CLS 500 - R996 000
CLS 63 AMG - R1 319 000
Audi A7 3.0T quattro (220kW) - R728 000
BMW 640i (235kW) - R841 216
Jaguar XF 5.0 Luxury (283kW) - R698 312
Mercedes E500 (285kW) - R861 380
Porsche Panamera (220kW) - R768 000
Porsche Panamera S (294kW) - R1 081 000
Gross. I'd plumb for the Porsche Panamera anyday. What is Merc uo to? They don't seem to be the maker of premium quality cars anymore it seems
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