We drive: Merc CLS 63 Shooting Brake

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IOL mot pic feb21 Merc CLS 63 AMG 1

Minesh Bhagaloo

Strictly speaking, the four-door Shooting Brake is more wagon than its name implies.

Mercedes-Benz’ CLS may have started a new four-door coupé design genre when it was first launched almost a decade ago - with cars like Porsche’s Panamera and BMW’s 6 Series Gran Coupé following suit - but it certainly polarised views in terms of its aesthetics.

I for one liked its sleek shape, and in 2011 this publication recognised the second-generation CLS as the best-looking set of wheels we drove that year. Fast forward two years, add the words Shooting Brake to that CLS badge, and once again views, even within the confines of our Motoring team, are divided.

According to Mercedes-Benz, the idea behind adding that stationwagon-esque bum to the CLS was to create space without sacrificing emotion. And on paper I guess they’ve filled the roominess part of that brief, with lugging space, at 1500 litres (with rear seats down) almost a kilolitre better than the Shooting Brake’s sibling.

And they’ve filled the emotional part of that brief too, with the design more than garnering its fair share of comments.

But let’s take a step back and start with the Shooting Brake concept.

It’s a term traditionally used to describe carriages which hauled hunting parties of men, guns and dogs. A brake was initially a chassis used to break-in horses. The term evolved today into what we know as two-door coupés with a rear station wagon area.

IOL mot pic feb21 Merc CLS 63 AMG 2

Decide for yourself whether the hind quarters are beautiful or beastly.

Minesh Bhagaloo

So strictly speaking this is really more station wagon - or Estate in Mercspeak - than Shooting Brake. But the designers in Stuttgart almost get away with the designation thanks to the lines they’ve penned for the car. There’s nothing square-ish and boxy about that bigger boot, with this CLS getting curves and swoops that would make an Aspen ski-slope blush.

But it’s in the marriage of the CLS and its fancier derriere that things seem to have become lost in translation. Where the CLS is an introvert at the Viennese Ball, the Shooting Brake persona tries to turn it into an extrovert at a Kiss concert. And the results are garish, with the rear haunches resembling a squatting canine, and the rear flanks stretched and bulky.

I hate to say it, gentlemen, but...

Your Shooting Brake, especially with the fancy (optional) American cherry wooden flooring and steel strips in the boot, reminded me of a hearse almost every time I looked at it.

Its saving grace, in our test car anyway, was what lay beneath that bonnet, all 386kW and 700Nm worth.

Yes, we had the top dog CLS 63 AMG version on test, and I can safely say that once you’re strapped into the driver’s sport seat the last thing on your mind is the design indiscretions of the beast.

IOL mot pic feb21 Merc CLS 63 AMG 3

Attention Assist can become a nuisance.

Minesh Bhagaloo

The 5.5-litre biturbo V8 is a monster; it raised the dead at our test facility up at the reef when it rocked to 100km/h in 4.5 seconds, blistering the quarter mile in 12.6 with its easy-to-use launch control wizardry.

You simply have to respect pace like that.

Firstly because it’s just a tenth of a second off Stuttgart’s claim, and secondly because we’re talking about a heavy five-door family-mobile here, and not something with race-bred Mercedes Black Series badging.

Spend R145 000 more and there’s the 410kW/800Nm “Edition 1” upgrade. Can you imagine?

It’s also very relaxing to drive, as I discovered over the two thousand-odd kilometre road trip I did between Johannesburg and the coast.

This had a lot to do with all the safety tech Merceds throw at their cars, and I gave these a thorough testing on our national highways with some interesting scenarios surfacing.

IOL mot pic feb21 Merc CLS 63 AMG 4

American cherry floor is optional but doesnt include casket rollers.

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A favourite has always been adaptive cruise control, which not only maintains a speed for you but will maintain the distance you choose between your car and the car in front of you.

CARDIAC ARREST

It works well, but what the system needs is what the headlights feature, which is the ability to swivel and look around corners. If you’re coming through a corner the ACC still looks straight ahead, picking up obstacles not affecting your lane and sending the safety systems into cardiac arrest.

The active lane keeping assist also has the best intentions when it senses you crossing the white line, forcing the car back into its lane. And then there was attention assist, which was convinced I was falling asleep when I wasn’t, and started beeping repeatedly and showing me coffee-cup signs.

The long ratios in the seven-speed ‘box are very cool though, and at just under 130km/h the V8 burbles along at 2000rpm - which is why I managed an average consumption of 11.6 litres per 100km (Mercedes’ claimed figure is 10.1).

VERDICT

They say that beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, and Mercedes’ R1.4-million CLS 63 AMG Shooting Brake is a case in point. Some liked the look of this CLS, I didn’t. I liked everything else about it: the raw power, the fancy tech and finishes, the space and comfort - but the design would be enough to steer me away. It has nothing to compete against though, there’s isn’t an E63 Estate, or BMW M5 Touring, or Audi RS6 Avant on offer in SA, which may be its saving grace for the family man needing space and performance (and spectacles). - Star Motoring

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