New icon styling

Mercedes has substantially improved its CLS, a car intended to bring coupe style to the four-door Executive sector. David Vivian sets the scene.

To say that expectations are sky high for the MK2 CLS is probably guilty of wild understatement. The car almost single-handedly responsible for inventing a new genre of four-door executive saloon - a proper four-seater with the swoopy fastback styling of a coupe - enters its second generation to face the imitators it spawned, including the Audi A7 Sportback.

The aspect of updating the CLS that must have worried Mercedes most was the styling makeover. Mild or radical? You could argue both sides but Merc’s design chief Gordon Wagener, at the risk of upsetting the applecart, has clearly gone for radical. And for that, read much more brutal, muscular and athletic. It’s a look that’s already courting some controversy, even if it is 10 per cent more aerodynamically efficient than before. But then that’s not so different to the shock that greeted the original CLS before it was widely regarded as a modern classic. It might be wise to reserve judgement. Perhaps more predictable are the inclusion of new engines plus a raft of changes principally targeted at dynamics, weight and efficiency.

If the CLS, launched in 2005, represented a spectacular return to form for Mercedes’ often rather patchy styling efforts, it was also a wake-up call for saloon shapes in the wider world of car design, undoubtedly influencing the likes of the VW Passat CC, Vauxhall Insignia, Jaguars XF and XJ and, most recently, the Audi A7 Sportback.

The formula of giving the sober-looking E-class saloon a dramatic and almost achingly elegant new set of clothes aping the silhouette of a full-on coupe, sharpening the steering and recalibrating the suspension proved an instant hit. It also seemed to suggest that buyers were willing to sacrifice a good deal of rear headroom to have such a stunning shape parked in their driveway, especially as the bespoke cabin of the CLS was so much more inviting than that of the E-class.

Expect the usual excellent standards of build and finish. The rear doors are longer than before, which should make getting into the back a little easier. No, it isn’t as spacious as an E-Class inside, but Mercedes claims useful gains in head, shoulder and legroom all round and the boot is 15 litres bigger than before at 520 litres - generous by any standards.

This CLS comes with just about everything needed to keep its occupants pampered, safe, informed and amused. In addition to other proven safety features like standard ESP stability control, traction control, anti-lock brakes, brake assist, Neck-Pro anti-whiplash front head restraints and the Pre-Safe advance crash system. It would have been understandable if Mercedes had decided to handle the design evolution of the CLS wearing kid gloves, invoking the well-trusted ‘if it ain’t broke...’ principle. Well, so much for caution. With gains in performance, efficiency, space, equipment and the promise of still sharper dynamics, it looks a more attractive proposition than ever.

FACTS AT A GLANCE

CAR: Mercedes-Benz CLS range

PRICES: £50,000-£80,000 [est] - otr

INSURANCE GROUPS: 18-20 [est]

CO2 EMISSONS: 134-210g/km

PERFORMANCE: [CLS350 CDI] 0-60mph 6.2s / Max Speed 155mph

FUEL CONSUMPTION: [CLS350 CDI] (combined) 47.1mpg

STANDARD SAFETY FEATURES: Twin front, side & window airbags, ABS, ESP