Mercedes-Benz's CLS four-door coupe was novel enough. The latest Shooting Brake estate versions seem more conventional but are no less desirable as Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The Mercedes CLS-Class Shooting Brake is more a sporting, coupe-like take on the station wagon theme than your conventional boxy estate car. It delivers discreetly rewarding driving dynamics, a beautifully finished cabin and, perhaps most importantly of all, a level of practicality that CLS-owners have never enjoyed before. The latest model gets an extensive refresh, with a range of new engines, the development of a nine-speed automatic transmission, some very slick tech features and a better quality cabin. Cleaner engines are the focus, but there's the continent-crushing 585PS CLS63 AMG S heading up the range.
Not all estate cars are created equal. The archetypal estate is a vehicle that prioritises practicality above all else, and a certain Swedish marque probably springs to mind. At the other end of the spectrum are the sports estates, cars in the mould of the Lancia Beta HPE from the Seventies, the Honda Aerodeck of the Eighties or the Lexus IS SportCross from the Nineties, cars that featured a hatch but not much in the way of added practicality. This genre waxed and waned in popularity but it wasn't until the launch of the second generation Mercedes-Benz CLS that a major manufacturer really applied it to a high-end car.
The CLS Shooting Brake is a cross between a coupe and an estate. The E-Class estate exists if you need real load lugging ability, but the five-door CLS was an altogether more raffish and elegant thing. It's been updated since its 2012 launch and now includes many of the systems developed for the latest C, E and S-Class models.
If you come to this Mercedes expecting it to feel like a big executive estate car, then you'll be pleasantly surprised. As you should be. After all, the whole point of a 'Shooting Brake' is the delivery of sports coupe driving dynamics with extra carriage space. If the car in question doesn't manage that, then all it really is, is a sleekly styled estate car - like, say, a Jaguar XF Sportbrake or a BMW 5 Series Touring. To live up to its name, this CLS really has to offer a little more than that out on the road. And fortunately, it does.
Mercedes has also revised the engine line up although it seems curiously reticent to advertise the fact. At the base of the range there's now a CLS220 BlueTEC which has replaced the old CLS250 and features a 2.1-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel engine good for 170PS and 400Nm of torque. This is joined by a tweaked CLS350 BlueTEC, that's also using a urea-injection exhaust treatment to pass Euro6 emissions regulations. It's a lot cleaner, but power is knocked down 7PS to 258PS with torque unaffected at a whacking 620Nm. The flagship model is the delightfully unhinged CLS63 AMG S which is now offered in one state of tune equivalent to the old Performance Package upgrade which means your 5.5-litre V8 makes 585PS and gets to 62mph in just 4.2 seconds. The transmissions have also been updated, with a nine-speed automatic transmission standard on the CLS350 BlueTEC variants. The 9G-Tronic unit promises smoother shifts, sharper acceleration and smarter logic software but the seven-speed box continues in the CLS220. The CLS63 AMG S gets AMG's seven-speed SpeedShift transmission with an auto clutch actuator.
Design and Build
Stuttgart has wisely left the aesthetics of the CLS Shooting Brake largely unchanged with this revision. After all, it was such a fantastic-looking car that not a lot really needed doing. The changes are extremely subtle, with the introduction of a revised diamond radiator grille, a reprofiled front bumper with larger air intakes, LED headlamps as well as slightly darkened tail lights with multi-level function. At around 5m in length, this car is 16mm longer than a normal CLS four-door, but the really important difference is the way that this extension prolongs the height of the roofline to make this Shooting Brake a more comfortable proposition for rear seat passengers.
Unlike some sporting estates that feature smaller boots than the saloon cars they're based on, the CLS Shooting brake's luggage bay is some 70-litres bigger than the CLS saloon, offering 590-litres of capacity to the parcel shelf. Push forward the 60/40 split folding rear backrest and up to 1,550-litres of luggage room is revealed. The cabin does drama very well. From the immaculately hand-stitched leather dash top to the centre analogue clock borrowed from the S-Class and the matt-silver inlays around the air vents, everything in the wrap-around cockpit is all beautifully crafted - a very high end place to be. And fantastically comfortable too, even if you don't opt for the sumptuous Dynamic Multicontour seats with their inbuilt massage function. The big change is the addition of a free-standing 8-inch colour display. Other changes include a redesigned three-spoke sports steering wheel and a central control panel that's more intuitive to operate.
Market and Model
Shooting Brake prices open at £48,090 for the CLS220 diesel, with the CLS350 with its state of the art nine-speed automatic gearbox looking a tempting £51,040. Should you hanker after yet more power, it's then a fairly big step up to the range-topping CLS63 AMG S, which is yours for £87,000. Mercedes is very proud of the lighting technology on this CLS and it's easy to see why. The light pods are full LED, which offer great visibility but the MULTIBEAM LED option is something that really brings this car to life after dark. Here you get a bank of 24 high-performance LEDs that are dimmable through 255 stages. The software is clever enough to spot oncoming cars and keep them in a moving cone of dimmed light while shining brightly at all other areas. This camera-based system can also be used to swivel low beam lighting around a bend even before the steering wheel is turned. Roundabout lighting, verge lighting, follow you home lighting - you name it, the MULTIBEAM LED pack does it.
Also introduced on this model is an integrated Media Interface but you need to be signed up to the temple of Jobs. Your iPhone can now talk to the COMAND Online system to access apps such as weather, Google Local Search with StreetView and Panoramio, destination/route download and Facebook can even be used while on the move. Audio and video playback is possible from Bluetooth, from an iPod and iPhone, and also from SD card, USB stick or CD/DVD.
Cost of Ownership
The CLS Shooting Brake might look a million dollars but will it cost the earth to run? Not a bit of it. Let's take the entry-level CLS220 CDI as an example. The asking price might be enough to deter many, but if you can afford to buy it, incremental ownership costs are modest indeed. Put three years and 30,000 miles on one and the pence per mile figure works out at 109ppm, which compares favourably with the 115ppm of the Jaguar XF 3.0d Sportbrake. Much of that is down to the Mercedes' 56.5mpg fuel economy compared to the Jaguar's 46.5mpg figure.
Stepping up to the more powerful CLS350 BlueTEC diesel doesn't deliver to much of a handicap in terms of economy, delivering 52.3mpg and 142g/km of CO2. Spend too long on the loud pedal of the CLS63 AMG and you're not going to get anywhere near its posted 28mpg consumption figure but you're going to have a heck of a good time. The desirability of the CLS Shooting Brake helps it perform strongly on the used market and the diesel-engined cars are the most sought after. Industry figures show it comfortably outperforming its key rival, the Jaguar XF Sportbrake, on retained values and model for model, insurance premiums are more affordable for the Mercedes.
The Mercedes-Benz CLS Shooting Brake shouldn't really work but somehow it does. As a result, it's one of those cars that can't help but put a smile on your face. There's something gratuitous and unnecessary about it yet it engenders the sort of goodwill that something like a BMW X6, which could have the same accusations levelled at it, never gets close to emulating.
The latest models benefit from update work on the engines, the lighting systems and the integration of connected services and are better vehicles for it and the concept of a large estate that doesn't drive like one, never really gets old. More practical than those artful lines might suggest, the CLS Shooting Brake now has even more strings to its bow. It's going to take quite some car to depose it from its small but fiercely loyal fiefdom.