When Mercedes introduced the original CLS in 2004 it created a new market niche: the four-door coupe. Stylish but practical cars, lower and more rakish than their traditional saloon-shaped siblings, the CLS and its rivals were pitched at those who craved sports car-like style but needed four door practicality.
Car-makers are masters of niche marketing, and Mercedes recently upped the ante by introducing the CLS Shooting Brake, essentially a long, low estate car designed to make its rivals look square. We recently sampled the new Shooting Brake alongside its in-house rival, the E-Class estate - in new E300 Hybrid form.
On the face of it, each car is as dramatically different as it's possible to be while using a similar platform. The latter, especially in this very high-tech hybrid version, is more upright and conventional, with angular, faceted styling that represents a rather little-travelled and apparently abandoned design path for the brand (the revised 'E', due this Spring, sheds the distinguishing headlights, amongst other things).
In contrast, the CLS sits low, with a huge rear overhang to accommodate the swooping roofline. 'Shooting Brake' is an archaic but evocative term and Mercedes are lucky to get the rights to it, given its burgeoning popularity in recent years. Traditionally ascribed to vehicles designed specifically to accommodate hunting parties, it became synonymous with smallish estate cars - particularly two-door versions - with many coachbuilders creating bespoke shooting brake variants of classic sports cars like Aston Martin, Jaguar and even Ferrari.
In recent years the name has become attached to estate cars with a hint of sportiness, and Mercedes' official adoption of the term cements this definition. Jaguar's rival Sportbrake is a shooting brake in all but name; Mercedes got there first.
The CLS feels naturally more planted and aggressive than its sibling. You sit lower, with a narrower glasshouse, a sense of being cocooned within the car, even though both machines are very similar in terms of size. This particular E-Class was festooned with kit, most notably Mercedes' Distronic cruise control, a system of radar and alerts that latches on to the car in front and matches its speed, giving the wheel a spooky shimmer when one ventures over the white line in the middle of the road and generally giving the all-round feeling of having a helping hand in your progress. By contrast, the CLS - in this particular engine and trim level - feels far more sporting.
In truth, you can bake your Mercedes any way you like. If the E's practicality outweighs the CLS's style - the old-fashioned 7-seat option is still available - but you're still hankering after outright performance, then the E63 AMG model will slay all comers. Likewise, there are CLS models with more modest levels of performance if you care only for the looks, while the most outrageous combination of both is the CLS AMG. As a best of both worlds, the CLS250 Shooting Brake isn't quite perfect, but it's not far off being a car for all seasons.