The new Mercedes Benz CLS
Mercedes-Benz made a clear statement when it launched the original CLS back in 2004. The four-door coupé, with its distinctive, almost banana-shaped profile, was a timely product decision for a marque, at the time, suffering from a conservative reputation. The CLS offered saloon-style comfort coupled with coupé-style youthfulness, and introduced a whole new market segment later copied by its rivals. With over 170,000 cars sold - many buyers new to the brand - Mercedes re-emerged as an innovative company with a spring in its step.
Mercedes invented the coupé back in 1934 with the 500K - arguably the template of inter-war automotive beauty. The first CLS vaguely referenced this, but the various design studies - Concept Fascination, F800 and Concept Shooting Break - leading up to this latest production car attempted a closer linkage. The F800, shown at Geneva earlier in the year, was particularly emotive with its Art Deco-inspired cabin, complete with light-coloured silky bendy oak that appeared almost untreated so as to reveal the natural grain.
The new CLS, unveiled at the Paris Motor Show earlier this month and recently driven on Tuscan roads, is an altogether more cautious proposition. It does nevertheless follow the distinct formal design language as showcased on the new E-Class that Mercedes is keen to explore.
The CLS designer Karlheinz Bauer - he also penned the original - says that the design had to move on. Too many of his competitors, he notes, have since created four-door coupés with that same distinctive swooping character line running across the profile. And, as attractive as this can make the sculpture, being originators of this segment, Mercedes simply had to break away.
'This is not an evolution but a new story.' he confides. 'The new line makes its own statement for a new design language.' Bauer kept the original pinched dynamic line, but intersected it dramatically with the highly prominent rear wheel arches that have been evolved from the E-Class coupé. The gamble paid off and on the road, in motion, this lends the car a sense of agility and the right degree of aggressiveness for such an executive coupé.
The face also takes many cues from the E-Class family. This represents a more assertive face for Mercedes dominated by a sculptured grille, which design director Gorden Wagener says 'melts in like an aeroplane wing to be smooth and sophisticated'.
The front-end also features high-performance headlights - Mercedes' Intelligent Light System fitted with bi-xenon headlamps in combination with the very latest LED technology that includes an incredible 17 lamps. As many as 37 engineers worked behind the scenes to make this all possible and the light design is almost a visual homage to the intensity of the technology and research that lies behind this jewelled façade.
Inside is sporty and executive looking with a finely developed appreciation of proportion and material. The driver interface has a pragmatic layout and the cabin is driver focused without entirely excluding the front passenger - the driver sitting cosily, visually almost cocooned thanks to the swooping wraparound dash.
The new CLS comes with a choice of three engines (two diesels and a petrol with a large capacity V8 to follow) all with ECO start/stop function as standard, which helps achieve the promise of an average of 25 per cent improved fuel consumption over its predecessor. The CLS also offers new electromechanical power steering and numerous safety features including lane keep assist and active blind spot assist.
Will it rock the automotive world? Possibly not. Then again the new CLS has been born into a very different world to its predecessor, a world where grandiose gestures are no longer acceptable and where luxury has an altogether more subtle definition.