Prototype drive: Mercedes-Benz CLS

Prototype drive: Mercedes-Benz CLS
Prototype drive: Mercedes-Benz CLS

S-Class technology boosts the return of Merc’s swoopy style-meister

The third-gen Mercedes CLS four-door ‘coupe’ (sort of) is due to be unveiled at the LA Show this November, in advance of its 2018 launch. We’ve managed to get a go in it during pre-production trials on, of all places, the North Yorkshire moors.

There are two quite separate markets for the CLS. One, mainly China-based, is for a dynamic but de luxe four-door coupé; the other is centred on customers who want luxury first, with a healthy dose of style and dynamism thrown in. So the new CLS will feature S-Class engines, driver assistance systems and cabin options like the twin-screen Widescreen Cockpit, but it will be built on the new E-Class’s rear-wheel drive platform.

You can’t properly tell from the pics of these disguised ‘mule’ cars, but the design revamp will take a noticeable step towards sportiness.

The top-spec engines are all inline sixes. There’ll be two diesel power options – 281bhp and 335bhp – while the mild hybrid petrol unit uses a 48V electrical motor to produce up to 362bhp.

A smaller four-cylinder diesel and mild hybrid petrol will deliver 241bhp and 295bhp respectively, with a 429bhp electrified petrol AMG model to come a little later.

Conventional passive steel suspension will be the default chassis setup, with the options of active steel or active air suspension (with air body control). All three come from the E-Class, but are tuned to the CLS to maximise driver engagement.

Inside, there’s a CLS first: three seats in the back, albeit with the central one being child-sized. That’s in response to customer feedback, apparently. The front seats offer more support than those of the E-Class.

The control panel has an E-Class look to it, the optional S-Class Widescreen Cockpit system adding a high-tech ambience, and the ‘turbine’ design air vents with colour-changing LEDs are hard to ignore. An ‘energising comfort’ control packages up related functions like the aircon, audio, massage seats and lighting.

Even with the external camo and the interior wodges of gaffer tape, it soon became pretty clear from our ride that Mercedes’ claim that the new CLS will be “like no other Mercedes” may not be an idle boast. Our first car, a 362bhp electrified petrol unit with 20-inch wheels and air suspension, dealt easily with the difficult moorland roads. Big bumps were quickly absorbed and smoothed and the differences between driving modes were evident.

Quiet in Eco mode, when the 48V electric motor efficiently engages or disengages the petrol engine, the CLS stiffens up noticeably in Sport and Sport+, and there’s an extra edge in the engine note.

We were left with the impression of a strong and dynamic cruiser, but only a spell behind the wheel will give the full answer.

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