Either way, it’s a stunning car and, more importantly, one which really stands out. In the middle are four conventional doors, albeit with coupe-like shallow glass areas and a dramatically curved roofline.
But it’s at the back where things really get interesting. The rear slopes away from the roofline into an angular boot area, while at the front are a pair of aggressive-looking headlights which shroud the traditional Mercedes-Benz grille and its centrally-mounted three-pointed star.
It’s a major move away from the current family look and it presents executives with a new avenue if they want to add some flair to their next set of company wheels.
For businessmen right at the top of the corporate ladder, there are two V8 models – the CLS500 and 55 AMG, but for those who are still on the climb the CLS350 tested here has all the style of its bigger brothers but with less pace and some less gut-wrenching costs.
At a smidgen over £43,000 on-the-road, the entry-level CLS has pretty much every bit of kit you could possibly want, although leather seats are a noticeable omission – and a £1,100 option.
Power comes from a 272bhp 3.5-litre V6 engine coupled to 7G-Tronic, the world’s first seven-speed automatic gearbox.
The CLS doesn’t feel as quick as its on-paper performance claims, with the V6 really needing plenty of revs to get it going. But once cruising speed is reached the CLS changes character as it settles into a relaxed gait to cover miles with stylish ease.
This is a car you want to be seen in, so it makes no sense to drive too quickly. Rather like a shark stalking its prey, it’s best to approach other cars on motorways in a stealthy manner, let them take in the design details (the way the front arc of the wheel arch extends into a swage line which runs all the way to the rear lights is my favourite) as you cruise past and then disappear.
No car I’ve driven in recent months has received quite as many quizzical glances from other road users, so the CLS is certainly a car which you feel special driving.
As long as you love attention, this car is for you – shy types need not apply.
And there aren’t going to be that many on the road either. Mercedes-Benz plans to sell just 2,500 this year and 4,000 in 2006, with about 20% going to fleets (although that’s not including purchases made by company directors with their own cash). Of that figure, 65% will be the 350 model, with the 500 taking 30%.
With a price tag nearly £10,000 lower than the CLS500, the 350 certainly makes sense, particularly as it has everything its bigger brother has, except the extra performance.
But this car is all about looks, and in this respect the CLS350 is hard to beat.
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £42,917
CO2 emissions (g/km): 241
BIK % of P11D in 2005: 35%
Graduated VED rate: £165
Insurance group: 18
Combined mpg: 28
CAP Monitor residual value: £19,075/44%
Depreciation 39.90 pence per mile x 60,000: £23,940
Maintenance 5.29 pence per mile x 60,000: £3,174
Fuel 14.28 pence per mile x 60,000: £8,568
Wholelife cost 59.47 pence per mile x 60,000: £35,682
Typical contract hire rate: £825
At a glance
We don’t like
Three rivals to consider
THE CLS inhabits what Mercedes-Benz calls the four-door coupe market. As there are no other four-door coupes on the market, we’ve chosen its rivals on a price and prestige formula, so you have an E350 (essentially the same car as the CLS underneath), a 6-series with the 3.0-litre engine and automatic gearbox, and Audi’s 4.2-litre V8-engined A6 quattro SE.
M-B E350 £36,597
M-B CLS350 £42,917
ALL four cars here have variable service intervals, so these costs take an average and include replacement parts such as tyres. The E350 will be the cheapest over three years/60,000 miles, costing a fleet £2,898. Not far behind is the Audi on 5.12ppm for a cost of £3,072. Just 0.04ppm further back is the 630Ci auto on £3,096. The CLS brings up the rear here on £3,174 – £276 more than the E350 thanks to its higher technology, such as the seven-speed automatic gearbox.
M-B E350 4.83ppm
M-B CLS350 5.29ppm
THE BMW edges slightly ahead in fuel terms, returning 29.7mpg, which translates into a cost of £8,076 over three years and 60,000 miles. Close behind is the E350 on 29.1mpg for a cost of £8,244. The larger bodywork and heavier weight of the CLS impact on fuel economy, with the 350 returning 28mpg for a cost of £8,568. Last place goes to the A6 with a cost of £10,038. However, the Audi does have much more power and a big 4.2-litre V8 engine – and a glorious soundtrack.
M-B E350 13.74ppm
M-B CLS350 14.28ppm
ALTHOUGH it has the second lowest residual value forecast, the E350 wins due to its low front-end price. With CAP estimating it will retain 39% of its cost new after three years and 60,000 miles, the E350’s cash lost figure is £22,450. The CLS’s higher RV forecast of 44% is outweighed by its higher price new, leaving a cash lost figure of £24,045. The BMW is the most expensive car here, so its strong 45% RV is negated. It loses £25,935, while the Audi loses £29,965.
M-B E350 37.16ppm
M-B CLS350 39.90ppm
THE Mercedes-Benz E-class wins the running costs section, although that’s not really a surprise as it’s a much cheaper car than the others. What is surprising is how close the CLS runs its far more conventional brother. Over three years and 60,000 miles the more stylish and exclusive CLS350 will cost a fleet £2,244 more than the E350 Avantgarde. The BMW 6-series will cost a fleet £37,000 while the Audi suffers thanks to its residual value forecast of just 31%. For a fleet operating the A6 4.2 it will cost £42,942.
M-B E350 55.73ppm,br>
M-B CLS350 59.47ppm
Emissions and BIK tax rates
LET’S face it, the people who choose these cars won’t be too concerned at the size of their tax bills, and it’s just as well because all four are hovering near the top of the benefit-in-kind tax scheme. The Audi will take the biggest chunk out of drivers’ wallets, costing £505 a month, while the CLS will cost the same 40% taxpayer £501 a month. The BMW falls into the lowest BIK band but its higher front-end price means it will cost £93 a month more than the E350.
M-B E350 231g/km/33%
M-B CLS350 241g/km/35%
HEART will rule the head here and purchases will be based on feeling, rather than cost, which excludes the less exclusive E-class from winning. But the fact that the CLS is cheaper to run than its nearest rival, the BMW, means the numbers do add up. The CLS is a refreshingly different car which brings real flair to the executive car park.