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Mercedes-Benz CLS320 CDI



I’M going to leap forward, if you don’t mind, to the comparison section of this road test because trying to find direct rivals for the Mercedes-Benz CLS is like searching for the Loch Ness monster, the abominable snowman and a Scotsman hoping England will win the World Cup. Futile. They just don’t exist.

Which means the CLS is a very exclusive thing. And exclusivity is a central pillar of luxury. Which is one of the reasons why the CLS is one of the very best luxury cars on the planet.

For a start it looks like no other luxury saloon with its shallow arcing roof and long tapered boot.

I admit that when I first saw it at the Frankfurt Motor Show a few years ago it reminded me of some down-in-the-mouth, bottom-feeding fish. A gurnard perhaps. But I’ve come to love its unique looks, to the point that I’d happily put up with the compromises – or should that be idiosyncrasies – which go with them.

For a start, those sleek, half-moon side windows look great but combine their lack of vision with the bowed body and parking without the aid of sensors requires finely-honed spatial perception.

Also, for some reason there’s a disconcerting inch-wide gap between the chrome-trimmed doors and the B-pillar and the lack of headroom in the rear means passengers will not feel as lavished upon as those in the front.

There are only four seats in the CLS, with a big central armrest in the back making even a fifth person perched in the middle impossible. Having said that, the two rear seats are individually sculpted and very comfortable.

Ultimately, if you cannot reconcile yourself with the nuances of the CLS, just don’t buy one. It’s as simple as that. Buy a considerably more practical E-class instead. And it’s that uncompromising approach that makes the CLS such a wonderful car.

The CLS also gets a bespoke interior. This is not just a reskinned E-class. I especially like the large, deep console and wide wooden sweep across the dash.

The 3.2-litre V6 engine delivers everything you could want of an executive diesel.

It has a decent shove to it, allowing the occupants to escape all but the most determined proles, and it is very quiet and refined too, while the seven-speed gearbox is near-perfect. It is so smooth and precise that spotting the changes is nigh-on impossible.

And then it delivers near 40mpg on the motorway.

This is the place to take the CLS. It’s not an especially sporty car, with a soft-ish suspension and a wafty ride, but then racing along in this car is so undignified.

The CLS320 CDI only comes in one specification, and there is a very long list of extras which unsurprisingly means that the standard car is hardly weighed down with clever toys and fancy extras.

Part-leather seats which are electrically powered in the front, a single-slot CD player, cruise control, climate control and rain-sensing wipers are the highlights.

While plenty of other cars are better specified for the price, very few have the sense of virtuoso style of the CLS, and I’d take that every time over a CD autochanger.

Mercedes-Benz is really pushing this particular car at corporate customers with some very attractive leasing rates and it really isn’t hard to see why they have such grand plans for it.

Any executive without the acumen to place this wonderful vehicle on their new car shortlist really doesn’t deserve their place on the board.

Three rivals to consider

  • Jaguar XJ TDVi Executive auto
  • Lexus GS450h CVT
  • RR Sport TDV6 HSE auto

    Factfile: Mercedes-Benz CLS320 CDI

    Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £43,042 CO2 emissions (g/km): 202 BIK % of P11D in 2006: 30% Graduated VED rate: £195 Insurance group: 18 Combined mpg: 37.2 CAP Monitor residual value: £19,225/45% Depreciation 39.69 pence per mile x 60,000: £23,814 Maintenance 5.41 pence per mile x 60,000: £3,246 Fuel 12.08 pence per mile x 60,000: £7,248 Wholelife cost 57.18 pence per mile x 60,000: £34,308 Typical contract hire rate: £873 All figures based on 3yrs/60,000 miles.

    P11D price

    Mercedes-Benz £43,042
    Lexus £43,677
    Jaguar £43,787
    Range Rover £44,292

    As mentioned previously, finding exact competitors for the CLS is impossible so we’ve taken an alternative approach: a driver who doesn’t want a conventional German executive saloon but has more than £40,000 to spend. The British Jaguar XJ is a big luxury car but its low price brings it into contention, the Range Rover Sport is a very desirable SUV while the hybrid Lexus GS 450h is anything but conventional.

    SMR costs

    Jaguar 4.25ppm
    Lexus 4.54ppm
    Range Rover 4.79ppm
    Mercedes-Benz 5.41ppm

    MAINTAINING any of these cars is not cheap, as befits their luxurious status. All run on wide, expensive tyres and labour rates are generally high. As is often the case, Mercedes-Benz is the most expensive, while the Lexus needs no special attention for its hybrid powertrain and will no doubt be very reliable. The Jaguar XJ diesel will be the cheapest, costing 4.25ppm – or £2,550 – over 60,000 miles.

    Fuel costs

    Mercedes-Benz 12.08ppm
    Lexus 12.55ppm
    Jaguar 12.84ppm
    Range Rover 16.22ppm

    To get decent fuel economy around the 13ppm mark, the lightweight aluminium Jaguar has a smaller 2.7-litre engine and the Lexus has its clever hybrid system. Both would use about £7,500-£8,000 in fuel over 60,000 miles. But the big Mercedes-Benz, with its large and smooth diesel engine, is even better still. A fuel economy figure of 37.2mpg means a cost over 60,000 miles of £7,208. The heavy Range Rover is vastly more expensive than the others.

    Depreciation costs

    Range Rover 37.90ppm
    Mercedes-Benz 39.69ppm
    Jaguar 43.68ppm
    Lexus 50.04ppm

    The Range Rover Sport has been very well received and has very strong residuals. That the CLS is not far behind in cash-lost terms illustrates what a deeply desirable car it is – certainly stronger than its E-class stablemate.

    It would lose £23,814 over three years/60,000 miles, compared to the £22,740 of the Rangie. Lexus must be really disappointed with the industry’s RV prediction for the GS450h at 31%. It is miles off, losing a hefty £30,000.

    Wholelife costs

    Mercedes-Benz 57.18ppm
    Range Rover 58.91ppm
    Jaguar 60.77ppm
    Lexus 67.13ppm

    The residual predictions of the Lexus are so poor that in the wholelife equation, it just can’t compete, despite good servicing and fuel economy figures. The Range Rover and Jaguar are in the middle on wholelife cost terms while the CLS, despite being an uncompromising car, has the best compromise of the four thanks to strong RVs and excellent economy, and would end up costing £34,308 over three years/60,000 miles.

    Emissions and BIK tax rates

    Lexus 186g/km/21%
    Mercedes-Benz 202g/km/30%
    Jaguar 214g/km/32%
    Range Rover 271g/km/35%

    The hybrid Lexus really comes into its own in benefit-in-kind tax terms. The 3% hybrid discount allied to low emissions mean it would be charged at only 21% of its P11D value. That equates to a monthly company car tax bill of £306 for a 40% taxpayer. The CLS is second-best, and would cost the same driver £430 a month – quite a lot more money. The Range Rover’s very high emissions – it falls into the maximum BIK banding – mean a monthly bill of £517.


    If the only consideration here is minimising drivers’ company car tax bills, then the Lexus GS450h is a firm favourite thanks to its hybrid dispensation. However, in every other area the Mercedes-Benz CLS320 CDI is the best choice. It’s the most stylish, the most exclusive, has decent wholelife costs and the tax bill is not stratospheric for this level of earner. It’s the ultimate executive statement.

  • CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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