The local introduction of the Mercedes-Benz CLS range is significant for many reasons - and the car's seductive styling is the least of them. Moreover, the CLS shows a different side to the Three-pointed Star and lights the way to a bold future for 'Benz.The local introduction of the Mercedes-Benz CLS range is significant for many reasons - and the car's seductive styling is the least of them. Moreover, the CLS shows a different side to the Three-Pointed Star and lights the way to a bold future for 'Benz.

When Mercedes-Benz unveiled the Vision CLS concept at the 2003 Frankfurt Show, few expected that the E-Class based car would ever go into production, primarily because of its quirky "four-door coupé" styling and the fact that it was too closely related to its executive saloon sibling. However, the enthusiastic public response to the Vision CLS surprised even the management at Sindelfingen, and the car got the go-ahead.

Whenever has published a story about the CLS in the past two years, some readers have responded to the car's styling with the vitriol normally reserved for some of BMW design chief Chris Bangle's creations. But following a drive in the CLS this week, it can be argued that the car is probably a yardstick for what the E-Class should have been. The CLS has svelte lines that rival the BMW 5-Series for sheer presence and the range has paved the way for more Mercedes models with outside-of-the-box styling. What's more - the CLS is a genuine driver's car, as we found out.

"Pictures don't do it justice" and "It looks better in the metal" are clichéd expressions in today's motoring speak. Nevertheless, the CLS is an imposing sight... A somewhat pointy front spoiler, bold L-shaped headlights and a muscle-strapped bonnet dominate its front end. Narrow windows accentuate a dynamic crease that runs the length of the car's shoulder and a plunging roofline morphs into wide, voluptuous C-pillars and low-slung boot with an exhaust tip at either end of the rear apron. Inside, the CLS offers a cocooning cabin (with a generously wood-trimmed fascia) that arcs around the driver in the fashion one would expect in olde world grand tourers.

The CLS is a genuine four-seater. Instead of a rear bench, there are two single seats split by a console that stretches the length of the cabin. The rear legroom in the CLS can rival that of the S-Class... The distance between the front and rear seats is 829 mm and shoulder and elbow-level width is 1422 and 1464 mm respectively. When entering the cabin, one immediately notices the window-frameless door that helps to disguise the CLS' B-Pillar.

Newly developed seats with electric adjustment as standard are available for the driver and front passenger and on request those can be equipped with active ventilation or as a dynamic multi-contour seat. The boot of the new CLS is positively cavernous and has a capacity of 505 litres (VDA measuring method).

The South African line-up of CLS models comprises the CLS 350 (powered by a new 3,5-litre V6, which produces 200 kW and maximum torque of 350 N.m at 2 400 r/min) and CLS 500 (five-litre V8, 225 kW and 460 N.m), and both models are equipped with a seven-speed automatic transmission (7G-Tronic), speed-sensitive power steering, Sensotronic Brake Control (SBC). Over and above the long list of standard features, the CLS 500 has Airmatic Dual Control air suspension and four-zone Thermotronic climate control.

Mercedes-Benz claims the CLS 350 will accelerate from zero to 100 km/h in seven seconds and CLS 500 will do the same in 6,1 sec. However, the CLS stands out not for its sheer performance, but road manners. The speed-sensitive steering allows for just enough feedback in the twisties and even the C350 (with its standard MacPherson strut front and independent multi-link rear suspension) can be hustled into a bend with a minimum of pitching and body roll. Although the CLS is a BIG car, it feels quite nimble.

As for the Sensotronic braking system, it still takes getting used to. The brake pedal is quite firm, and although the braking response is exemplary, there is an art to modulating braking power. In the case of the CLS, braking can sometimes be too sharp.

In terms of safety, the CLS is equipped with adaptive front airbags, windowbags and sidebags, as well as belt tensioners and belt force limiters on all seats. The Pre-Safe system, which activates precautionary measures when a potential accident is detected, including split-second tensioning of the seat belts, bringing the driver and front passenger into a more favourable seating position even before a potential collision, will become available later.

Bi-Xenon headlamps with headlamp assist (cornering lights that turn automatically to improve lateral illumination as the car is turned), Distronic proximity cruise control, Linguatronic voice control, the control and display system Comand APS with DVD navigation and Keyless-Go are also on the options list. Apart from that, the CLS range is fitted with virtually all the modern conveniences currently offered in the Mercedes range, apart from the Neckpro head restraint system - which will become available later in 2005.

The CLS 350 costs R578 000 and the CLS 500 R685 000. The prices include a two-year/unlimited kilometres warranty, six-year/120 000 km Maintenance Plan that requires staggered customer contribution as the mileage increases, and the Mercedes-Benz Touring Guarantee (includes 24-hour roadside assistance).

Original article from Car