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Mercedes-Benz CLS 350 2005 Road Test

Mon, 02 May 2005

Rich Thais were crawling all over the 2005 Mercedes Benz CLS at the Bangkok Motor Show, where, with luxury tax, it stood to set them back at least £75,000.

So we should think ourselves lucky at only being asked to stump up £43,000. Plus about £8,000 for essential extras like Satnav, leather, Parktronic and sexier than standard alloys.

It’s a staggeringly dramatic looking car. One long curve from front to back. But first impressions from the drivers seat show up what seem to be compromises, until you learn to live with them.

However tall or small you are, the nearside ‘A’ pillar slightly obscures the nearside door mirror. The pedals are designed for amputees with no left leg so if you’re a left foot braker you have to twist yourself slightly. And the parking brake requires a considerable degree of left leg dexterity because it’s all too easy to knee yourself in the mouth while trying to apply it.

But park the car. Get out. Go and do something else for half an hour (always a good tactic). Then get back in and you forgive it these minor shortcomings. It’s the car you always promised yourself.

‘Mine’ had optional AirMATIC suspension with three settings, and on the softest it didn’t notice flat-top speed cushions. It either straddled them or fed just a hint of a complaint back to me. For a mere 3.5 litre engine in a big car it goes like stink. You can choose cruise or sport or select the seven autobox ratios yourself with MB’s simple ‘Tipfunction’ (far better than Tiptronic because left to change down and right to change up means there’s never any confusion). Even on the cruise setting, it whacks up to 120 very easily with a wonderful sensation of unending power, quite extraordinary for a big car with only a 3.5 V6. The standard MB cruise control is the easiest to use in the world, with a built in speed limiter. And the feeling of well being the car bestows on you is fantastic.

Mercedes doesn’t encourage you to hold the wheel in the ‘ten to two position’. The massive indicator stalk is alongside ‘twenty to seven’ and the radio and phone buttons are all below the centre line. So you end up holding the wheel at something like ‘twenty past eight’, which, of course, enables you to brace your wrists against your knees if necessary.

When you get to a corner, especially turning off a motorway (and assuming its clear in front) there are quite a few decisions to be made to set the car up for a curved slip-road. Press the Airmatic button behind the gearlever twice to firm things up. Then nudge the lever to the left a few times to select 5th, 4th or 3rd according to the severity of the bend. Get your braking done on the straight. Then pull cleanly through. Alternatively, you could just slob your way round, but it’s very satisfying to get it just ‘right’.

Ultimately, on a really fast sweeper, all four wheels will eventually start to wash out together and the car will start to move slightly. Lifting just a tiny bit gets it back onto line.

Not many people are going to drive their CLS 350 like that. If they want to play the hooligan they can go spend £75,000 on a 476bhp CLS 55AMG, and similar large amount on fines if they get spotted. The CLS 350 is more of a cruiser. You find yourself selecting the softest suspension and laziest autobox settings, then concentrating on driving smoothly.

People are going to notice you anyway.

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