CLS Shooting Brake bang on target for Mercedes-Benz

The Shooting Brake is a welcome niche addition to the Mercedes-Benz CLS range, says Iain Dooley,PA senior motoring writer

Predicting what customers might want is one thing, but getting it right time after time is what separates successful car companies from also-rans. So 2003 saw Mercedes unveil a radical four-door 'coupe'. The initial response to the CLS was a lot of puzzled faces. How things have changed.

Now into its second generation and having triggered a handful of 'me-too' cars, Mercedes had added a niche within a niche with the CLS Shooting Brake. A posh alternative to a conventional estate car, this CLS looks a lot more attractive than your average big box on wheels.

And that's the point – the CLS has succeeded because there are enough people who want the practicality of a big saloon but something more stylish. The same logic supports the Shooting Brake – boasting 590 litres of space in regular trim and 1,550 litres with the rear seats folded, it's no four-wheeled trinket but a genuinely capable load-lugger. And to satisfy the fashionistas there's not a straight line to be seen anywhere – unless you opt for the wood decking option for the load space, proof, if you needed it, that Mercedes is aiming high in the style stakes with this streamlined station wagon.

Yet, for all its aesthetic attributes, the CLS Shooting Brake just as easily appeals to your practical side. Like the four-door saloon, the Shooting Brake confidently swallows a full compliment of adults. The headlining in the rear boasts a cutout section to boost headroom, while rear doors open wide enough so getting in and out is easy.

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Up front the environment – instruments, controls, layout – will be familiar to both CLS and E-Class fans, and top marks all round for the quality and design of the materials used in the cabin. Leather chairs are standard, although the CLS wouldn't be a Mercedes if there wasn't a long list of tempting options.

The two trim levels – regular and AMG Sport – offer a good level of equipment as standard, including leather upholstery, sat-nav, alloy wheels, climate control, seven-speed automatic gearbox and plenty of safety kit. The AMG Sport variants include a subtle bodykit, sportier suspension, larger alloy wheels and LED headlights. Audio upgrades, contrasting cabin trim choices, different leather and wheels plus a host of other comfort and safety kit form the bulk of the cost options.

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In contrast to the plethora of choice of kit to furnish the car's interior, Mercedes has sensibly limited the choice of engines to three – two diesel and one petrol. Being an estate car diesel makes a lot of sense, and the popular 250 and 350 CDI units offer affordable and more than adequate performance, while economy and emissions ratings are close enough for you pick the more powerful motor with a relatively clean conscious.

The 250 and 350 CDI diesel engines have a reasonable 201bhp and healthy 261bhp respectively plus 53.3mpg and 135g/km of CO2 for the smaller four-cylinder engine and 47.1mpg and 161g/km for the six-cylinder motor.

The petrol engine is Mercedes' new 549bhp 5.5-litre turbo AMG unit. As an elegant and super-rapid load-lugger it trumps its more dowdy and boxy rivals if you need speed and space in one package.

In the real world those diesels will be kinder on your finances, with the 250 CDI providing the undemanding motorist a good balance of economy and cruising ability and the 350 CDI delivering a welcome extra slug of power and torque to make light work of hills, hauling kit and high-speed motoring. Factor in the well-judged suspension settings – including air springs at the rear – its long wheelbase, variable assistance steering and smart auto gearbox and it's hard not to find the CLS both a soothing and rewarding experience.

For a car that's effectively a niche within an already small niche, the CLS Shooting Brake boasts a larger-than-life personality. Its bold looks and surprisingly practical layout ensure it's destined for great things. Back in 2003 the original car caught many by surprise but this Shooting Brake is a welcome and timely addition to the CLS range.

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