In the ever-crowded and competitive car market, even the tiniest of niches found empty have to be plugged, because if you don’t, someone else will beat you to it. We’ve seen it with the BMW X6 coupé, which invented the SUV-coupé segment and then went on to rule it unchallenged for seven years, before Mercedes could respond with the GLE Coupé.
Consequently, it was Mercedes that pioneered the four-door luxury coupé segment with the first-generation CLS back in 2005, which prompted rivals like BMW and Audi to hit back with coupés of their own like the six-series Gran Coupé and the A7.
A lovely touch to this car is the turbine-styled air vents, which light up in red or blue when you raise or lower the climate control temperature
In an Indian context, where luxury cars account for just a little over one per cent of the overall market, the teeny four-door coupé segment is a niche within a niche. Clearly, numbers are not what Mercedes is after with the CLS, and that’s why it’s not locally produced but is instead imported directly from the factory in Stuttgart in small batches. Imports, however, attract a punitive customs duty, which means the price you’re staring at for the base CLS 300d is Rs 84.70 lakh – a good Rs 26 lakh more than the bigger E-class sedan. So, is it worth paying more for what is essentially an E-class with a more stylish set of clothes? If you take the sum of its parts, probably not, but like with a designer suit, there are customers willing to pay extra just for what is possibly the most beautiful sedan in the market today.
Beauty and the beast
The elegantly-styled CLS is more about curves than straight lines. The roof arcs down into the boot lid which gives the coupé look to this flowing shape. It’s hard to find a bad-looking angle on the CLS, but if there is one thing that lets it down, it’s the rather average-looking, five-spoke 18-inch alloys.
The small two-litre, four-cylinder diesel engine may seem inadequate in a car at this price point but it was a pleasant surprise. Performance is remarkably good
The downside of the swooping roofline is that it impinges on headroom, which is immediately obvious as you have to duck to get into the rear seat. Legroom, however, is surprisingly decent and the scooped-out front seatbacks, which release an extra few inches of space, do help. There’s enough space all around to make this a genuine four-seater, for all but the tallest of adults. However, this is not a car for the chauffeur-driven and the heavily-contoured seats are not designed for passengers to spend long hours in them. In fact, compared to the long-wheelbase E-class sibling, the CLS’ rear bench feels exactly that – a bench.
The CLS is best enjoyed upfront where a dashboard swathed in ‘Brown Ash’ wood trim greets you. A lovely touch is the turbine-styled air vents, which light up in red or blue when you raise or lower the climate control temperature. You get more equipment in the CLS than an E-class, which is some justification for the additional outlay. Standard on the CLS 300d are dual digital screens, multi-beam LED headlamps and the ambient lighting in the AC vents.
On paper, the small two-litre, four-cylinder diesel engine may seem inadequate in a car at this price point but I have to say that the engine was a pleasant surprise. Performance is remarkably good. The CLS 300d is quick to respond to even gentle throttle inputs, with the 9-speed auto reacting quickly and smoothly. But this is not a car you want to fling around or drive with your foot to the floorboard. It’s best enjoyed driven a notch or two down, in a relaxed way, which allows you to soak in the road in total comfort. The air suspension smothers broken tarmac like a bigger limo, which adds to the sense of luxury this car exudes.
This car is best enjoyed driven a notch or two down, in a relaxed way, which allows you to soak in the road in total comfort
Sitting diametrically opposite to Merc’s hard-core AMG range, the CLS is at the softer end of the niche spectrum. And that means the CLS is not a car for someone who wants something feisty or aggressive, but instead for those who simply want to make a statement.
Hormazd Sorabjee is one of the most senior and much loved auto journalists in India, and is editor of Autocar India
Sunday Drive appears every fortnight
From HT Brunch, February 10, 2019
Follow us on twitter.com/HTBrunch
Connect with us on facebook.com/hindustantimesbrunch