TESTDRIVE. : Is that a Benz?

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Weird but wonderful Dick Tracy car shakes up the old Mercedes image

Sometimes, driving a Mercedes-Benz is not all that cool. This German brand is usually associated with luxury (and old men) and is so popular among Thai buyers that it seems almost passe – anyone who is anyone surely has a Mercedes-Benz in his garage.

It is like an unremarkable status symbol for anyone who is successful or has some money.

More adventurous people would go for something like a BMW or an Alfa Romeo. Those have always been cool cars to drive.

So what does Mercedes-Benz do to grab the attention? It builds the CLS.

The CLS is surely the weirdest-looking car that Mercedes-Benz has developed. It resembles none of its other models, and perhaps that is the point.

The CLS brochure may say it best when it describes the CLS 63 AMG, the top version from the CLS line-up: “The best way to attract attention? Make yourself scarce.”

I think this slogan suits the CLS 500, as well.

Actually, the design concept of the CLS is pretty simple (but pretty hard to achieve): making a four-door car that looks like a coupe.

At first sight of the CLS, I could not help thinking it would be an ideal car for Dick Tracy, mainly because of the low roof and small window area. It was not proportional and appeared strange.

But look at it a little longer, and its appearance improves. Yes, it is an extraordinary-looking car, but in a way it also looks pretty cool.

“Is that a Benz?” is the most frequently asked question when you drive this car. It simply attracts attention, just like the brochure says.

Get inside, and the interior is equally striking. The seats are wonderful, although due to the low roof there is hardly any headroom left for a six-footer, and there is just enough legroom for the rear passengers.

But for me, that is a pretty acceptable trade-off for the CLS’s exceptional design. The wood trim is fine, although the steering wheel should not have any wood on it – it makes it look a little corny, quite apart from it becoming pretty hot when you park the car outdoors.

The gearshift lever has plus and minus functions, but paddles behind the steering wheel (offered only for the CLS 63 AMG with Speedshift) would have been more convenient.

A major complaint is the Parktronic system, which is oversensitive and beeps loudly, even though you are nowhere near any obstacles. I had to switch it off each time after starting the engine.

The audio system sounds great, although it would be better if it also played MP3, while the climate-control system is also excellent.

There is a long list of standard and additional-to-standard equipment that I won’t mention here. But the bottom line is with a car of this quality, you surely get a long list of features.

Actually, I had driven a CLS 350 before and thought its performance pretty good. But when the chance came to get my hands on a CLS 500, how could I refuse?

Powered by a 5-litre V8 engine (with 24 rather than 32 valves), capable of pumping out 306 horsepower and 460Nm of torque (from 2,700-4,250rpm), the CLS 500 can smoothly accelerate from zero to 100kph in 6.1 seconds and reach a top end of 250kph.

There’s a hint of power as you start the engine. After hearing the starter spin, the next sound you hear is a ferocious snarl, something you don’t expect from a Mercedes. Unlike supercars with smaller engines, the large V8, which is mated to a seven-speed automatic transmission, allows the CLS 500 to accelerate smoothly, thanks to the generous measure of torque available over a wide range of engine speeds.

It’s a pretty heavy car at 1.8 tonnes, so really to enjoy the CLS 500, you need to get up to highway speeds. Floor the throttle at a cruising speed of 100kph, and you feel the torque wind the speed up like there’s no end to it. Before you know it, the speedo is showing 200kph and there’s still more to come.

In terms of driving dynamics, the highlight of the CLS 500 is its air suspension, which comes with three settings: comfort, sports/comfort and sports. Just leave the setting on comfort when driving in slow city traffic and raise it when you’re in a hurry on the Expressway. In the sports setting, the car is also lowered 15 millimetres, to help it hold onto the road even better.

Even in the comfort setting, the suspension is never sloppy, showing the character of the CLS. It is sporty indeed. The steering is beefy, and the car corners like it is running on rails.

There is also massive stopping power from the large vented discs front and rear, something to keep your confidence up when you’re travelling fast.

The CLS 500 retails at Bt10.9 million, which does not really matter to me, since I cannot afford it anyway. But if I had the money and wanted to buy a Mercedes, then this is the model I’d go for.

For those who can afford it, perhaps you won’t have to decide whether to choose the CLS over another candidate. Design is the deciding factor here. If you like it, you will get it. If you don’t, you won’t even consider it.

Specifications:

Mercedes-Benz CLS 500

Engine: V8 24-valve

Displacement: 4,966cc

Compression ratio: 10:1

Bore and stroke: 97 x 84mm

Max power: 306hp (225Nm) at 5,600rpm

Max torque: 460Nm from

2,700-4,250rpm

Transmission: Seven-speed automatic

Ratios: 4.38/2.86/1.92/1.37/1/0.82/0.73

Final-drive ratio: 3.06

Performance

0-100kph: 6.1 seconds

Top speed: 250kph

Fuel consumption (litres/100km)

City: 16.4

Highway: 8.3

Combined: 11.3

Suspension (f/r): Four-link suspension, Airmatic DC full-air suspension system with level control, anti-dive/multilink independent suspension, Airmatic DC full-air suspension system with level control, anti-squat and anti-dive

Brakes (f/r): Vented discs/vented discs with ABS, BA

Steering: Powered rack and pinion

Min turn: 11.2 metres

Wheels: 18-inch alloys

Tires: 245/40R18

Dimensions (mm)

Length: 4,913

Width: 1,873

Height: 1,390

Wheelbase: 2,854

Track (f/r): 1,593/1,603

Weight: 1,810 kilograms

Price: Bt10.9 million

Distributor: DaimlerChrysler (Thailand)

Kingsley Wijayasinha

The Nation

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