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Test drive: Michael Atkinson reviews the Mercedes CLS 350 AMG Coupé

By Michael Atkinson on 1st December 2019

Michael Atkinson test drives the latest Mercedes CLS 350 AMG Coupé.

I’ve always been fond of Mercedes since we had a 3 litre M Class a few years ago. It was a fantastic family car, great to drive, powerful, responsive, cruised nicely on long motorway journeys, plenty of space for the kids in the back, generous boot for the paraphernalia that accompanies you on trips when you have small children. It looked big and bold, yet sleek and stylish in jet black.

In the end, we gave it up, not because it wasn’t a great car, but because it was hellishly expensive to run. It was an absolute gas guzzler, hitting the wallet hard at the pump, the CO2 emissions from its 3 litre engine placing it firmly in the top car tax bracket. Servicing was expensive too, the large tyres on the 4wd losing their tread quicker than most. So we sadly parted company after a few years, although I have always been slightly disappointed with what has come afterwards. Nothing has quite replaced its practicality, style, power and sophistication. Mercedes vehicles always feel a slight step up from their Audi and BMW counterparts, investing more into the interior, the attention to detail slightly better, the finish slightly higher quality.

CLS 400d 4MATIC Coupé

Of course, this was several years ago and in the intervening years, like most manufacturers, Mercedes has worked hard at engineering fuel efficiency and improving carbon emissions. I was therefore delighted to have the opportunity to get behind the wheel of a Mercedes again, this time spending a week in the driver’s seat of the latest Mercedes CLS 350 AMG Coupé.

In honesty, the CLS has never been my favourite in the Mercedes line up. I’ve never been quite sure where the CLS fits in the Mercedes range, it sometimes feels like it sits awkwardly between the C class and the E class. The car is an assemblage of contrasts. A coupé, yet with 4 doors. Frameless doors. Family sized, yet with a sporty edge. It is part family car, part sports cars, therefore part fun, part sensible. It seems designed for those who are trying to combine the responsibility of family life, whilst not fully giving up on their love of cars and certainly not able to make the dreaded move to a practical Ford S-Max.

I’ve always struggled too with the CLS design – its front is angular, muscular and aggressive almost, the bonnet has two ridges, giving the front more edge. There’s something a touch Dodge Challenge or Ford Mustang about it. The back is sleeker and curvier. Yet these design details are overlaid on a more standard ‘sensible’ E Class saloon style. Again, it reflects this part sports car, part family car approach. Perhaps a slightly random half-way house, satisfying neither option fully.

CLS 400d 4MATIC Coupé

The model I tested (CLS 350 AMG) has an OTR of £53,410, the spec on the vehicle I drove taking it to £62,540. It comes with a three year unlimited mileage warranty and four years of standard Mercedes-Benz Roadside Assistance. Its four-cylinder 2 litre petrol 9G-Tronic plus nine speed automatic transmission delivers 299hp and powers it from 0-62mph in 6 seconds. There’s also the Mercedes-Benz ‘EQ Boost’ technology which delivers an extra short burst of 14 bhp when needed, but when you have your foot off the accelerator, enables the car to ride without the engine running.

The 350d and 400d versions come with a new 3 litre in-line six-cylinder diesel engine, quickening the CLS from 0-62mph in 5.7 seconds and 5 seconds respectively. This is certainly a car that longs for the open road. It yearns to be driven and wants you to take advantage of its lively engine. In the city centre, the CLS struggles when it’s held back. In Edinburgh’s city centre and surrounds, where I was driving it for the week, it was gruff and frustrated at low speeds, especially in the city’s 20mph zones (now the majority of the inner city), finding it difficult to settle into the right gear, clearly longing to have the freedom to accelerate away.

Indeed, the accelerator is somewhat unresponsive at this speed. Switching between sport mode and comfort mode didn’t make much difference to how it adapted to these low speed roads. Give the car the freedom it desires however and it comes alive for a joyous ride. Away from the city roads at higher speeds, it becomes very responsive, the accelerator delivering delightful bursts of power at light touch. It feels a very stable sports car, it hugs the road, handling very well, the steering reactive and precise, holding corners firmly. It really is a fun drive.

The interior is everything you would expect of a high spec Mercedes. Super comfortable leather seats, with the ability to adjust them multiple ways to get to your perfect seating position. There is a contemporary chrome wood effect finish, ambient lighting illuminates the dashboard and the air vents which change colour when the temperature is adjusted up or down. There’s some nice classic additions amongst the contemporary feel, an analogue Mercedes clock in the central console being one such touch.

Whilst it has a great navigation system, it’s not especially intuitive and takes quite a while to figure out how it works. It comes with front and rear parking sensors and a front and rear view parking camera and also a helicopter view diagram which overlays with lines the position of your car against its surroundings when you are parking. A really useful addition when reversing or parking in tight spaces. The Burmester surround sound system makes the audio superb.

There’s no doubt that it is an extremely practical car and works well as a family car – the backs seats are spacious and easily fit car seats for young children. The boot is extremely spacious – long, deep and wide. A round of golf during the week meant fitting two sets of clubs into the boot. I was fully expecting to have to take out the longer clubs to fit in the two golf bags, but in they went without problem. Even with the two golf bags, there was boot space for accompanying bags. A long weekend away saw a family of four’s kit fit in without issue.

Medium-28587-CLS400d4MATICCoup

I was thoroughly disappointed to have to hand back the keys of the CLS at the end of the week. Never especially fond of it previously, I’m now an absolute CLS convert. My week had renewed my enthusiasm for Mercedes and I had grown to love the CLS. It had been a week of fun driving, always a pleasure to settle into the CLS. Whilst it won’t replace our larger family SUV, when it comes to looking at changing our Audi A3 sport, the CLS will now be top of my list. It fully delivers against what it was always designed to be – a practical 4 door sports coupé family car. Indeed, the design and style was considered revolutionary at the time of its launch back in 2005 and it has been one of the most successful recent models for Mercedes. With the latest version, I expect it to continue to deliver for Mercedes.

The Mercedes CLS AMG Coupé was provided courtesy of the Mercedes-Benz Press Office – see all models at mercedes-benz.co.uk. All images used in this artice credit: Mercedes-Benz.