A SHOOTING BRAKE may have originally been a wagon built for guns and dogs and hunting, but it eventually evolved into a term for a sporty two-door estate. Then there is the Mercedes-Benz CLS Shooting Brake, which doesn't quite fit into either category and is apparently a car that you either love or hate.
Few are indifferent to this big Merc, which is a CLS "Four-door" Coupé with a tailgate. The sleek lines of the original CLS-class bodystyle have been extended so that the long smooth bonnet flows up a steeply raked windscreen before sloping languidly towards a sensuously sculpted tail complete with a pair of muscular rear haunches.
It is a striking design, with contours and bulges and any symbolism you may care to throw in. Some find it beautiful, some do not. But the fact that the extroverted styling is applied to such a large car gives it even greater road presence.
The second-generation new CLS uses the same basic platform as the current E-Class but looks bigger and more macho than the popular executive sedan.
Like the "four-door" coupé, the shooting brake's frameless doors open to unveil a luxuriously roomy interior. But unlike the "four-door" coupé, the shooting brake can seat five because it has a rear bench instead of the former's two individual rear seats. At the back, there is a deep boot with a useable cargo floor that can be accented with aluminium rails.
There are two engine options - a 3.5-litre V6 and a 4.7-litre V8. Both power the rear wheels via Merc's excellent seven-speed 7G-Tronic automatic transmission. But because the 1,850kg Shooting Brake is slightly heavier than the Coupé, the zero to 100 kmh acceleration times differ.
The CLS350 Shooting Brake, for example, does it in 6.7 seconds, or about half a second more than the Coupé. But its performance hardly feels inadequate. The Shooting Brake has rather beefy torque that is delivered by its naturally aspirated V6 in linear, lag-free fashion.
The Airmatic air suspension is superb, with a pliancy that produces ride comfort as only the brand with the three-pointed star can. There are the usual three driver modes that can be selected using the familiar E-S-M button on the lower centre console. The CLS is best in E, however, with its smooth gear shifts and relaxed performance. Sport stiffens the suspension and steering but also gives the engine note an undesirable urgency not in keeping with this big Merc.
Also unusual is the gearbox. Although the smooth automatic gear changes may remind you of a famously silken beancurd dessert in the Selegie area, the delay when selecting reverse can be a little annoying. Especially when you're on a gradient.
But those minor details are likely forgotten when you're driving the Shooting Brake fast, with its wonderful blend of comfort and control, or when you're admiring its curvaceous body (more attractive with matte paintwork, by the way) as you approach it in the car park. In terms of its design, luxury, and appeal, this avant garde Merc has to be unique.
Mercedes-Benz CLS350 Shooting Brake
Engine 3,498cc V6
Transmission 7-speed 7G-Tronic automatic
Max power 306 hp @ 6,500 rpm
Max torque 370 Nm @ 3,500-5,250 rpm
0-100 kmh 6.7 secs
Top speed 250 kmh
CO2 emissions 187 g/km
Price $356,888 (with COE)
Distributor Cycle & Carriage