PREDICTING what customers might want is one thing, but getting it right time after time is what really separates the successful car companies from the also-rans. 2003 saw Mercedes unveil what was, for its time, a radical four-door coupe. The initial response to the firms 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 in the shape of a CLS Shooting Brake. In reality its just a posh alternative to a conventional estate car, but theres no denying that this CLS looks a lot more attractive than your average big box on wheels.
And thats the point; the CLS has succeeded because there are enough people out there who want the practicality of a big saloon but also want something more stylish. The same logic supports the Shooting Brake concept boasting 590 litres of space in regular trim and 1,550 litres with the rear seats folded, its no four-wheeled trinket but a genuinely capable load-lugger for all but the most demanding of owners. And to satisfy the fashionistas theres not a straight line to be seen anywhere.
Well, thats not strictly true as, if youll see plenty of straight lines if you opt for the wood decking option for the rear load space. Yes really, you can buy a CLS wagon with a wood floor. Proof, if you needed it, that Mercedes is aiming high in the style stakes wit this streamlined station wagon.
Yet, for all the cars aesthetic attributes, the CLS Shooting Brake just as easily appeals to your practical side. Like its four-door cousin, the Shooting Brake confidently swallows a full compliment of adults. The headlining in the rear boasts a cutout section to boost headroom, while the rear doors open wide enough to make access and egress straightforward.
Up front the environment instruments, controls, layout - will be familiar to both CLS and E-Class fans, and its top marks all round for the quality and design of the materials used in the cabin. Leather chairs are standard, although the CLS wouldnt be a Mercedes if there wasnt a long list of tempting options.
As such, the two trim levels regular and AMG Sport offer a good level of equipment as standard, including the aforementioned leather upholstery, sat-nav, alloy wheels, climate control, seven-speed auto 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.
In contrast to the plethora of choice of kit to furnish the cars interior, Mercedes has sensibly limited the choice of engines to three two diesel and one petrol. Being an estate car of sorts diesel makes a lot of sense, and Mercedes popular 250 and 350 CDI units offer affordable and more than adequate performance respectably, while economy and emissions ratings are close enough for you pick the more powerful motor with a relatively clean conscious.
For the record, the 250 and 350 CDI diesel engines output a reasonable 201bhp and healthy 261bhp respectively plus 53.3mpg and 135g/km CO2 for the smaller four-cylinder engine and 47.1mpg and 161g/km for the six-cylinder motor.
And that petrol engine? Its only Mercedes new 5.5-litre turbo AMG unit, which means 549bhp through the rear wheels and a noise thatll frighten small children and make old ladies shake their fists. Still, as an elegant and super rapid load-lugger it easily trumps its more dowdy and boxy rivals if you need speed and space in one package.
Back in the real world those diesel offerings will be kinder on your finances, with the 250 CDI providing the undemanding motorist a good balance of economy and cruising ability and the more powerful 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 cars well judged suspension settings including air springs at the rear, its long wheelbase, variable assistance steering and smart auto gearbox and its hard not to find the CLS both a soothing and rewarding experience.
For a car thats 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 ensures that its 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.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: Mercedes-Benz CLS 350 CDI Shooting Brake, from £53,000 on the road.
Engine: 3.0-litre diesel unit developing 261bhp.
Transmission: 7-speed automatic transmission as standard, driving the rear wheels.
Performance: Maximum speed 155mph, 0-62mph 6.6 seconds.
CO2 Rating: 161g/km.