2013 Mercedes CLS Shooting Brake Review

We’re the only UAE journalists to attend the international launch and drive the CLS500 and CLS63 AMG

By Shahzad Sheikh

Mercedes CLS Shooting Brake

About a year ago, I was fortunate enough to run a long-term test with a Mercedes CLS63 AMG and completely fell for its brute power, everyday comfort, feel good quality and just the simple fact that it was a Mercedes-Benz.

Then there were the looks – okay, it’s not quite as sexy or anywhere near as original and ground-breaking as the first generation CLS, a car that sired a thousand copycats, but it’s still a handsome thing and one of the sleekest Mercs you can buy. I especially loved the rear tear-drop taillights – I once followed one at night for a good long while entranced by them (yes I know, that’s a bit sad).

So making the long journey over to Florence in Italy from Dubai, to be the only UAE journalist to attend the international launch of the new CLS Shooting Brake, I already had a good idea what I was in for.
Although we were likely to be punching it along some carefully selected and spectacular driving roads, its abilities were never going to be in any doubt for me. What was in question was whether the Shooting Brake held the same X-Factor appeal of the saloon (or ‘coupe’ as Merc would have you call it).

Shooting Estate Brake Wagon

Yep it’s got four doors, but the CLS is a ‘coupe’ according to Merc-speak. Likewise you’ve probably looked at these pictures and thought this was a CLS estate. In fact it’s a ‘Shooting Brake’. Know how I know this? Well it’s in the name!

But what exactly is a Shooting Brake? Well here again Mercedes are being a little cheeky and rewriting the rules. Traditionally the Shooting Brake is a two door coupe with an extended roofline and full height tailgate – ie, a two-door estate.

There are many precedents for this body style, but usually in niche or bespoke products made in small numbers or at the behest of some VIP – usually the Sultan of Brunei! You might have seen such cars made from things like as a rebodied Aston Martin DB5 or Jaguar XKS. In terms of production cars think of the BMW Z3 Coupe and even the Ferrari FF.

However Mercedes doesn’t like to cheat its customers out of doors, so its Shooting Brake gets a full set of four. What’s more it’s blessed with a full rear bench seat rather than the two individual seats of the CLS coupe/saloon/thingy.

Spot the difference – apart from the obvious

Aside from the tailgate, longer back, extra rear seat and of course 590 litres of space (or 1550 litres with the rear seats folded flat, there isn’t much. Aside from the face that it’s 16mm longer. Oh and there’s an extra 60kg over the rear axle. And the suspension? Yeah that’s different too.

It has air suspension in case you really do want to carry loads in it – as was suggested to us along our test route which took in Chianti territory in Tuscany – I think the man on the tape suggested we could fit in 100 boxes of the Italian red wine with six bottles in each box. We decided against it though, would’ve been a hell of a kerfuffle trying to get it through Dubai customs, especially when I don’t even partake.

In any case you would not want to risk scraping or spoiling the varnish on the beautiful (and expensively optional) American Cherry Wood veneer flooring over smoked oak with brushed aluminium stripes, that lines the cargo bay. Inspired by Yacht design you’d be proud to have furniture resembling this in your home, but you’d never put anything on it!

Thoughtfully it comes with a temporary fabric cover to protect it – which is fortunate, otherwise you’d have to wrap it in that transparent plastic people like to cover their seats with here. Actually they probably still will.

Mercedes CLS Shooting Brake

Fire the Shooting Brake

When it goes on sale here in December there will be only two variants available – the CLS 500 and the CLS 63 AMG. I drove the 500 first and it wasn’t long before we were hustling along at some speed and finding things could get a little frisky with the sports modes dialled in, the car not too shy to bring its ample new behind into play.

With a 4.6-litre V8 putting out 408bhp it’ll hit 100kph in 5.3 seconds. So it feels grunty and strong with a nice gently burbling soundtrack accompanying the action. The steering is light the suspension is pliant and comfy, using the paddleshifts to manually change keeps the performance punchy and all is really quite well with the world. This is all the car… sorry, estate car… sorry, Shooting Brake you’ll ever need.

Until you drive the AMG version. Visually distinguished by a tad more aggressive front apron and the scallops in the front fenders declaring ‘V8 biturbo’ – you won’t notice much difference until you’re inside and the column-mounted shifter has moved to the centre console. You’ll also notice the AMG button which you can programme with your preferences for the tranny, traction and suspension.

With 525bhp from a 5.5-litre now at your beck and call (not to mention 590lb ft of torque from 2000rpm) unleashed with a growl and a roar that’ll reverb deep into your chest cavity, if not quite assault your ears like AMG’s of old, you can give yourself whiplash on the way to 100kph in 4.4 seconds.

The steering is meatier, firmer with a perception of more responsiveness and feedback, although that might be illusionary. The suspension seems firmer, flatter, noisier, and there’s an overall sense of menacing potency that was absent from the friendlier 500. It’s not BMW M5 aggressive, nor does it need to be manhandled and driven on the ragger edge all the time – it’ll happily meet your mood and cruise.

But we didn’t have long enough with the car, and the roads were just too epic, to turn it down. In fact we turned it up a notch and switched the traction over to Sport Mode – though not quite switching it off. Never switch it off in an AMG, unless you have a death wish or you’re Michael Schumacher.

Things loosen up in dynamic mode though, and where previously the AMG felt overly grippy and even a little understeery compared to the 500, it suddenly transformed into a hedge-seeking wayward S.O.B with a manic streak that’s pretending to kill you, yet keeps the body well in check, just allowing a linear controlled slide before easing off the torque.

It’s absurd to be having this much fun in a wagon… oops, you know, shooting coupe brake thingy, but fun it is. A BMW M5 would still slaughter it of course in a point A to point B dash, but the AMG driver will be cackling more.

Mercedes CLS Shooting Brake


So should you buy one then?

Well it is fun, and its power-sliding tendencies may have a tiny bit to do with the extra bulk over the rear, but the regular car is just as awe-inspiring to ride and drive.

And yes there’s a far more practical side to its persona with that crucial extra seat and the bonus cargo capacity, but if you really wanted a load more room, in our market you’d buy an SUV. Or a van. Plus you really don’t want to ruin that lovely wood flooring.

So as with the regular CLS the choice to buy one is entirely a vain one. Yes I’d have a CLS, not because it’s one of the best saloons out there (yes, saloon, get over it MB) which of course it is, but because it looks cool, and different and not at all like a German taxi.

Would I have the Shooting Brake then? Actually I’ve been struggling with that question since I got back from Florence a week ago. The whole reason I fell in love with the original CLS was its simple arc shapes so coherently executed and perfectly balanced. The second generation CLS lost that purity, but retained a distinctive handsomeness and definitely a certain je ne sais quoi.

The Shooting Brake just amplifies the sense of unique style, it looks like nothing else, and for just an extra $3400 over the base CLS 500 and an additional $5800 over the AMG’s base price (of which I suspect more would be sold and desired here), when you’re spending that much, why not go a little further and be even more different than all the other different people?

Er… so yes. I would.

How terribly vain am I?!

2013 Mercedes CLS500 Shooting Brake
Price: AED397,800 ($108,100)
Engine: 4.6-litre V8, 408bhp @ 5000rpm, 443lb ft @ 1600-4750rpm
Performance: 0-100kph 5.3s, 250kph
Transmission: 7-speed auto, rear-wheel drive
Weight: 1955kg

2013 Mercedes CLS63 AMG Shooting Brake
Price: AED518,900 ($141k)
(spec for uprated AMG pack below in brackets)
Engine: 5.5-litre V8 Twin turbo, 525bhp (557bhp) @ 5250rpm-5750rpm, 516lb ft @ 1750-5250rpm (590lb ft @ 2000-4500rpm)
Performance: 0-100kph 4.4s (4.3s), 250kph
Transmission: 7-speed auto, rear-wheel drive
Weight: 1955kg

Let us know what you think of the CLS Shooting Brake below

One response to “2013 Mercedes CLS Shooting Brake Review”

  1. Kamil Mahmood says:

    I didn’t have any soft spot for this wagon shooting car brake thingy, but after reading your review, I’ve finally begun to see it the way you saw it. Its absolutely unique to look at, a hoot to drive, and for paying a paltry sum over a CLS, you can have one. So yes, I’d have one too! It was a treat to read your words. Keep it up!

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