CAPE TOWN – The first-generation (W219) Mercedes-Benz CLS was arguably the start of the so-called modern "four-door coupé". It featured a unique design that certainly took some getting used to, but for a large chunk of the motoring fraternity it was a beautiful car (and it remains one). These days, of course, many more automakers have jumped on the swoopily styled sedan bandwagon.

Here we sample the latest, third-generation CLS (the C257, to use its official code) in turbodiesel form to find out what it offers in terms of comfort and technology.

What’s new?

Interestingly, the new CLS was the vehicle that effectively introduced Mercedes-Benz's latest design language. The local range consists of the Mercedes-AMG CLS53 and this CLS400d (both standard in 4Matic guise). As expected, the CLS dips into Benz's technology basket and it offers all the latest features we’ve become accustomed to enjoying in large Mercedes-Benz vehicles. Indeed, in a number of ways it feels similar to the more expensive S-Class sedan.

Behind the wheel

It's pure luxury and comfort from the moment you open the door. There's a certain flow to the facia, punctuated by signature circular vents, that immediately remind one of the S-Class interior.

The seats offer just the right level of support while still being very comfortable on longer trips. The combination of Artico “leather” (the Stuttgart-based firm's man-made alternative) and Alcantara further contributes to the cosy feeling in the cabin. Night-time driving proved a highlight, with the infotainment system allowing the driver to select various ambient lighting options from a vast colour palette.

If the interior is one of the highlights, another step of the podium should be reserved for the CLS400d's engine. This new in-line six-cylinder turbodiesel offers, as expected, an abundance of torque. Maximum twist of 700 N.m arrives as early as 1 700 r/min, while peak power of 250 kW is on tap from 3 600 r/min.

It's the relaxed nature of the engine, coupled with that shove from low in the rev range, that really impresses. Add the fact the CLS returned a very respectable 7,1 L/100 km on our standard fuel route and it's clear there's very little fault to be found under the bonnet.

With the brand's 4Matic all-wheel-drive system fitted as standard, grip is seldom an issue as all four tyres help claw the CLS400d out of a corner. That said, this is not the type of car that compels its driver to make a run for the nearest mountain pass. The nine-speed automatic transmission shifts effortlessly through the gears, delivering a fluid supply of torque.

However, there is one disappointing aspect of the driving experience ... and it's the ride quality. As is visible in the accompanying pictures, the 20-inch alloys on this test unit came wrapped in low-profile rubber (245/35 R20 front and 275/30 R20 rear), with the CLS400d doing without air suspension. While the vehicle is happy enough on smooth tarmac, I was often left wishing there was more rubber between the road and the wheel. If you spend this much for a car, you likely expect a luxurious ride quality (although we also know that many customers simply can't resist the prettiest and largest wheels).

Summary

The CLS remains a car designed around its driver. With limited rear space for passengers, the focus is mainly on the front compartment, offering plenty of technology and that relaxing driving experience. In some respects, the new model can be viewed as an alternative to the S-Class (for those who plan to drive the vehicle themselves, of course), as the levels of technology and luxury are fairly similar, even though the S-Class costs around R600 000 more. In short, it's a lovely powertrain, but we'd select smaller wheels...



FAST FACTS

Model: DRIVEN: Mercedes-Benz CLS400d 4Matic 9G-tronic
Price: R1 194 834
Engine: Inline six, turbodiesel
Power: 250 kW at 3 600 r/min
Torque: 700 N.m at 1 200 r/min
0-100 km/h: 5,0 seconds
Top Speed: 250 km/h
Fuel Consumption: 6,0 L/100 km
CO2: 159 g/km
Transmission: Nine-speed automatic
Maintenance Plan: Five-year/100 000 km