First and foremost, what is a “shooting brake”? According to Mercedes-Benz, it’s a traditional name once given to carriages in the past which were rebodied at great expense to transport hunting parties and their “gaming” equipment (along with a hunting dog or two). These vehicles, common in England back in the 1960s and 1970s, evolved into two-door wagons that combine luxury with good cargo capacity and a good-sized tailgate.
The CLS Shooting Brake qualifies then, apart from the two-door “qualification”. Its tailgate is large, and motorised (with easy control of the variable opening height), while the rectangular boot (sprucely trimmed in soft velour) offers much more utility than the CLS notchback.
With 590 litres of evenly shaped space expandable to 1550 litres by folding down the rear back-rests (using convenient levers), the CLS Shooting Brake (or SB for short) is a far superior load-carrier than its saloon sibling, which has 520 litres of boot space that cannot be expanded due to the fixed back seats. Having said that, the CLS SB is a worse wagon than the E-Class estate, which is a proper load-lugger with 695-1950 litres of cargo room, plus roof rails for even more versatility.
No rails disrupt the swoopy roofline of the CLS Shooting Brake – a sweeping statement of modern Mercedes design. That roof forms a sinuous, continuous arc with the D-pillars, and together, they’re a bold blend of canopy and creativity. Bold, too, is our test car’s Manganite Grey paintwork – matt, and slightly mad. A neat bodykit and a snazzy set of alloy wheels, all from AMG, round off the striking styling.
The cockpit is pure CLS, which means cushy seats, leather everywhere (even atop the dashboard), clean ergonomics (albeit muddied by the foot-operated parking brake) and solid construction. Mercedes’ usual infotainment features are supplemented by a reverse parking camera, which works in conjunction with Parktronic and Active Parking Assistance to help the Shooting Brake shoot into an empty carpark lot in no time at all.
The driving position is excellent, with great visibility through the windows and windscreens. In this German grand tourer, the driver can sit in a “grandiose” (low-slung and laid-back) or “touring” (upright and well-supported) manner – either way, the CLS SB is glad to oblige.
Rear passengers will be happy, too, thanks to the plush bench seat, which allows a third person to come along, unlike the strict two-seater configuration in the CLS saloon. The legroom is as generous as in the other CLS model and the headroom is slightly better, while entry/exit has been made easier by the bigger rear-door apertures. Less welcome are the back-seat occupants’ spring-mounted cupholders – they spring out too sharply, accompanied by the cheap rattle of plastic.
On the move, the CLS SB boasts classic big-Merc comfort, nicely insulated from the roadside/doorside crowds. Further “insulation” is provided by the test car’s Bang & Olufsen Beosound hi-fi, a $15k option that puts a concert hall “into” the cabin. The ride is pleasant, except for the occasional shocks transmitted by the 18-inch wheels when they roll over jagged tarmac.
There’s a touch of extra firmness in the rear suspension, perhaps to handle the SB’s wagon work, but it’s nothing untoward. The steering is effortless, just like the overall handling – exactly what the CLS/E/S-Class clientele prefers. In case you’re wondering, the Shooting Brake also brakes very well.
The powerplant is the same 306bhp 3.5-litre V6 employed in the notchback, but with the SB about 100kg heavier, its performance is less eager. Even so, this estate can out-accelerate the Mk 6 Golf GTI from zero to 100km/h – as long as you don’t have a ton of things in the trunk. The Mercedes engine revs sweetly (despite just 90km on the clock when I collected the car), and it operates quietly when not required to pick up the pace.
The 7G-Tronic Plus automatic transmission is slick but rather languid, and it’s sometimes caught out by a sudden flex of the right foot on the throttle pedal. Toggling the drive mode from C (comfort) to S (sport) seems to smoothen the gearchanges, besides making them a bit more aggressive. In any case, there are paddle-shifters (quality items, by the way) to manually override the gearbox.
Like a meteorite, the CLS Shooting Brake is destined to be a rare sight. Station wagons are not popular in Singapore, especially among traditional businessmen whose idea of corporate success is a four-door with a three-box format and three-pointed star emblems. Even a stylish and luxurious estate made by their beloved car brand won’t change their minds. As for me, I’d take the Shooting Brake over the saloon anytime, and go shoot birds or something (with a camera, of course).
This story was first published in the March 2013 issue of Torque.
2013 Mercedes-Benz CLS350 Shooting Brake 3.5 (A)
ENGINE 3498cc, 24-valves, V6
MAX POWER 306bhp at 6500rpm
MAX TORQUE 470Nm at 3500-5250rpm
GEARBOX 7-speed automatic with manual select
0-100KM/H 6.7 seconds
TOP SPEED 250km/h
CONSUMPTION 13.7km/L (combined)
CO2 EMISSION 169g/km