Our cars: Mercedes CLS final report

* CLS250 CDI after year-long test * 30,200 miles driven in stylish Merc * By Chas Hallett...

Our cars: Mercedes CLS final report

The Mercedes CLS250 CDI is far from being the only car you'll ever need, but the past year and 30,200 miles have proved that it's a terrific executive machine nonetheless, if not quite a perfect one.

We added the CLS250 CDI to the What Car? fleet for several reasons. First, we wanted to see whether it could justify its position as the more glamorous, sportier sister to the E-Class, with which it shares most of its mechanicals.

We were also keen to investigate whether a luxury car such as this loses any of its allure by being powered by a four-cylinder diesel engine.

The economics of four cylinders made sense to us. There is a surprisingly small price gap between this 250 CDI Sport and its six-cylinder 350 CDI sister, but the smaller engine has a clear advantage in running costs: 54.3mpg plays 46.3 according to the Government fuel figures.

It also benefits from a lower company car tax band, and so offers a big benefit-in-kind saving.

We chose the Sport trim, which brought 19-inch wheels, a bodykit and extra equipment. Must-haves such as leather upholstery and an automatic transmission are standard. Then again, so they should be in a car costing 50k.

The thing that made the CLS a stand-out car for us was its economy. For example, several months ago I left late for a meeting 200 miles away, so I needed to press on a bit. On arrival, I felt fresh, and the trip computer was showing that I had averaged 50.2mpg.

This wasn't a freak occurrence, either. In fact it quickly became an office game. Colleagues would take the CLS on a long jaunt and then burst into the office when they returned to boast about the Merc's fuel consumption.

In all, the CLS averaged 42.3mpg, which is excellent considering that it spent a lot of its time in heavy London traffic.

The CLS copes well with town work, but it isn't at its best there. That diesel engine always sounded a little gruff when it was cold and at low revs. The ride was a little stiff-legged over the urban potholes and speed bumps that map out my trip to work, too.

Away from city limits it was excellent, and not just because of its light thirst. That slightly jarring low-speed ride disappeared at cruising speeds, as did the engine noise.

The four-cylinder engine gives the car more than enough pace. Acceleration was never an issue when it came to shooting up to motorway speeds and recovering pace when you're slowed down by overtaking trucks. Of course, if spearing down B-roads is your thing, then it doesn't have quite enough grunt.

I enjoyed driving the CLS in other ways, too. Yes, I wished it had the sharpness of a BMW 5 Series, but it wasn't far off and I always enjoyed the ease with which it could be driven fast.

The excellent driving position, seat comfort and surprisingly good visibility helped of course. So did the fact that you sit in rather un-Merc-style snugness, but are still surrounded by a beautifully crafted interior one which also feels tangibly better built and better laid out than the insides of the E-Class or Jaguar XF.

One issue you may have with the CLS is that it's only a four-seater. There isn't even the opportunity to have someone perching uncomfortably in the middle because that area is taken up with two storage bins. That was never an issue for me, given that the bulk of my miles are done alone or with one passenger, and I have only one six-year-old child.

On the rare occasions when I ferried adults in the back, there was as much space as in any executive saloon. Knee- and shoulder-room are superb and, despite the swooping coup looks, so is headroom. Art editor Steve Hopkins used the CLS a lot to play chauffeur to his six-feet-tall teenage son and never had a squeak of complaint from him about a shortage of wriggle room. Likewise, despite appearances, the boot is a decent size.

Even after heavy usage the CLS lived up to Merc's revitalised reputation for reliability. The 16,000-mile service cost 285 and was dealt with extremely efficiently by local dealer Mercedes-Benz World, who also fixed a small coolant leak. There was a 350 bill for a car park scrape, too.

So should you buy a CLS250 CDI? The four-cylinder diesel is more than good enough. As for the CLS itself, it is a pricey alternative to a 5 Series, XF or E-Class, but it's also tangibly better made and classier. No one's going to confuse it with a posh taxi, either.

Our Cars: Mercedes CLS >>

Price when new 49,355
Price now (new) 50,570
Target Price 45,975
Extras Driving Assistance package (2295); seat memory (715); hi-fi upgrade (650); remote boot (420); reversing camera 390; heated front seats (350); DVD changer (305); speed-limit assist (295); ambient lighting (290); piano wood trim (250)
Total price new 55,855
Current part-ex value 30,035

Overall fuel economy 42.3mpg
Worst fuel economy 30.6mpg
Best fuel economy 58.3mpg
True MPG 48.8mpg
Official fuel economy 54.3mpg
CO2(g/km)/tax liability
Contract hire 699
Cost per mile 96p
Insurance group 43
Typical quote 1054

Servicing 16,000 miles, 285
Repairs Bumper repair 350
Tyres Winter tyres/wheels 1340

By Chas Hallett