Luxury? Give us a 'Brake'
The Italian city of Florence is an alluring blend of history and beauty. So, too, Declan O'Byrne discovered, is the new Mercedes-Benz CLS Shooting Brake
Pay attention now... For 'shooting brake', read 'estate' or 'wagon'.
To cut a long story short, apparently the description originated as an early 19th century term for a vehicle used to carry shooting parties with their equipment and game.
The term 'brake' was initially a chassis used to break-in horses, and was subsequently used to describe a motorised vehicle. It was later applied to custom-built wagons by high-end coachbuilders and, ultimately, became synonymous with station wagon or estate.
By the 1930s, according to one description, "the shooting-brake had adopted a more general purpose role, and the term 'estate car' was coined to describe a vehicle that could still carry a shooting party, yet at the same time be perfectly suitable for ferrying guests and their luggage to and from railway stations".
More recently, the term has broadened to include a range of vehicles from five-door station wagons to three-door models combining features of a wagon and a coupé.
End of history lesson. Enter the CLS Shooting Brake... and fast forward to the present.
The future, of course, is already here.
The original Mercedes-Benz CLS and CLS Coupe were introduced in 2004 and have, with that dramatic sloping front-to-back roofline, already ridden a coach-and-four through traditional and, by comparison, rather staid automotive design concepts.
Now, with the advent of the luscious, sporty, low-weight, high strength Shooting Brake, the car remains almost as eye-catching a creation as the Ponte Vecchio, or the Duomo cathedral, or any other of the iconic beauty spots of Florence, the appropriate setting for its international launch last week.
The car designers' sweeping brushstrokes are at least as daring as those of many of the famous artists who committed oils to canvas over the centuries, embracing the capital of Tuscany and its glorious natural light in particular, to draw from it much of the inspiration for their masterpieces.
In contemporary terms it may not be an overstatement to describe the latest offering from Mercedes-Benz, as a modern masterpiece, as it copper-fastens for all time the much-copied, mould-breaking roofline design while embodying an impressive mix of style and engineering innovation.
In more colloquial terms, the Shooting Brake is, quite simply, a stunner.
And that's even before you get behind the wheel, flick the gear stalk into 'drive', choose either sport or normal suspension setting with the simple turn of a dial and discover that, despite its size, it handles with all the silky smoothness of a limousine with, remarkably, the accuracy and manoeuvrability of a city car.
There are four different engine variants to choose from - two diesel and two petrol including two with 4-Matic all wheel drive - spanning a range from the entry level CLS 250 up to the CLS 500 V8 of which 7G-Tronic transmission and ECO stop/start are features common to all.
Don't be fooled, though. An AMG version made available during the launch demonstrated that the car also harbours rougher animal instincts well camouflaged by its opulent and elegant looks.
As an example of its credentials in terms of economy, the 3-litre V6 CLS 350 CDI produces 265bhp and 457lbs of torque allowing a 0-62mph time of 6.6 seconds and a top speed of 155mph. And it still returns 47mpg and emits just 159 CO2s.
Of the powertrains, the most popular here is likely to be the 4-cylinder, 204bhp CLS 250 CDI with its equally economical 5.3 litres/100km fuel consumption, top speed of 235km/h, CO2 emissions of 139 grams/km and 0-100 km/h acceleration time of 7.8 seconds.
Due here in time for the January sales season, the Shooting Brake is 1.6cm longer than the Coupé and identical in width and height. Despite the dipping roofline, rear seat passengers have 4.7cm more headroom.
A four-plus-one five-seater, it has individual rear seats on the outside and a third seat in the centre. Rear seats can be folded forward to increase load volume from 590 to 1,550 litres while payload is 525kg.
The luggage compartment is lined with high-quality carpet while the various optional items available include a floor made from classic cherry tree wood inlaid with smoked oak and protective aluminium rails. Posh or what?
Oh, and if you should have occasion to open the boot, don't attempt to close it by slamming it shut. That will only cause embarrassment.
An automatically opening tailgate complements the overall impression of luxury while it closes via the simple push of a button. And there's a retractable load compartment cover which protects luggage from prying eyes.
Five interior colours, five trim designs, porcelain appointments, three qualities of leather and three wood finishes combine to convey the same sense of luxury in the passenger area.
Meanwhile the driving experience is enhanced by the provision of a dozen and more assistance systems, including electric power steering, active park assist, LED high performance headlamps with adaptive high beam assist.
Adding to creature comforts and road-holding capability rear air suspension is standard. And there's a lengthy list of optional add-ons including an inbuilt trailer coupling, that load compartment roller blind and 19” wheels.
Though prices have yet to be set across the range, it is expected that the Shooting Brake will launch here at a figure around 5pc above the Coupé. So don't expect much change from around the €50,000 mark.
Do, however, keep in mind that you are paying for a vehicle of immense quality. After accounting for that alone, you will find it hard to put a price on the look of profound envy on your neighbour's face as you glide into the driveway.
And if that somewhat clumsy handle, 'Shooting Brake', sticks in your craw, then you can always give it a 'pet' name.
Roll on January...
Caption: The Mercedes-Benz CLS Shooting Brake. . .stunning looks and packed with creature comforts.