Forget three-speed column changes: nine ratios will doubtless one day become the norm
It’s a sign of ever-shrinking product cycles. You’ve just become used to a new car being around when its manufacturer issues a facelift to signal it has already reached the middle part of its life. I can’t quite believe the current Mercedes CLS is now heading into its autumn years, but the car before you insists that it is.
Visually not much has changed and we should not be too surprised by this. For a start the CLS was already the best-looking car of its kind, but really the point of any facelift is to spend as little money as possible while still being able to say with some credibility that the car has been refreshed. Which is why you will see hardly any bare metal changes that involve expensive associated homologation and tooling costs – and there are certainly none of those here. Instead there’s a new front bumper and grille and, inside, a larger information screen and a fresh steering wheel. So what?
More interesting, however, is what you can’t see, unless you look very closely. Drive the CLS and keep toggling through the gears and you’ll notice it’ll keep going right past the usual and hardly deficient seven ratios and on into an eighth and even a ninth gear. Nine gears! Who could possibly need those?
You, as it happens, or at least anyone looking to pay tax on a car as a personal or company user. The extra gears and the higher overall ratio improve the claimed consumption of the 3-litre diesel from 46.3 to 52.3mpg. Now that could all be cycle-dodging smoke and mirrors and might actually lead to a merely fractional reduced costs at the pumps, but the saving in benefit-in-kind assessment is significant, ditto the price of a now virtual tax disc as CO2 output drops from 160 to 142g/km.
Perhaps more importantly, Mercedes’ insistence on designing its own gearboxes has meant that for years its shift quality has lagged behind that of BMW, Audi, Jaguar and others, all of whom use eight-speed transmissions supplied by ZF. The nine-speeder (which is still Merc’s own box, below) doesn’t leapfrog the rest, but it is at least on a par for smoothness and responsiveness.
Of further interest, believe it or not, are the new LED headlights, each comprising 24 diodes, which can angle up, down, left or right in some hundreds of different strategies according to information received by the on-board computer from both the radar system in the nose and the sat-nav, too. It can maintain full beam simply by recognising other road users and instantly directing light away from them. Other cars I’ve tried will do the same, but not with this degree of success. Although the lights can be dipped manually as usual, not once did I feel the need in a week with the car.
So the CLS sails into later life in full fitness and, for once, benefiting from a minor but effective upgrade. It’s well equipped, too: if I spent money on anything extra, it would be the full air suspension that provides a limousine ride without any detriment to the still excellent handling.
Mercedes will now be hard at work at its all-new replacement, due perhaps as little as two years from now. Now and as ever, they have a tough act to follow.
Engine: 3.0 litres, 6 cylinders, turbocharged
Power: [email protected]
Torque: 457lb [email protected]
Transmission: nine-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Top speed: 155mph
CO2: 142 g/km