Price: From £49,360
Engine: 2,143cc, four cylinders, 16 valves, turbodiesel, 204bhp
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic gearbox, rear-wheel drive
Performance: 146mph, 0-62 in 7.8sec, 53.3mpg, CO2 139g/km
Diversity has become a buzzword of the modern age and, as with cultures, so with cars: never before have the major manufacturers had such huge ranges of models, sometimes separated from each other by no more than nuance. Leave no niche unfilled, that's the mindset.
The larger category of Mercedes-Benz models is a perfect example. There used to be a saloon, an estate car, a coupé and a convertible – diversity enough, you'd think. Then came the CLS, a sort of coupé-saloon with four doors but a low, racy roofline and a rounded, streamlined profile. Oozing indulgent luxury and sold as a slightly decadent object, it was a hit.
Two years ago, on reworking the coupé-saloon with a more aggressive front end, Mercedes-Benz also showed a "concept" for an estate-car version. An estate coupé… this oxymoronic notion certainly exercised the imagination.
Of course, this "concept" was clearly almost ready for production, and now it has been launched as the CLS Shooting Brake in a surprising nod to the past hunting wagons of the British landed gentry. And, surprisingly, the idea makes a lot more sense than you might expect.
If there is a problem with the CLS "saloon", it is that the low rear roofline makes entering a touch undignified and the ambience, once you're in, a touch claustrophobic. Not so in the Shooting Brake: the window line extends further rearwards, so the rear door opening is taller. Even better, the roof remains higher for longer, making it properly roomy in the back, before stopping just behind the rear wheels, where it meets a racily sloping tailgate. Its uncommonly handsome side view is helped by being rear-wheel drive, which allows the engine to sit well back.
The look is spoilt only by the car's unnecessarily massive door mirrors, which also contain the side-indicator repeaters and blind-spot warnings. The mirrors obscure a sizeable chunk of the view from the driver's seat, a view already compromised by the shallow windows and high waistline. So it takes longer than usual to feel confident in aiming this long and wide car through gaps in city traffic as you sit coccooned in a cabin of rare richness. Aluminium details abound, some polished, some satin-finished, all authentically metallic. The dials are works of crisply defined art, the leather's stitching is perfect, the quality powerfully pride-inducing.
The boot space is large, if not normal estate-car capacity; this and the roomy rear cabin mean that the Shooting Brake is an entirely practical CLS variant. It will fit your life, whereas the saloon might oblige your life to fit it.
To drive, the Shooting Brake is much like its saloon sibling. The top CLS63 AMG version with its twin-turbo V8 is monstrously rapid and sounds fierce; few will buy it but those who do will love it. Otherwise the UK range contains the CLS 350 CDI with a 265bhp V6 turbodiesel and the 204bhp 250 CDI alluded to earlier. Petrol V6s and non-AMG V8s aren't offered here yet. Both are excellent diesels, with even the 250 plenty powerful enough to haul the hefty CLS with smooth, quiet vigour.
All CLS models have electric power-steering with a quicker response around the centre point. It works very well, feels natural and is a major reason why these big cars feel as agile as they do.
Though unlikely, the Shooting Brake's combination of attributes gels together superbly. I did not expect it to win me over, but it has. Completely.