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Mercedes-Benz CLS 350 vs Audi A7 3.0 TDi - The back story

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This is beyond the boundary of even the wildest fantasy scenario, but put aside all logic for a moment and indulge me. Imagine that you’ve magically managed to conjure up a situation where you get to go out on a dinner date with, say, Penelope Cruz. All good so far, right? Well, there’s a catch – you have to pick between Penelope and Angelina Jolie. No, you can’t take both ladies along, or have dinner with Penelope and catch a movie later with Angie – a choice must be made, probably with a firearm to the head. A hell of a quandary, wouldn’t you say? It’s much the same thing with this story – faced with two of the most stunning cars available, how am I supposed to point and definitively say ‘That one!’? Nobody said a road tester’s job was easy…

THE OUTSIDE JOB

You remember the last-gen CLS, right? The segment-busting oddity, the ‘four door coupe’, the instant sales success, the world’s fastest banana? This one retains the older car’s basic DNA, but it cranks up the aggression, especially at the front – it’s part CL, part SLS and it has incredible road presence. The curvy lines still look arresting, especially in profile, but the rear is a bit of a let- down – there’s a mismatch between its rump and its snout. With 71 LED lights all ablaze, the CLS really makes for a great sight in a rear-view mirror; it also looks like it costs a lot of money, which will be important to some people.

The A7, though… now that’s a beautiful car. You’ve seen the car in these pages before and read others sing its praises, but it’s worth revisiting. Audi set out to out-CLS the CLS with the A7, and as far I’m concerned, they’ve hit one clean out of the park. Every time I looked at the car through the camera’s viewfinder, I was struck by how great it looked. Its ‘tornado’ shoulder line, the distinctive headlamps, the Aston-like touches at the rear, the sharply raked C-pillar and its dramatic, sportback swoopiness – all these combine to make for a car that appeals to the pleasure centres of the brain. The A7 definitely fell out of the gorgeous tree, and it hit every branch on the way down.

CLS: 4/5
A7: 5/5

THE INSIDE JOB

The CLS has an exquisite cabin – it’s as simple as that. It has been conceived and put together in a peerless fashion, and Mercedes-Benz can be justifiably proud of it. Even some of the wood inlays, which in my opinion can be somewhat tasteless in some Mercs, look good, and the quality of the leather, stitching and metal inserts is outstanding. The digital display within the speedometer is in colour, and it positively overflows with information about various aspects of the car; just as an example, you can switch ESP on or off via this display and the steering-mounted control buttons. The seats, both in front and at the back, are wonderfully supportive, and there’s enough space for four full-sized adults.

You get a sun-roof, very classy saffron-coloured LED lighting running the length of the dashboard, a fantastic Harman-Kardon audio system, controls that are very well placed and that feel great to the touch and an overall sense that you’ve spent your money well. My only gripe is that, in keeping with the CLS’ sporty character, the gear selector should have been on the centre console, instead of on the steering column.

The A7 keeps the Audi flag of quality flying high. Its cabin is lighter and airier than that of the CLS, but in this particular case it was probably because the CLS’ cabin came in a dark shade of leather, whereas the A7 came in a light brown. There’s nothing to fault in this cabin – superb build quality, top-notch materials, a Bang & Olufsen audio system and a palpable sense of space.

Four adults can travel in comfort, with enough head and leg room for someone of my (5’11”) height, and another plus is that with its hatchback build, the rear seats can be folded down to liberate an enormous amount of storage space (not that its 535 litre boot is small). However, the A7 has to bow to the CLS in this round – the Merc’s cabin has that extra ‘something’ that makes the difference here.

CLS: 5/5
A7: 4/5

THE ENGINE JOB

The CLS is currently only available in India with a 3498cc, V6 petrol engine, which puts out 302 bhp@6,500 rpm and 37.7 kgm@3,500-5,250 rpm, both rather impressive figures. In Sport mode, the car demolishes the 0-100 kph run in 6.4 seconds, and it sounds great while it’s doing so. The engine is smooth without being whisper-quiet, which is a good thing – you want a bit of a soundtrack in a car like this.

In slow-moving traffic, and in Economy mode, the CLS purrs away quietly and is easy to pilot, with the engine barely ticking over. What it really wants to do, however, is go and play – find the right stretch of road, bury the throttle and the CLS rockets away with a satisfying roar. The 7G TRONIC gearbox is a familiar one, since it does duty on several other cars in the M-B portfolio, and it’s up to the task of handling the engine’s requirements; the paddle shifters are fun to use for a while, but you soon realise that you’re better off leaving the hard work to the car, since it’s more than up to the job.


The A7, unlike the CLS, is currently available with two engine options, a 3.0-litre TFSI petrol and the one we drove – a 3.0-litre, V6 turbodiesel with VGT, developing 242 bhp@4000 rpm and 51 kgm@1400-3250 rpm – and what an engine it is. The way that it reels in the horizon, at a mere touch of the accelerator, is stunning, and overtaking manoeuvres are the work of an instant. The A7 does 0-100 kph in 6.94 seconds, which is a touch slower than the CLS, but it certainly doesn’t feel like it’s slower – if anything, with the tremendous spread of torque on tap, the A7 is more effortless to drive in all conditions, and it sounds good too, for a diesel. Each of these cars, therefore, is great to drive in its own way, so it’s only fair to call this round a draw.

CLS: 4/5
A7: 4/5

THE SUSPENSION JOB

The rear-wheel driven CLS doesn’t offer the same level of magic-carpet ride of the E-Class, on which it’s based, but it’s still a very plush experience indeed, with the Airmatic suspension set to Comfort – in fact, even in Sport mode, the CLS rides remarkably well. The steering is a new electric setup, chosen for the job because it uses energy ‘on demand’, thereby reducing fuel consumption and emissions; unlike a lot of electric systems, this one actually works very well, offering a surprising amount of feel, and weighing up nicely as you go faster. For a car of its size and weight, and in the right hands, the CLS can really be hustled, although there’s a slight tendency to understeer. Switch off the ESP and the car will allow you swing out the tail, before the ESP switches itself back on and gives you a mild scolding.

The A7, with quattro, is basically a front-wheel driven car, but the level of understeer that you would expect is kept well under control. The optional adaptive air suspension is a boon in our country, with the suspension lowering and raising the body according to the mode you set in the MMI. The drive select programme, governing the transmission, steering and engine controller, allows you a huge range of customisations, and the overall effect is that of a supremely capable, safe handler, but one that isn’t especially exciting – and there’s not as much feel from the steering wheel as you get in the CLS, either.

CLS: 4/5
A7: 4/5

 

THE FINAL JOB

I told you this wasn’t going to be easy! The new CLS is a fabulous piece of kit and a worthy successor to the CLS badge, albeit in a different way. It’s a bit more exciting to drive than the A7 (things may have been different if we’d driven the yet-to-be launched diesel version), has a nicer cabin and has a slight handling edge. On its part, the A7 looks stunning, has a tremendous diesel motor (again, the excitement factor may have been different if Audi had the 3.0 TFSI in its press fleet) and offers more practicality as an everyday car. So, with the gun cocked and pointed at my forehead, which one is it going to be? I’m going with the A7, but only by an ant’s wotsit – it’s the one that you’ll want to gaze at on your driveway, long after the drive is done with.

MERCEDES-BENZ CLS 350 AMG SPECS
POWERTRAIN
Displacement: 3498cc, V6, petrol
Max power: 302 bhp@6500 rpm
Max torque: 37.74 kgm@3500 - 5520 rpm
Specific output: 86.33 bhp/litre
Power to weight: 174.06 bhp/tonne
Torque to weight: 21.75 kgm/tonne
Transmission: 7-speed auto

STEERING
Type: Rack and pinion with power assist
Turning radius: 5.63 m

SUSPENSION
Front: Double wishbone with anti-roll bar
Rear: Multi-link, with wishbone and
anti-roll bar

BRAKES
Front: Ventilated discs
Rear: Ventilated discs
ABS: Standard with EBD, TC and
Brake Assist

TYRES
(F/R): 245/45 R17, tubeless

DIMENSIONS
L/W/H(mm): 4940/1881/1416 mm
Wheelbase: 2874 mm
Kerb Weight: 1735 kg
Boot volume: NA

ACCELERATION
0-60 kph: 3.22 secs
0-100 kph: 6.45 secs
80-120 kph: 3.8 secs
100-140 kph: 4.8 secs
Top speed: 230 kph (achieved)

Price: Rs 67.67 LAKH
Ex-showroom, Mumbai


AUDI A7 3.0 TDi
SPECS
POWERTRAIN
Displacement: 2967cc, V6, diesel
Max power: 242 bhp@4000 rpm
Max torque: 51 kgm@1400 - 3250 rpm
Specific output: 81.56 bhp/litre
Power to weight: 136.7 bhp/tonne
Torque to weight: 28.8 kgm/ tonne
Transmission: 7-speed auto

STEERING
Type: Rack and pinion with power assist
Turning radius: 5.95 m

SUSPENSION
Front: Double wishbone with anti-roll bar
Rear: Multi-link, with wishbone and
anti-roll bar

BRAKES
Front: Ventilated discs
Rear: Ventilated discs
ABS: Standard with EBD, TC and
Brake Assist

TYRES
(F/R): 255/60 R18, tubeless

DIMENSIONS
L/W/H(mm): 4969/1911/1420 mm
Wheelbase: 2914 mm
Kerb Weight: 1770 kg
Boot volume: 535 litres

ACCELERATION
0-60 kph: 3.21 secs
0-100 kph: 6.94 secs
80-120 kph: 4.3 secs
100-140 kph: 5.4 secs
Top speed: 250 kph (claimed)

Price: Rs 66.02 LAKH
Ex-showroom, Mumbai