First drive: Mercedes-Benz Shooting Brake
It's easiest to start at the back with Mercedes-Benz's latest soon-to-arrive newcomer, the CLS Shooting Brake.
First, though, what's with the funny name?
Well, basically the marketing department thinks it sounds better than "wagon", which is such a bland way to say "car with a bigger boot".
It's also supposed to conjure images of traditional English hunting parties, which required a special vehicle with space for gear and people.
Mercedes-Benz says the term shooting brake (and, in some cases, shooting break) describes an "exclusive two-door sports car, which combined the luxury and style of a coupe with a larger load compartment and large tailgate".
Except that the CLS on which it is based has four doors, so isn't really a coupe.
Best, then, to stop analysing the Shooting Brake, other than to suggest it's a less conventional way to describe a sporty wagon that Mercedes-Benz acknowledges will have niche appeal.
Besides, the Mercedes-Benz CLS Shooting Brake is about a lot more than the name.
It has one of the world's most elegant luggage areas. It can even be optioned with a yacht-inspired wooden floor that will cost more than the regular carpeted floor.
But it makes for a special looking load area that brings genuine wow factor to a part of a car most people give little thought to.
Tellingly, though, the beautifully crafted wooden luggage floor was hidden by a carpet-like cover in our car - to stop luggage sliding around and scraping the floor.
Still, it's the thought that counts.
There's also 590 litres of luggage space, which is a full 85 litres more than the sedan (er, coupe...) on which it's based.
Better news for occupants is the addition of a fifth seatbelt in between the two rear seats.
The longer roof, too, leads to better head room in the rear. Taller people can now (almost) comfortably sit upright, although that higher middle seat is uncomfortably high for anything but short trips.
On the road, the CLS Shooting Brake is the same as the sedan.
That translates to a sporty feel but with a weighty solidity. The high window line makes you feel hemmed in and the 1.8-tonne-plus kerb weight makes itself known on quick direction changes.
But the CLS Shooting Brake grips tenaciously through bends and rises to the occasion on higher speed corners, settling nicely and behaving as it should.
The optional air suspension can be too floaty in its softest Comfort setting, but makes for a luxurious ride. The firmer Sport setting is better controlled.
With regular steel springs the car is firmer and can bounce around on poor surfaces, but it's predictable enough.
While the regular CLS sedan is offered with five different engines here, Australia will get only three engine options for the CLS Shooting Brake, each with its pros and cons.
The CLS250 CDI is arguably the pick, mainly because it's the most affordable with an estimated price tag of $151,708, plus on-road and dealer costs.
The 2.1-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel manages a respectable 150kW and above-average 500Nm of torque. It's that latter figure that comes into play.
Claimed fuel use is a low 5.3 litres per 100km, although achieving it is another thing.
During a gentle drive through country Italy we saw almost 8L/100km at one point and an average of 6.5L/100km.
The CLS350 petrol-powered V6 is more powerful, with 225kW, but it makes only 370Nm of torque.
Push it hard, then, and there's more punch and a willingness to dart between corners more enthusiastically. Claimed acceleration to 100km/h is 6.7 seconds.
But the V6 uses a claimed average of 7.3L/100km.
If it's performance you're after, then the CLS63 AMG does the trick. The twin-turbocharged 5.5-litre V8 is good for a hefty 386kW and 700Nm. Enough to launch the wagon to 100km/h in just 4.4 seconds.
Or you can choose the performance upgrade kit and get 410kW and 800Nm, lowering the 0-110km/h sprint to 4.3 seconds.
We tested the more powerful option and it has still got that sledgehammer response that characterises the current AMG breed. Acceleration is prodigious and it's accompanied by a glorious V8 rumble.
The AMG is marginally less practical, though, with the stubby electronic gear selector soaking up space in the centre console that in the other CLS Shooting Brake variants is used as storage, with the gear selector a stalk on the steering column.
The only disappointment in the CLS Shooting Brake is the foot-operated park brake that doesn't sit well with the rest of the upmarket cabin.
Sydney Morning Herald