Tuesday, 6 February 2007

Brabus CLS B7 Test Drive

By Dr Long

Mention the word coupe, a two-door sedan comes to mind. That is…until 2004 when DaimlerChrysler threw a spanner in the works by introducing a 4-door coupe in the form of Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class. Come to think of it, they had actually done this before – blurring the lines of distinction of a body form – when they tagged their C-Class hatchback a coupe!

Well, so much for nomenclature. Imagine the enthusiasm when Naza-Brabus invited me to review their tuned and kitted version: the CLS B7. Brabus is after all a respectable tuning house with a good 29 years of expertise re-working on numerous 3-pointed stars and counting...

This stunning Mercedes-Benz C219 shares the same 2854mm E-Class’ wheelbase, albeit with longer overhangs - especially at the front – making it longer by about 105mm. The CLS is also wider, for both tracks and body making it visually larger than the W211.
Looking sleek and menacing in black, the B7’s flared front wheel arches runs backwards into a distinctive band just below the beltline, culminating in a very shapely arc to the rear. Within the wheel arches lurks massive Brabus Monoblock VI dual-spoke design alloys: 8.5J x 19”. Chromed window surrounds – making a comeback in most new MB models – lends a highlight of classy elegance to the roof-window arch and beltline. Interiorly, the dashboard looks more British than Teutonic, with a big chunk of ‘wood’ splashed across it. Instruments panel looks like they come right off the E-Class production line save for the bulging pods layout with distinctive chrome rings. Similarly, parts like the Thermotronic A/C controls, power windows’ switches, column stalks, dash buttons, radio-CD, door handles and ashtrays are very familiar looking too. Conversely, the new-design four spoke steering wheel goes into the E-Class facelift.

Window sills are higher than the ‘normal’ Mercedes saloons, but it’s nowhere claustrophobic inside, even with the lower ceiling. Seating position is low, snug and comfortable. My burly frame also fitted in the rear rather well, despite being less spacious than the E-Class. Ingress and egress to the rear – which sits only two – may be hindered by the sloping door aperture. Boot is also less capacious than the W211 Brabus K4 (500 vs. 530litres); obviously style dictating form over function.

Popping up the shapely bonnet revealed a very neat engine cover, highlighted by a racing-red V-shape border with a central ‘B’ insignia and Brabus B7 inscriptions bilaterally. Nestled underneath is Mercedes’ M272 engine in V6 configuration with a displacement of 3498cc, churning out 287bhp and 360Nm (as opposed to the standard 272bhp/350Nm). The same motor can be found in the SLK350, S350, R350 as well as the new ML350. One notable ‘relic’ in this new generation Merc is the SBC brake module plus its paraphernalia. Surprisingly still standard equipment here, despite some patchy reliability issues associated with this electro-hydraulic brake system in the W211s.

Firing up the ignition button on the gear knob, the normally aspirated quad-cam 24-valves motor comes alive with a purr. Run this V6 along with the superbly smooth 7-G Tronic auto ‘box, the engine’s sporty note – almost guttural but somewhat muted – is simply lovely as it stretches past the 6000 rpm mark. The Brabus Sports exhaust sounded quite Porsche-like with its deep-bassy growls. But after a long drive, it’s decidedly better NOT to have this ‘show-off’ quad exhaust ports in place of the OE bi-ovals, as these mufflers can boomingly tired out your eardrums!

The engine is responsive and willing. It pushes meaningfully from 2000rpm onwards, not due any inherent lag from the powerplant but likely due to the inertia of this 1.75 tonne beast. Gun it past 2500rpm (and that’s no sweat) you get dollops of big V6 torque, resulting in a broad band of effortless acceleration. Power delivery is delightfully smooth with the ever affable RWD dynamics a plus point. I call this power-refinement-comfort combo. As such, speed just creeps up on you – before you know it, the speedometer is about the only thing that tells you’re doing high three digits speed.

Despite its misleading size, the car handles well in quick lane-changes, not as nimble as say a C-Class but still quite agile. It is well planted tackling sweeping bends and also very composed doing high speed highway exits. The ‘Comfort’ and ‘Sport’ settings of the Airmatic DC semi-active air suspension works beautifully. In ‘C’ mode there are more suspension travel, hence the ride is suppler and better damped. Switching over to ‘S’ mode, I could feel the steering weigh-up as well as a lowering of ride height plus the dampers becoming tauter.
In whichever drive mode, the CLS’ steering always feedback as noticeably more precise and sharper than the E-Class’ rack. Could this be the ‘Direct Control’ steering in the facelift W211? Braking performance is of course no issue here - as the SBC has always been – with this 4-door coupe always stable, even under hard braking.

The carpet-ride and quiet comfort is typically Benz – with maybe just a tad more firmness than the E-Class. Even running on sizeable 255/40 ZR19 Continentals at all corners, the ride is still unmistakably Mercedes – good for smooth and supple wafting over road surface irregularities, even over some nasty lumps and bumps.

To sum it up, the Brabus CLS B7 is a glamourised E350 in wolf’s clothing. It is pretty exclusive, looks dynamic and very sporty. For those who yearns for something different - mixing the sleek silhouette of the CL or a CLK coupe plus the practicality of four doors - look no further…only if you have closed to a million ringgit! Then again, any potential buyer may be looking at the new S-Class at this level. One definite thing that would likely tip the balance in CLS’ favour would be that often heard owner’s statement: “People always thought that I am the chauffeur whenever I drive my S-Class…”
Now, that wouldn’t happen if you were piloting the Brabus CLS B7, would it?

A sincere word of thanks is due to Mr.Danny Dato Nordin of Naza-Brabus Prai. He has since moved on to Porsche Centre Penang, Malaysia.

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