Here’s a debate for the Smallbore Bar: will BMW’s UK sales of new cars overtake those of Mercedes-Benz this year? Come on, show some interest at the back. By the end of October BMW had closed the gap to within 2,000 of the M-B tally of 149,482. And Audi? This time last year the four-ring brand was in second spot among the Germans but now hangs well back in third place. Chuck in the buoyant Mini total of 54,541 and BMW would be home and dry.
They are all good cars and sales are well ahead of the combined Jaguar Land Rover total. Meanwhile Mercedes has seen its Smart sub-brand lose nearly 28pc of sales this year. These figures are from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.
What the figures show is that, with a few exceptions, the “expensive” Germans dominate the UK market more than ever. Audi’s cheaper sister brand Volkswagen is a comfortable second overall, behind Ford but ahead of Vauxhall.
You might ask how Germany will adapt to whatever impositions come as a result of Brexit. We buy far more of theirs than they do of ours. One thing, almost a peculiarity, is the extent of their catalogues. There must be some iffy sales but they manage to fill every sector, from family hatch to limousine, numbered through several main model lines from one to eight for BMW and Audi, or alphabetically for Mercedes-Benz. They then spin off into SUV and sports models, often benefiting from the same chassis, pulverising the opposition but presenting the buyer with too much choice. Take the fad for saloons which look like a coupe. Mercedes set the modern standard with the CLS, followed by Audi’s 7 and BMW’s 6-series Gran Coupe. The A7 this year got a new, better looking model, while the BMW has become the GT.
All of them hang on to the appeal of three-litre turbocharged six-cylinder diesel engines, Mercedes following BMW’s lead in a straight-six rather than the V6 engine block preferred by Audi – which is fitted with a mild electric hybrid system.
Tested here is the CLS 400d 4Matic – all-wheel-drive and a nine-speed automatic gearbox, from £60,410 in AMG Line cosmetics. It is the most powerful but the least practical load carrier with a saloon’s restricted boot opening. The other German pair have top-hinged, fastback tailgates. The CLS is arguably the best looking, though not as swoopy as the original banana-shaped CLS from 2004 or as elegant as the later shooting brake version, which has now been dropped. Prices start at £53,100 for the 350d 4Matic and for petrol heads there is the 450 4Matic and the full-fat AMG 53. The 400d engine has a misleading name. Its power in PS is 340 – that is 335 brake horsepower – with a thumping 700nm or 516lb ft of torque. The 0-62mph time is sports-car quick, at five seconds.
It is, of course, mainly wonderful. I particularly like the multi-beam headlamps which cut out parts of the lighting to avoid dazzling cars in front or cars approaching. They adapt to the road width and in towns flatten the beam.
The pace is dramatic – whoosh is the word as this lovely car gets under way. The interior is beautifully detailed, with various wood-patterned veneers. The car’s information is shown on a 5.5 inch deep screen stretching for 28 inches across the dashboard.
Sadly, the big wheels transmit too much road noise (Dunlop Sport Maxx on the car tested) and there is a surprising amount of thump in the rear – as if something was loose on the floor of the boot. Another blot was the scrabble of the front wheels on full lock when manoeuvring, as the differential knotted up. Finally, just a bit of transmission jerk intrudes.
Verdict: At times it seemed perfect. Beautiful interior.