2000 Mercedes-Benz CL-Class Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
A pretty face with power and grace to match.
Mercedes has delivered the best, most exclusive luxury coupe available with its new CL-Class. Totally redesigned, the CL500 features an array of innovations that should impress the most jaded technophile. Yet it wraps all that technology in leather and walnut, so as not to offend the most dedicated technophobe. Mercedes says the new CL-Class is designed for people who believe 'good just isn't good enough.
The all-new 2000 CL500 will be available in January. (A CL600 will be introduced next September as a 2001 model.) The V8-powered CL500 lists for $85,500, which is less expensive than the outgoing version. (U.S. pricing for the CL600 hasn't been set, but in Germany the V12 model is 28 percent more expensive than the V8, which would equal $109,300.)
If that price doesn't provide sufficient exclusivity for you, Mercedes is offering the CL in customized Designo versions with striking paint, leather and wood combinations that make the cars unique. (The company also plans an AMG high-performance appearance package that tilts styling toward the racy end of the spectrum.).
The new CL coupe improves on its predecessor in every measurable category. It is smaller, lighter and more efficient, while packing more power and providing a more spacious interior. The undistinguished styling of the previous model is supplanted by fluid, graceful lines and an aggressive stance that suggests an iron fist in a velvet glove. Owners can park the CL beside Jaguars at the club without feeling stodgy.
Past full-sized Mercedes coupes were basically two-door versions of the company's flagship sedans. No more. The CL is based on the S-class sedan platform, but that chassis is heavily revised for coupe duty, and the car gets a unique body style to match.
The Automatic Body Control system is an active, hydraulic suspension system that keeps the car level under acceleration, braking and cornering. Hydraulic cylinders at each corner support a conventional spring and damper, providing adjustments to ride height without intruding on the car's comfortable ride.
At 4,113 pounds, the CL500 is nearly 600 pounds lighter than the previous model. Mercedes accomplished the diet by making the roof, hood door panels and rear fenders from aluminum and using plastic for the trunk lid and front fenders.
The long doors on coupes are usually massive and unwieldy, but Mercedes uses lightweight magnesium for the door frames and mounts the doors on articulating hinges that slide the door forward as it opens. So ingress and egress is much easier than in comparable cars.
The front seats slide up when the seat back is folded forward for easier access to the back seat, adding to the practicality of this coupe. Despite the rakish styling, the CL maintains adequate rear headroom, in part because of the low rear seat bottoms.
The CL packs all of the features Mercedes buyers expect, such as multiple air bags, stability control, on-board navigation, and Tele-Aid emergency response. It adds a list of new items such as Distronic adaptive cruise control, which uses radar to automatically maintain a safe distance from other cars. The CL is the first car to use Xenon lights for high beams as well as the usual low beam. Keyless Go lets drivers open locked doors and start the car when carrying the card key, without getting the card out of their pocket.
Crisply lit electro-luminescent instruments anchor the sweeping gauge pod. The center of the dash features a wood-trimmed center stack that includes the COMAND display, which manages the navigation system, stereo and cellular telephone systems. Some COMAND functions can be controlled from steering wheel mounted buttons, and limited COMAND information is displayed on a small panel in the center of the speedometer.
Driving the CL on the twisting mountain roads just north of Cannes, the new coupe proved to have very sharp, precise handling. The lack of body roll in corners is uncanny and inspires confidence. The system could actually let the car lean into curve like a motorcycle, but test drivers found the effect unnerving, according to Mercedes engineers, so the CL maintains an even keel instead.
Charging through the twisties, the antilock brakes, traction control and electronic stability control systems all worked unobtrusively. The brakes are powerful enough, and the tires grippy enough, that extremely heavy braking is possible without triggering the ABS. We found the brakes easy to modulate and fade free after a lengthy charge through the mountains.
With the ABC system switched to normal mode the CL's ride is downright plush and handling is excellent. But switch to sport mode and the CL hones the edge on its handling blade, while ride suffers so little that no enthusiast is going to care. In sport mode there is less body roll and the car feels more responsive on turn-in. Side-to-side transitions in switch-backs are also better controlled in sport mode.
On the French Autoroute, the CL cruised serenely in the 80-100 mph range. According to Mercedes, the top speed is about 155 mph.
The CL500 accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in 6.1 seconds, which is on par with the Jaguar XK8 and edges the Aston Martin DB7's 6.2 seconds. On the road, the CL500's aluminum 5.0-liter V8 is as smooth as you'd expect from a Mercedes and feels every bit as strong as the 302-horsepower rating. The V8 left us wondering why anyone would want the V12.
The five-speed automatic transmission changes ratios imperceptibly. Acceleration comes in a steady rush with no perceptible spikes or flat spots in the torque curve and the transmission seems perfectly matched. However, manual-minded enthusiasts looking for Porsche Tiptronic-like action from the Mercedes Touch Shift will be disappointed. Touch Shift functions like a traditional automatic transmission that is shifted manually. It can be forced to a lower gear, but it continues to shift automatically among the selected gear and lower ones. It will downshift unexpectedly mid-curve, and then won't respond to the request for a manual upshift at full throttle on the ensuing straight. A manual shift option should provide true manual shifting, not automatic shifting with fewer available ratios. The Touch Shift seems pointless because even skilled drivers do just as well to leave the selector in 'D'. It seems to be the only flaw in the CL's otherwise apparent perfection.
The CL500 represents the pinnacle of Mercedes technology and style. It competes for attention with the Jaguar XK8 and the Aston-Martin DB7, but buyers also look at the Lexus SC400 and Porsche 911, according to Mercedes. For the first time, the Mercedes has exterior styling to compete with the other exotic European models, but in a uniquely Mercedes package of high technology, convenience, comfort and safety.
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