2001 Mercedes-Benz CL-Class
2001 Mercedes-Benz CL-Class Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
The ultimate luxury coupe.
Mercedes-Benz has delivered the best, most exclusive luxury coupe available with its new CL600. At the top of the luxurious CL-Class, the CL600 features an incredibly smooth and powerful 5.8-liter V12 in the engine bay of an already fantastic car.
Totally redesigned last year, the CL-Class 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.
CL600 represents the peak of the CL-Class, with a turbine-like V12 engine and a $117,200 retail price tag.
The V8-powered CL500 lists for $87,500, which is a slight increase over last year's model.
A high-performance model customized by AMG, the CL55, is also available for $99,500. That car features a hand-built 5.5-liter V-8 engine that matches the power of the V-12 with the lighter weight of the V-8. It also has wider, lower-profile high-performance tires for better grip on the road.
As if those three models don't provide sufficient exclusivity, Mercedes is offering the CL in customized Designo versions ($8300-$9800) with striking paint, leather and wood combinations that make these cars truly exclusive. A Sport Package ($4900) is available for CL500 and CL600 that adds AMG monoblock wheels, P245/45 high-performance front tires, and a color-keyed AMG ground effects treatment.
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. While this latest-generation CL is based on the S-class sedan platform, its chassis is heavily revised for coupe duty. And it gets a unique body style.
Doors on coupes are usually long, massive and unwieldy. To address this, Mercedes uses lightweight magnesium for the door frames, and mounts the doors on articulating hinges that slide them forward as they open. So ingress and egress is much easier than in comparable cars.
Front seats slide up automatically when the seat back is folded forward, providing easier access to the back seat; that adds 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.
CL packs all of the features Mercedes buyers expect, such as multiple air bags, stability control, on-board navigation, and Tele-Aid emergency response. But it adds a list of new items. Among them:
Distronic adaptive cruise control uses radar to automatically maintain a safe distance from other cars.
Xenon lights are used for high beams as well as for the usual low beams.
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 lighted electro-luminescent gauges anchor the sweeping instrument panel. At the center of the dash is a wood-trimmed stack that includes the COMAND display, which manages the navigation system, stereo and cellular telephone systems. steering wheel-mounted buttons control some COMAND functions. A small panel in the center of the speedometer displays some of the COMAND information.
At 4,312 pounds, the CL600 is about 200 pounds heavier than the V8-powered CL500 and CL55 models, but it remains 400 pounds lighter than the previous generation. Mercedes accomplished the diet by making the roof, hood and door panels, and rear fenders from lightweight aluminum and using plastic for the trunk lid and front fenders. CL600 does feel heavier than the CL500 when hustled along winding mountain roads. But while the difference is detectable, it is not intrusive, thanks to its excellent active suspension system.
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.
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 active suspension system could actually let the car lean into curves 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 blast through the mountains. The front brakes are ventilated and drilled for better cooling. Brake Assist comes standard to help reduce stopping distances in panic-braking situations, while the ABS allows the driver to maintain steering control.
With the active suspension switched to normal mode the CL's ride is downright plush, and handling is excellent. Switch to sport mode and the CL hones the edge on its handling, and 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 switchbacks are also better controlled in sport mode.
On the French Autoroute, the CL cruised serenely in the 80-100 mph range. Top speed is electronically limited 155 mph, according to Mercedes.
CL600 accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in less than 6.0 seconds, which edges both the Jaguar XK8 and Aston Martin DB7. CL500 accelerates from 0-60 in 6.1 seconds, while the CL55 AMG performs this in just 5.7 seconds, according to Mercedes-Benz.
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 its 302-horsepower rating. The V8 left us wondering why anyone would want the CL600's V12.
The answer: more power. The V12 leaves the V8 feeling sluggish in comparison. The CL500 is by no means slow, but the CL600's V12 makes the car feel even faster and even smoother, thanks to the perfect primary balance inherent in V12 and inline 6-cylinder engines.
That means that when the CL600 switches off half its cylinders to save gas, the driver cannot tell, because when running on six cylinders, the CL600's V-12 remains just as smooth. Mercedes-Benz's Active Cylinder Control system in its V12 is nothing like Cadillac's long-ago failed experiment with V-8-6-4, but it does switch off cylinders. When driving in the third, fourth or fifth gear below 3,000 rpm and with the throttle only partly open, the cylinder-control system deactivates the driver's-side bank of cylinders. A computer adjusts ignition timing and throttle position to make the transition seamless. And it works: the driver cannot tell when there are six cylinders running. The benefit is a 20 percent improvement in fuel economy, which lets the CL600 match the CL500's EPA highway rating of 23 mpg.
The five-speed automatic transmission changes ratios imperceptibly. Acc.
The new CL600 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, Mercedes-Benz's CL-Class offers exterior styling to compete with the other exotic European models And it does this in a uniquely Mercedes package of high technology, convenience, comfort and safety.
CL500 ($87,500); CL600 ($117,200); CL55 ($99,500).
Options As Tested
Parktronic ($995), tire pressure monitoring system ($600), electronic trunk closer ($450).
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