2007 Mercedes-Benz CL-Class
2007 Mercedes-Benz CL-Class Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Ultra-luxury sports car.
Everyone knows Mercedes-Benz occupies one of the high rungs on the prestige ladder. It takes a long list of words to describe the characteristics that make the broad range of cars and SUVs from Stuttgart so desirable: they're luxurious and expensive, to be sure. But they're also known for handsome, modern design; superlative engineering; bank-vault solidity; precise build quality; an abundance of safety and security features; sportiness and European flair. Most of these traits come together in the all-new 2007 Mercedes CL coupe.
The CL is the seventh generation of a line of range-topping coupes dating back to the 1952 300S that have appeared sporadically through the years. Like those cars, the CL is a smaller, sportier version of Mercedes' big sedan line, in this case, today's S-Class. This time it follows the previous CL without interruption and its mission remains the same: high-performance and maximum luxury in high-style package. This is a car in which style purposely trumps practicality.
Pounding the point home is its hardtop design; there is no central B-pillar holding up the roof aft of the doors to break up the sleek lines of the body. With the windows down, the look is sexy and the view out is panoramic, recalling cars of the Fifties and Sixties when hardtops were in vogue.
Securing the right exterior proportions meant making the CL significantly shorter than the S-Class. This results in a close-coupled, intimate interior, the kind historically associated with coupes from time immemorial. We'd call the rear passenger area cramped, though similar models from BMW and Bentley actually have even less rear legroom. The CL is for being seen in. If you want practicality in a Mercedes, buy a different model.
The CL is also a car that's wonderful to be in, at least in the front seats. Its interior is sumptuous and inviting, dressed in the finest materials and tailored to perfection. Burled walnut, supple leather, brushed aluminum and designer-quality knobs and switches are everywhere you look and touch. The standard equipment list bulges with luxury items no one actually needs but almost anyone would love, from a Harman/Kardon 600-watt, 11-speaker audio system to soft ambient mood lighting. Through the Mercedes COMAND central computer interface offers many dozens of settings for seats, climate and sound system, lighting, GPS and much more can be customized to your personal preferences.
Like its predecessors, the CL manages to be sporty without being a true sports car. It comes in two versions: powerful or insanely powerful, with a choice of either a 382-hp V8 or a 510-hp V12. Its road manners are sophisticated, hushed and luxurious rather than aggressively aimed at carving up twisty roads.
It offers a breathtaking array of safety technology as standard: nine airbags; dynamic stability control; traction control ABS anti-lock brakes; automatic brake drying; seatbelt pre-tensioners, and automatic window closers, to name a few items.
The CL is ultra-luxurious, sexy, technologically advanced and very stylish with excellent all-around driving capabilities. With its occasional rear seating for two, it's roomier than a sports car but smaller than a sedan. We think the CL will be extremely appealing to a relative few drivers who fall in love with it and can afford the luxury of stylish lines over day-to-day practicality.
The Mercedes-Benz CL550 ($99,900) comes with a 382-horsepower 5.5-liter V8. The CL600 is powered by a 510-hp twin turbocharged V12.
Standard CL equipment is comprehensive. The seats, doors and instrument panel are all leather covered; burled walnut wood trim is used liberally. The front seats are 14-way adjustable and heated, and have a three-setting memory capability that also sets the electrically telescoping-and-tilting steering wheel and side mirrors.
The standard audio system is a Harman/Kardon Logic7 5.1 Digital unit with 11 speakers and a 6CD in-dash changer (with memory card slot). Sirius satellite radio is standard. There's a power sunroof overhead and a power rear-window sunblind in the rear parcel shelf. Doors have power assist closing mechanisms, and the trunk is electrically powered.
The Mercedes COMAND system, a centralized computer interface with a dash-mounted flat panel screen, is standard. It enables access to many of the car's accessories including GPS navigation, phone, climate controls and other customizable features (exterior courtesy lights, seat settings and voice command setup). Bi-Xenon headlights are standard, as is Parktronic, a distance sensing parking aid. All CLs are equipped with ABC active suspension; it utilizes electro hydraulic cylinders to control body roll and some damping functions.
The Premium I package ($1950) includes heated and ventilated front seats and a keyless entry system. Premium II ($5650) adds multi-adjustable front seats fitted with pneumatic chambers that adjust cushion firmness and lumbar support. Also part of the package are a night vision system with an in-dash screen, and a rear backup camera. An AMG body kit ($5650) adds special aerodynamic pieces and larger 19-inch wheels (18-inch wheels are standard).
Other options include Distronic Plus distance monitoring cruise control ($2850); a heated steering wheel ($450); 19-inch multi-spoke wheels ($1200); special chrome 18-inch wheels ($1000); and an iPod integration kit ($425).
All options packages are already standard on the CL600 ($144,200). It's only available extras are the iPod kit ($425) and 19-inch multi-spoke wheels ($1200).
Safety features on all CLs include a pair of two-stage front air bags, a driver's side knee air bag; two front side airbags; two rear side airbags; and side head-curtain airbags for front and rear passengers. There are seatbelt pre-tensioners for the front passengers' belts. Windows close automatically in a crash, and a sunroof closing feature activates in rollovers. Also standard: ABS with electronic brake-force distribution and automatic wet-weather drying, dynamic stability control, traction control, and Distronic cruise control. Optional safety equipment includes Distronic Plus distance sensing cruise control.
There are high expectations for cars in the CL's rarefied league, which consists of a very few automobiles including the BMW 6 Series and Bentley Continental GT. Ultra-luxury coupes are a statement of style and panache, capability and quality, and they ought to look as expensive as they are. Mercedes has been making range topping coupes off and on for many years (this is the ninth generation since the 1950s) and it knows the game. The CL's styling does not disappoint.
From nose to tail, the CL is something out of the ordinary. Seen from the front, it's instantly identifiable as a Mercedes from its three-slat grille, long a staple of Benz sport models and SUVs. The famous three pointed star emblem is front and center and as large as dinner plate, just to be sure you don't mistake the CL for any other brand. As if you could. At 199.4, this is a large car and its size gives it presence.
The front end stretches wide and sweeps back into a pair of prominent flared front wheel openings, a design element derived from the S-Class sedans this car shares its underpinnings with. The width makes it look solidly planted and substantial. There's surprisingly little chrome up front. The CL could use a bit more twinkle to announce its arrival. But it's still a knockout first impression. Projector beam headlights add the final bit of modernity to the nose.
It's the sweep of the roof that makes the CL's compelling style statement. The top arcs dramatically over the side glass and down into the C-pillar without the interruption of a B-pillar, the central support post most cars have between front and rear side windows. The roofline is sleek. And this is a true hardtop; you can drop the large side windows down for a panoramic view and an open-air feeling. Handsomely wrought chrome trim framing the large side-window opening emphasizes both its shape and the absence of the second pillar. In profile, the CL is gorgeous and sporty.
Even as it drives away, the CL keeps your attention. The rear window's horseshoe-like shape is especially intriguing, and not seen anywhere else in the automotive kingdom. Below the backlight (rear windscreen) the tail tapers gracefully into a pair of large taillights and a taut trunk lid wearing a subtle built-in rear spoiler at its top edge. No, standard sedans don't look like this, and that's just the point.
Outside of the model nomenclature on the deck lid, both CL models are essentially identical from the outside.
Pulling open the door is the moment of truth in an ultra-luxury coupe. Buyers in this class are expecting sumptuousness, high-end materials and sophisticated design that convey the promise of being coddled. Everyone who looked inside our CL550 test car uttered an involuntary 'wow.' It's beautifully designed, richly appointed and finished with a fanatical attention to detail. And the sheer number of luxury features is almost overwhelming, another sign that the big sticker price delivers something extraordinary.
Ensconced in the driver's seat, you immediately register the raked back windshield and low roofline pressing down from above, creating a narrow viewing port ahead. The CL is just 2.2 inches lower than an S-Class but it feels much lower than that.
The surroundings are a Sybarite's delight. There's almost nowhere your hand falls that you're not touching either glove-soft leather, burled walnut, brushed aluminum or chrome. The instrument panel cover is stitched in leather, as are the door panels and seats, buckets front and rear. The steering wheel is wood with leather grips at the nine and three o'clock positions. It houses buttons in front for the phone and COMAND system, and switches behind the top spokes for manually shifting the seven-speed automatic.
The exterior's curvilinear theme is repeated in the interior. The center console curves gently into the center stack, and the interior front door panels arc outward subtly at the elbow area, the shape accented by delicate chrome accent strips. The door armrests are an artful combination of burled walnut stacked with leather covered padding. At night, soft ambient light glows from tiny hidden light strips in the doors' upper sections and across the middle of the dash. The only plastic pieces of note are the speaker covers in the lower front corner of the doors, where you hardly notice them.
The walnut trimmed center stack contains a thin row of easy-to-operate brushed aluminum climate control switches, a hidden compartment for the CD changer and a pair of vents flanking a square analog clock that looks like it could double as Patek Phillipe wristwatch.
Living in this car is every bit as satisfying as looking at it. The center console is home to a push and turn mouse-type knob that is the main interface to the COMAND system and it's thin film transistor (TFT) display. The screen is housed in a hooded binnacle to the right of the driver's gauges, which too are TFT technology.
For cars equipped with the optional night vision system, the large speedometer in front of the driver transitions to a second viewing screen whenever the system is activated. Several other buttons arrayed around the mouse control the suspension's sport and comfort modes (linked to the transmission shift program), the sound system and the multi-function seats' firmness and adjustment.
Between the steering wheel buttons and mouse, you're afforded several paths of access to the multiple layers of the CL's navigation, seating, climate control and sound systems. You can set your preferences for everything from radio stations to auxiliary lighting. You can program the voice control to recognize your particular intonations. You can input GPS travel information and requests. And you can access, activate or cancel dozens of other systems, including radar distance sensing, daytime running lamps, tire pressure monitoring, miles-to-next-vehicle display, and much, much more.
At times we wished it were easier to access some of the systems through COMAND; it took several steps where one touch of a conventional button would have worked more directly. But owners of similar systems in Mercedes and other luxury cars say that after an initial acclimation period, using the system becomes less cumbersome. And realistically, for a vehicle with this many features a centralized computer interface is the only way to accommodate them.
At least you&.
Big European ultra-luxury coupes have historically been a mix of style and an old world promise of performance. The sporty body lines say 'fast.'
The Mercedes-Benz CL550 we tested is a swift and smooth ride to be sure, but we'd stop short of calling it a sports sedan. It's simply too large, too soft and too luxurious. But it is rewarding to drive for just those reasons.
You start the CL with a touch of a big aluminum button to the right of the steering column. We still wonder why being able to keep the key in your pocket makes this a better solution. Then drop it into gear with a new column-mounted electronic shift lever similar to the ones BMW is now using. Purists may feel it's an odd and un-sporty throwback to have a shifter moved off of the center console and on to the steering column, but it works well and frees up space.
The 5.5-liter all-aluminum 32-valve V8 is velvety smooth and nearly silent, until you prod it. With 382 hp on tap it rushes the car to speed with a muted, purposeful growl. (Mercedes quotes zero-to-60 mph in 5.4 seconds.) The seven-speed automatic gearbox shifts imperceptibly in town, smoothly at full throttle and never gets caught in the wrong gear in traffic. Quiet, smooth, sophisticated – this is the way the powertrain in a high-end luxury automobile should behave.
Having a gasoline-fired engine this powerful pulling a 4360-pound vehicle does create a gas mileage penalty, two actually. The first is real-world fuel economy: the EPA mileage rating is 15/22 City/Highway. And that figure triggers the Federal Gas Guzzler Tax at purchase, $1300 in this case.
If there's one word that describes the CL road experience, it's 'silken.' On smooth surfaces it feels as if it's riding on glass. Some vibration or road harshness must be penetrating the hushed cabin, but it just doesn't feel like it. The sportier BMW 6 Series coupes register bumps harder and reveal surface imperfections far more acutely. In the Benz, the smaller road irregularities get glossed over. Over larger bumps the ride is less supple than you might expect, almost firm, but not enough to inspire the driver to attack the curves.
The steering has a ball-of-silk feel, less sharp than the BMW and more relaxed in its responses. Though the steering effort rises with road speed, the feeling remains comfortable, smooth and luxuriously isolated rather than sports-car sharp. This is a car that wends its way down a winding road with grace and stability; the active suspension keeps it cornering quite flat. But the CL doesn't communicate the sense of the road in the way that great sports sedans do. It never gives you the urge to get aggressive like a BMW 3 Series would.
On the highway, the CL's German DNA is fully in evidence. It has a commanding, solid feel and is dead stable even at extra legal speed. It's in these upper speed ranges that you notice that wind noise has hardly increased at all. This is autobahn breeding at work.
Using the optional Distronic Plus distance sensing cruise control is an eerie and fascinating experience. The radar-based distance monitoring system automatically slows the CL, using the brakes if necessary, as you close the gap on the car in front. That distance can be set between a hundred and several hundred feet. When the system detects the lane ahead is clear again, it accelerates back to your pre-set speed. All the driver needs do is steer, an odd sensation to say the least. The system works beautifully in light Interstate traffic and reasonably well in moderately heavier intra-urban highway traffic, though it sometimes annoyed us by slowing sooner for a car up ahead than an average driver would in most circumstances.
There's more to Distronic than active cruise control. The system is now tied into a comprehensive in-car safety network. Distronic will sound an alarm if the driver is gaining too fast on the car ahead, meanwhile priming the Brake Assist Plus s.
The Mercedes-Benz CL coupe is a melding of sensuous design and cosseting luxury that few other vehicles in the world can match. But its strength is its weakness: The sacrifices necessary to achieve uncompromised design create a major deficit in passenger-carrying capability. Two doors and tight rear-seat confines mean that buyers should think twice before committing to this beautiful cruiser; they could soon feel buyer's remorse at spending this much money on a car with limited day-to-day usefulness. The rest is pure wonderfulness, from the CL's svelte driving dynamics to its near endless list of luxury and safety equipment. This is a car for people who are smitten by its special nature and not intimidated by its obvious drawbacks. We simply suggest taking a good hard look before you leap.
Rich Ceppos filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com from Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Mercedes-Benz CL550 ($99,900); CL600 ($144,200).
Options As Tested
Premium Package II ($5650) includes active ventilated front seats, dynamic adjusting front seats, keyless start system, backup camera, night vision system; Distronic plus cruise control ($2850); heated steering wheel ($450).
Mercedes Benz CL550 ($99,900).
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