Steve Schaefer, Wed, 29 Jun 2011 01:47:39 PDT
With the exception of a Bentley convertible I drove four years ago, the Mercedes-Benz CL550 represents the most expensive car I've ever tested for more than 10 minutes--$127,825. That represents not only the price of a three-bedroom house in many communities in the U.S., but also buys you an exquisitely styled and crafted super cruiser that is a technological goldmine.
The CL class Mercedes-Benz vehicles have their roots in the upscale 300 S model that appeared after World War II. There have been coupe versions of the larger Mercedes-Benz cars ever since. This one is based on the current full-size S Class sedans.
I took my Palladium Silver CL on the monthly First Sunday Drive with the Mercedes-Benz Club of America local chapter. Along scenic rural back roads, the 4,619-pound CL handles tautly on the bends and was alert when cruising at speed. That may be thanks to Direct-Steer, which varies the steering ratio with the steering angle.
On my way home from the Sunday Drive, I picked up a nail in the right rear tire and got a warning on the display screen that the pressure was dropping. I pulled over immediately and called the Mercedes-Benz Roadside Assistance number. In 20 minutes, a young man pulled up and promptly changed the tire for me-in the rain.
The CL550 carries a 429-horsepower 4.6-liter V8 under its beautifully crafted hood. With twin turbochargers and 518 lb.-ft. of torque, it rockets the car from 0 -60 in just 4.8 seconds. 4Matic All-Wheel-Drive traction sends it effectively to the ground. Potent ventilated disc brakes (the fronts cross-drilled) pull you down to a stop quickly.
The new 4.6-liter V8 makes beautiful music. It replaces last year's 5.4-liter mill, yet it not only delivers 12 percent more power, but 32 percent more torque too.
That means more for less-and fuel economy numbers of 15 City, 23 Highway. I averaged 18.4 mpg. That's remarkable for such a big, powerful vehicle. The EPA Green Vehicle Guide gives the CL an Air Pollution score of 6 (good) and Greenhouse Gas number of 3 (not so good, but not surprising either).
The interior of the CL is spacious and glorious. The mostly wood steering wheel glistens in the sun while the leather areas at the 3 and 9 positions supply grip. The burl walnut trim is gorgeous. The center-mounted clock resembles an expensive tank watch. There's a roll-top storage area for the two rear passengers. I especially admired the sleek ridge of climate control buttons along the center console.
A real bonus is the ambient lighting along the dash and doors. You can choose from three moods: solar (amber), neutral (white) and polar (ice-blue)-and set the intensity at five different levels!
The instrument panel gauges are clean and simple-but I thought the center panel looked two-dimensional. Well-I was right. One night I reached over and touched a little button at the lower corner of the dash and the entire center rectangle became an infrared camera view of the road. The Night View Assist Plus screen showed much more detail than my view through the windshield. The one deer, pedestrian or stalled car you spot using this device in the fog will make it more than worth its cost.
You can adjust the air suspension for Sport or Comfort. I kept it on the firmer Sport setting most of the time. Also, you can vary the ride height-lower for high speed cruising (lower wind resistance equals better fuel economy). I raised the car when getting off a ferry boat during my Sunday Drive to protect the car's beautiful (and low slung) nose.
The Mercedes' doors close themselves the last inch or so. I got used to gently placing them near and letting them pull tight. With my next test car I had to slam the door twice because I was used to this gentle touch.
The standard seats in the CL are incredible, but the ones that came with my Premium Package had massage in them too. These are not meant to relax you into slumber but to keep you alert as a driver.
To combat drowsiness-a major cause of accidents--Mercedes-Benz also provides Attention Assist standard. Years of research have led to a sophisticated system that continuously evaluates more than 70 different parameters in order to identify driver drowsiness and then provides a warning.
This is a genuinely special car; I was amazed at how many features I kept turning up. As its custodian I was enthralled by its content and performance but also worried about scratching a wheel or something worse happening. Let's hope that some of the marvelous design, performance, fuel economy and safety features filter down into the other Mercedes-Benz models.