The Mercedes-Benz CL is the eighth generation of a long line of range-topping coupes that dates back to the early 1950s. Expensive and exclusive, these cars have been rare and seldom seen, even compared to the big Mercedes sedans on which most of them have been based. Like the sedans themselves, the coupes have evolved significantly with the times, but their fundamental mission remains the same: high-performance and maximum luxury in a gloriously stylish package. These are cars in which esthetics purposely trump practicality.
Pounding the point home is the CL's hardtop design: As with all of its predecessors since 1958, there is no central B-pillar aft of the doors to break 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.
Where the current CL breaks most from tradition is in its sheer excess. Pricey and pretty as they were, the big Mercedes coupes of the Fifties, Sixties, and even Seventies were compact compared to contemporary U.S. cars, and were powered by relatively small-displacement engines. The current line qualifies as truly massive, in size, weight, and horsepower.
The current generation CL was completely redesigned for the 2007 model year. The CL 550 comes with a powerful 382-horsepower 5.5-liter V8. The CL600 packs an insanely powerful 510-hp twin turbocharged 5.5-liter V12.
For 2008, Mercedes added two more choices from its AMG performance division: the ridiculously powerful 518-horspower 6.2-liter V8, and the preposterously powerful 604-horsepower 6.0-liter twin-turbo V12. We're running out of adjectives to describe the performance of these engines.
Also new for 2008 are upgrades to the CL's incredible electronic systems.
Like its predecessors, the current CL manages to be sporty without being a true sports car. Securing the right exterior proportions meant making the CL significantly shorter than the S-Class, upon which it is based. 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 big Mercedes, buy an S-Class sedan.
In the front seats, the CL is a car that is as wonderful to be in as to be seen in. 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 to have, from a Harman/Kardon 600-watt, 11-speaker audio system to soft ambient mood lighting. Through the Mercedes COMAND central computer interface, many dozens of settings for seats, climate, sound, lighting, GPS and much more can be customized to your personal preferences.
Finally, the CL 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.
In short, 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 tighter 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 choosing stylish lines over day-to-day practicality.
The 2009 Mercedes-Benz CL-Class consists of four models: The CL 550 ($103,100) is powered by a 382-horsepower 5.5-liter V8. The CL600 ($146,900) packs a 510-horsepower twin turbocharged 5.5-liter V12. New for 2008 are the CL63 AMG ($137,000), whose 6.2-liter V8 develops 518 horsepower; and the CL65 AMG ($197,000), with 604 horsepower and a stupendous 738 pound-feet of torque from a 6.0-liter twin-turbo V12. All are subject to the federally imposed Gas Guzzler Tax, ranging from $1,000 to $3,000.
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 6-CD 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 also 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, too, 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.
Options: The Premium I package ($1950) for the CL 550 includes heated and ventilated front seats and a keyless entry system. Premium II ($5290) includes Premium I equipment and adds multi-adjustable front seats fitted with pneumatic chambers that adjust cushion firmness and lumbar support. Also part of the Premium II package are a night vision system with an in-dash screen, and a rear backup camera. A heated steering wheel ($460) is also available. An AMG body kit ($5630) adds special aerodynamic pieces and larger, 19-inch wheels (18-inch wheels are standard). Or choose 19-inch wheels by themselves ($1210), or chromed 18-inch wheels ($1010).
The CL63 comes with the contents of Premium I, the heated steering wheel, and the body kit; and makes 20-inch wheels standard. Premium II equipment is optional ($2950). Optional for both V8 models are Distronic Plus distance monitoring cruise control with Parking Guidance and Blind Spot Assist ($2010); and an iPod integration kit ($425). Buyers seeking even more exclusivity can choose among three Designo Edition combinations of exterior color and interior leather and trim (Mystic White, Espresso, or Graphite).
Most of the above are standard on the CL600. The only options it offers are the iPod kit, the two optional wheel choices, and the designo editions. Ditto the CL65, except that it, like the CL63, already comes with 20-inch wheels.
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 with Parking Guidance and Blind Spot Assist.