The Mercedes-Benz CL-Class dates from the 300S of 1952. The concept has evolved with the times, but the fundamental mission of these exclusive coupes remains the same: high performance and high luxury in a gloriously stylish package.
The earliest versions looked cozy and close-coupled, with no rear quarter glass behind the side windows. An all-new body for 1961 introduced the more modern style that the CL-Class retains today, with rear quarter windows but 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.
Today's CL-Class is much larger than its ancestors. The big Mercedes coupes of the '50s, '60s, and '70s were compact compared to contemporary U.S. cars, and were powered by relatively small-displacement engines. Heavier than an S-Class sedan, the current CL-Class qualifies as truly big, in size and weight, and in power.
The CL-Class does remain exclusive, however. For Mercedes-Benz in North America only the G-Class four-wheel drive and two-seat SLS AMG sell in smaller quantities; annual CL-Class sales equal Ford pickup sales for one day. That degree of distinction is alluring to CL-Class buyers.
The Mercedes-Benz CL550 4MATIC is powered by a 4.7-liter twin-turbo V8, rated 429 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque. It comes standard with a 7-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel drive and an air suspension.
The rest of the CL-Class uses coil spring suspension and rear-wheel drive. The rear-wheel-drive CL600, CL63 AMG, and CL65 AMG feel more enthusiastic on winding roads, but the all-wheel-drive CL550 rides the smoothest thanks to its air suspension and lighter weight.
The Mercedes-Benz CL63 AMG comes with a twin-turbocharged 5.5-liter V8 engine, which delivers 536 horsepower and 590 pound-feet, and a 7-speed multi-clutch transmission with SpeedShift, a feature that offers multiple shift modes.
Beyond those are the electric-smooth twin-turbo V12 engines: the ridiculously powerful CL600 with its 510-hp 5.5-liter V12 and the preposterously powerful CL65 AMG with its 621-hp 6-liter V12. Your friends with race cars will be jealous because you'll have the faster car.
Both V8 engines were new for the 2011 model year, when they replaced larger but less efficient and therefore slightly less potent V8s. The only notable change to the CL-Class since then is the addition of the Grand Edition appearance package, which makes the CL550 4MATIC look more like the AMG models.
Like its predecessors, today's CL-Class manages to be sporty without being a true sports car. Securing the right exterior proportions meant making the CL-Class shorter than the S-Class, upon which it is based. This produces a close-coupled, intimate interior, the kind historically associated with coupes from time immemorial. We'd call the rear passenger area moderate for adults, though similar luxury 2+2 coupes (Aston Martin DB9, BMW M6, Bentley Continental) are more cramped. The CL is for one or two people or the occasional evening quartet. If you want roominess in a big Mercedes, buy an S-Class sedan. This car is about grand touring for two.
The cabin is sumptuous and inviting, dressed in the finest materials and tailored to perfection. Fine woods, 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 really needs but almost anyone would love to have, from harman/kardon 600-watt, 11-speaker audio to soft ambient mood lighting. Through the Mercedes COMAND central computer interface, many dozens of settings for seats, climate, sound, lighting, navigation and much more can be customized to your preferences.
The CL-Class offers a breathtaking array of safety technology as standard equipment: nine airbags, dynamic stability control, traction control, anti-lock brakes, automatic brake drying, seatbelt pre-tensioners, and automatic window closers, to name just a few.
In short, the Mercedes-Benz CL-Class is ultra-luxurious, sexy, technologically advanced and very stylish with excellent all-around driving capabilities. It's roomier than a sports car but tighter than a sedan. The CL-Class is appealing for its stylish lines, spa-level coddling and over-the-top power.
The 2013 Mercedes-Benz CL-Class consists of four models, each with its own engine and transmission. CL-Class standard equipment is comprehensive. The seats, doors and instrument panel are all leather covered, and burled walnut or black ash wood trim is used liberally. The front seats are 14-way adjustable, heated and ventilated, and have three-setting memory capability that also sets the electrically telescoping-and-tilting steering wheel and side mirrors. The audio system is a 600-watt harman/kardon Logic7 surround sound with 11 speakers and a 6CD in-dash changer, memory card slot and auxiliary inputs. SiriusXM satellite radio is standard. There's a power sunroof overhead and a power sunshade in the rear parcel shelf. Doors have power assist closing mechanisms, and the trunk-lid is electrically powered. Side glass is dual-pane and infrared-reflective 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 navigation, phone, climate controls, and other customizable features (exterior courtesy lights, seat settings and voice command setup). Curve-following bi-Xenon headlights and rear fog lights are standard too, as is Parktronic, a distance sensing parking aid hidden behind the bumpers.
The Mercedes-Benz CL550 4MATIC ($115,300) has a 4.7-liter (4663-cc) twin-turbo V8 rated at 429 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque, a 7-speed automatic transmission, air suspension and all-wheel drive. The CL550 4MATIC Premium 2 Package ($3,490) includes keyless entry system, dynamic contour front seats fitted with pneumatic chambers that adjust cushion firmness and lumbar support, a night vision system with pedestrian detection, and a rear backup camera. A Driver Assist package ($2,950) adds Distronic Plus active cruise control, active lane-keeping assist and active blind spot warning. A Sport Package adds special aerodynamic pieces and larger 19-inch wheels ($5,900) or 20-inch wheels ($6,650). Other options include a heated steering wheel ($490), Splitview entertainment system ($710), a wide range of specialty paints ($250-3950), and illuminated door sills ($700).
Grand Edition package ($4650) adds the deeper, more aggressive-looking front and rear fascias from the AMG models; a choice of 19-inch, AMG-style five-spoke wheels or 20-inch ten-spoke wheels; and a choice of Mocha Black Metallic, Platinum Black Metallic, or Magno Cashmere White Metallic paint, all three of which would otherwise be extra-cost options. The Grand Edition interior is black leather with a choice of black ash or walnut trim.
The Mercedes-Benz CL600 ($160,300) uses a 5.5-liter twin turbo V12 with 510 hp, 612 lb-ft of torque, and a 5-speed automatic transmission. The CL600 includes virtually everything as standard equipment, including Active Body Control suspension and Distronic Plus. Only the specialty paints, illuminated door sills, Splitview, and some dealer accessories are optional.
The Mercedes-Benz CL63 AMG ($153,00) uses a 5.5-liter twin-turbo V8 rated at 536 hp and 590 lb-ft of torque along with a 7-speed multi-clutch SpeedShift transmission. The CL63 AMG comes with distinct bodywork and higher-performance brakes, suspension, wheels and tires. Options include the Driver Assist package ($2950), Premium 2 package ($2,200), specialty paints, Splitview, and an AMG Performance package ($7,300) that raises power and the top speed limiter from 155 to 186 mph. Forged 20-inch wheels ($1,700), carbon fiber cabin trim ($3,500), AMG illuminated door sills ($1,000), and a heated wood and leather steering wheel are available.
The Mercedes-Benz CL65 AMG ($213,200) features a twin-turbo V12 rated at 621 hp and 738 lb-ft of torque through an AMG SpeedShift 5-speed automatic. CL65 AMG models are fully equipped and use a unique diamond-quilt pattern on seats and door panels, and offer the heated steering wheel, carbon fiber trim and forged 20-inch wheels at no charge. Only Splitview, AMG door sills ($1,000) and the special paints are extra.
Gas Guzzler Taxes apply to the V12 models as follows: CL600 ($2600) and CL65 AMG ($2100). Slight improvements in fuel economy have allowed the V8s to avoid the tax for 2013. (All New Car Test Drive prices are Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Prices, which do not include destination charge and may change at any time without notice.)
Designo features, lavish finishes and custom colors are available to personalize the cars to taste.
Safety features on all CL-Class include a pair of two-stage front airbags, a driver's-side knee airbag, front side airbags, rear side airbags, and side-curtain airbags for front and rear passengers. There are seatbelt pre-tensioners for the front passengers' belts. Windows and sunroof close automatically if the car detects an impending collision. 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. All-wheel drive comes on the CL550 4MATIC, which improves handling stability in slippery conditions.