2008 Mercedes-Benz CL-Class

By May 27, 2008
2008 Mercedes-Benz CL-Class

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.

Model Lineup

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.


There are high expectations for cars in the CL's rarefied league, which consists of a very few automobiles and includes 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 for many years, 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-Benz 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 a dinner plate, just to be sure you don't mistake the CL for any other brand. As if you could.

At 199.4 inches long, 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 with which the CL shares its underpinnings. Its 73.7-inch width makes it look solidly planted and substantial. There's surprisingly little chrome up front and it 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. Sedans don't look like this, and that's just the point.

Outside of the model nomenclature on the deck lid, the CL550 and CL600 models are essentially identical from the outside.

The new AMG models can be identified by distinctive grilles, wherein the Mercedes star is supported by four chrome bars over black mesh, and by their more muscular-looking front bumper with large air intakes housing round, chrome-ringed fog lights. Contoured side skirts carry the aggressive lines of the front bumper to the rear, where four oval exhaust outlets punctuate the black air diffuser set into the unique rear apron. Front fender badges read “6.3 AMG” on the CL63 and “V12 Biturbo” on the CL65. Both roll on 20-inch, five-spoke alloy wheels, but with a slimmer-looking twin-spoke design on the CL65.

Interior Features

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 sedan, 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 transmission.

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, 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-Benz 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'll

Driving Impressions

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 column-mounted electronic shift lever similar to the kind 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. (For the 2008 model, Mercedes quotes zero-to-60 mph in 5.3 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 4486-pound vehicle does create a gas mileage penalty, or 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, $1000 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 in 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, as 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 denser intra-urban highway environments, 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 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 system to apply full emergency braking as soon as the driver presses on the brake pedal, no matter how lightly it's applied. If


The Mercedes-Benz CL coupe is a melding of sensuous design and cosseting luxury that few other vehicles in the world can match. The CL offers svelte driving dynamics and a near endless list of luxury and safety equipment. This is a car for people who are smitten by its special nature. It's a beautiful coupe for two.

Rich Ceppos filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com from Ann Arbor, Michigan. John F. Katz reported on the AMG models from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Model Line Overview
Model lineup:Mercedes-Benz CL550 ($103,100); CL600 ($146,900); CL63 AMG ($137,000); CL65 AMG ($197,000)
Engines:382-hp 5.5-liter DOHC 32-valve V8; 510-hp 5.5-liter SOHC 36-valve twin-turbocharged V12; 518-hp 6.2-liter DOHC 32-valve V8; 604-hp 6.0-liter SOHC 36-valve twin-turbocharged V12
Transmissions:7-speed automatic; 5-speed automatic
Safety equipment (standard):dual frontal two-stage airbags; driver's side knee airbag; front and rear side-impact airbags; curtain airbags; Pre-Safe system (front seatbelt pre-tensionsers, passenger seat positioner, side window and sunroof closer); electronic stability control; ABS; automatic brake drying; electronic brake proportioning; Brake Assist; Electronic Stability Program; ASR traction control; tire pressure monitoring system
Safety equipment (optional):Distronic Plus distance monitoring cruise control, Blind Spot Assist, back-up monitor with parking guidance, night vision system
Basic warranty:4 years/50,000 miles
Assembled in:Sindelfingen, Germany
Specifications As Tested
Model tested (MSPR):Mercedes Benz CL550 ($103,100)
Standard equipment:dual zone air conditioning; leather-covered seats, door panels and instrument panel; heated front seats with memory feature; power tilt/telescope steering column; power windows; power locks; power mirrors; COMAND central control; trip computer; GPS navigation; Harman/Kardon 11-speaker AM/FM/satellite audio system with 6CD in-dash changer and memory-card slot; glass sunroof; electric powered trunk lid; electric door-closing assist; park distance sensors; power rear window sunshade; Distronic cruise control
Options as tested (MSPR):Premium Package II ($5290) includes active ventilated front seats with dynamic adjustment, keyless start system, backup camera, night vision system; Distronic plus cruise control with Blind Spot Assist and Parking Guidance ($2010); heated steering wheel ($460)
Destination charge:$775
Gas guzzler tax:1000
Price as tested (MSPR):$112635
Layout:rear-wheel drive
Engine:5.5-liter DOHC 32-valve V8
Horsepower (lb.-ft @ rpm):382 @ 6000
Torque (lb.-ft @ rpm):391 @ 2800-4000
Transmission:7-speed automatic
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy:15/22 mpg
Wheelbase:116.3 in.
Length/width/height:199.4/73.7/55.7 in.
Track, f/r:63.0/63.3 in.
Turning circle:38.1 ft.
Seating Capacity:4
Head/hip/leg room, f:36.9/62.0/42.2 in.
Head/hip/leg room, m:N/A
Head/hip/leg room, r:36.4/56.0/32.2 in.
Cargo volume:12.9 cu. ft.
Towing capacity:N/A
Suspension, f:independent, double wishbone, gas-pressure shocks, coil springs, stabilizer bar, active electro-hydraulic damping and roll control
Suspension, r:independent, five-link, gas-pressure shocks, coil springs, stabilizer bar, active electro-hydraulic damping and roll control
Ground clearance:5.1 in.
Curb weigth:4486 lbs.
Brakes, f/r:vented disc/solid disc with ABS, electronic brake proportioning, electronic brake assist, automatic disc drying
Fuel capacity:23.8 gal.
Unless otherwise indicated, specifications refer to test vehicle. All prices are manufacturer's suggested retail prices (MSPR) effective as of May 27, 2008.Prices do not include manufacturer's destination and delivery charges. N/A: Information not available or not applicable. Manufacturer Info Sources: 800-367-6372 - www.mbusa.com

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