High-tech isn't the half of it where the Mercedes CL coupe is concerned. Steve Walker takes a look.
For a giant coupe with 435bhp in its least powerful form and enough technology to make the Pentagon's IT department feel inadequate, the Mercedes-Benz CL has an unusual capacity to slip in under the radar. This reluctance to attract attention sets the car apart in a luxury coupe market filled with flamboyance and overt potency and CL customers wouldn't have it any other way. If you want continent-crushing performance and unbridled comfort in a package that will attract no more envious glances than an S-Class saloon, there aren't too many alternatives.
Ten Second ReviewEndowed with unrelenting straight-line speed and a plethora of advanced technological systems, the Mercedes CL is a showcase for just what Mercedes is capable of. The big luxury coupe keeps a lower profile than many cars in its price range but it's still a handsome proposition and the perfect option for those who want to travel big distances in style.
BackgroundBased on the same underpinnings as the S-Class saloon, the CL coupe is just as wide and virtually as long as Mercedes' vast and much lauded luxury flagship. The key differences are that it gets by with only two doors and costs quite a bit more. The point of such a car isn't immediately easy to get a handle on, especially as rivals for the CL are not thick on the ground. Bentley's Continental GT and Maserati's Gran Turismo are the closest it has to direct challengers but neither maintains the low profile of a CL. Jaguar's XK and BMW's 6 Series are closer but less expensively hi-tech in their approach.
Driving ExperienceLeaving the CL's prodigious gadgetry quota aside for a moment, two mainstream engines are offered. Both run on petrol, both are big and both deliver the straight-line performance more akin to a Lear jet than a car. The term 'entry-level' hardly seems appropriate for the CL500 which uses a 435bhp twin turbo V8 to get from A to B. The 4.7-litre engine features BlueDIRECT direct fuel injection technology and will launch past 62mph in 4.9s. The next step up is the CL600 which relies on a 517bhp V12 twin turbo powerplant and has a 4.6s 0-62mph sprint. Believe it or not, some customers will want to go faster than this and Mercedes is happy to oblige with CL
The CL has never counted tight twisty B-roads as its preferred habitat. Show the massive Merc the outside lane of an autobahn, however, and before you can say crikey, you'll be in Dusseldorf. Ensuring the CL maintains its composure in the face of all that power coursing through the wheels is a plethora of electronic systems. Active Body Control is an active suspension system that adapts to the prevailing driving conditions and works to counteract the effects of crosswinds, while Torque Vectoring Brake can selectively brake individual rear wheels to improve stability. There's also Direct Steer, a variable power steering system, and Direct Select, a reference to the CL500's 7-speed automatic transmission (the CL600 gets a five-speed automatic).
Design and BuildToday's CL might be less visually exuberant than its rivals but it's a far more elegant proposition than the bland CL models of the past. The distinctive V-shaped radiator grille, more pronounced bonnet profiling and sculpted headlights distinguish the latest facelifted cars but dramatically curving roofline and prominently creased flanks that characterise this CL remain.
It's always been a big car but the latest CL models also provide the kind of useful space in the rear seats and boot that hasn't always been offered in previous generation models. At 5,095mm from stem to stern and 1871mm wide, this is a serious piece of automotive real estate. The CL500 tips the scales at a formidable 2,070kg with the V12-engined CL600 adding over 100kg to that.
The CL has been designed as a proper four seater and the additional length built into this car's wheelbase gives it decent rear seat provision for adults. It's the front seats that are the real showstoppers though. Opt for the CL600 and instead of just the usual heated sports seats, customers get what can only be described as the last word in car seats. Pneumatic lumbar supports and four-way electric adjustment allow for a prefect driving position while active ventilation helps cool your back and posterior on hot days. The best part is the dynamic multicontour facility with massage function that gently mobilises your lumbar vertebrae to prevent lumbago setting in on long journeys.
Market and ModelIt's not hard to see why the CL weighs as much as it does. It's absolutely stuffed with technology. The bi-xenon headlights not only swivel with the driver's steering inputs to better illuminate the road ahead but they have five lighting modes which are activated according to the driving and weather conditions. Adaptive High Beam Assist detects on-coming traffic at night and dips the full beam, while the optional Night View Assist function shows an infrared image of the road ahead on the dashboard screen, highlighting pedestrians. Active Lane Keeping Assist uses a camera to identify lane markings and warns if the CL leaves its lane unintentionally and Active Blind Sport assist warns of vehicles in the CL's blind spots.
The in-car entertainment provision on the CL is also quite something, with all of the functions marshalled by the COMAND control system. There's a Bluetooth phone system as standard and buyers can upgrade to a Harmon Kardon surround sound stereo with DAB digital radio and a 7.2Gb hard disc music server. As part of the package, the Splitview screen allows different content to be viewed on the centre screen by driver and front passenger.
Cost of OwnershipThe BlueEFFICIENCY badging of the CL500 model indicates that Mercedes has gone to great lengths to enhance the car's economy. The alternator, fuel pump, air-conditioning and power steering are all controlled to reduce fuel economy by lowering their energy use when possible. There's also an ECO start/stop function that turns off the engine when the CL is stationary. Together with the engine's advanced direct injection system, all this helps achieve 29.7mpg on the combined cycle which is good going for a car of this size and performance. The 20mpg that's available from the CL600 is less impressive.
SummaryThe handbook for the Mercedes CL is like a telephone directory and it would take a review of similar length to fully explain all of the technological features built into this incredible car. Suffice to say if you want a coupe that wants for nothing, bar perhaps a certain ostentation or sense of occasion (call it what you will), here's where to shop. The CL is a car with few natural rivals. It'll remain unobtrusive and, for many, a tough car to understand but it has a loyal bunch of followers. Drive one and you'll probably see why.
There's not much that can touch the CL for straight line speed coupled with top level comfort and advanced technology. Many buyers spending this kind of money will want a more obvious status symbol but this is a car for those content merely with towering capability.