imposing CL 500 coupé
takes no prisoners
ASK MOST driving enthusiasts to name their dream cars money no object and you can safely put your shirt on their answer covering two wildly divergent choices. In no particular order they will name an out-and-out supercar and, almost certainly, Mercedes-Benz's captivating CL-Class coupé.
Once you're gliding along in one of Mercedes' top-of-the-range CL coupés, you'll understand why it appears so high on many drivers' wish-lists. For a start, it's a genuine four-seater. But it also happens
to be so beautifully proportioned that it's difficult to believe it measures just 7mm short of a full five metres long. With flowing
styling and real presence visually it dwarfs almost every other
car the CL coupé looks absolutely stunning.
Run your hand over the perfect silky paintwork to appreciate the shape, and feel the subtle line of the CL's rear shoulders where they discreetly flare out above the massive five-spoke 19-inch AMG alloys tucked tightly into the wheel arches. The wonderfully curved roof
line elegantly blending into the rear pillars and the panoramic rear window endows the CL with a distinctly debonair appearance. And it's made even sleeker both by the first-class finish and a total absence
of unnecessary detailing.
What makes it a rational alternative to a more showy supercar is the choice of engines a 306bhp 5.0-litre V8 or a 6.0-litre V12 that
kicks out an impressive 500bhp. Added to these are AMG versions with supercar powerplants offering 500bhp and a twin-turboed 600+bhp. Politically correct electronic limiters prevent any of the CL family exceeding a top speed of 155mph. The only CL available when we requested a full road test vehicle was a CL 500. It comes equipped as standard with Mercedes-Benz's excellent new 7G-Tronic seven-speed automatic transmission, so we didn't have a problem accepting this model!
After taking your time admiring the CL's elegant body, you can unlock the door. Our test car was fitted with Mercedes' optional Keyless-Go, which means you never have to bother removing the key from your pocket or handbag because the door unlocks automatically as you approach. To start the engine you just depress the brake pedal and thumb the chrome button set into the top of the selector lever.
Like the paddle-shifts in the latest Ferraris, once you've experienced Keyless-Go you wonder how you lived without it. The CL's substantial frameless doors are specially hinged, moving forward as they swing open for easier entry and exit in tight places. Like the bootlid, they
are self-closing and as you drive off the CL locks itself.
Inside there is ample room to seat four large adults in comfort. Entry into the back and access to either of the individual back seats doesn't come any easier on any other two-door coupé. Press a button and
the front seat powers itself out of the way, tilting the backrest as it glides forward. Once the rear passengers are settled, the front seat repositions itself precisely in its original position. Like the front seats, the rear ones are also upholstered in cosseting, perforated leather.
And not only did our test car easily house a pair of six-footers in the back, but on one occasion we even fitted in a 7-foot tree!
And while sitting and travelling in the back of a CL 500 is undoubtedly
a pleasure, travelling up front is a bonus. Both front seats are wonderfully comfortable and accommodating, well contoured and electrically multi-adjustable by foolproof 'function-shaped' formed seat adjuster switches on the door panels. Our test car was fitted with Mercedes' highly-effective air-conditioned, perforated leather front seats. And they are good enough to hold you steady even during spirited driving and, as you'd expect in a car costing £73,630, a superb driving position is guaranteed whatever the size and shape of the driver.
Sitting comfortably in the ventilated seat behind the powered Easy-Entry tilt-away steering wheel is immensely satisfying. And while there's a quantifiable sense of 'you have arrived' about it, there's absolutely no hint of today's celebrity-obsessed 'look at me'. Although there's no longer a raised 'gun-sight' bonnet badge, the view down the wide bonnet to the sculpted leading edge that frames the typically Mercedes twin-headlamp arrangement is nonetheless rather pleasing. You sit much higher than you would in any supercar so visibility is excellent, making it easy to pilot the CL 500 accurately through tight gaps. Efficient parking sensors fitted to the front and rear make parking simple and we also liked the handy foot-operated parking brake and good-sized left-foot rest.
Cabin ambience is expensively delightful; thanks to luxurious leather trim and impressive build quality. There's a lot of space so that, like well-mannered dinner guests, you don't bang elbows in a CL. Nor
do you lack leg, knee, shoulder or head room. Attention to detail is perfect. Not only are the front seatbelts integrated into the frame of the front seat, but when you electrically raise the seat the headrest automatically lowers the closer it gets to the roof. The dash is wide and is very well-stocked. Controls are clear and there's a lot of sturdy switchgear, well sited where you'd logically expect it be and operating with a solid engineered feel.
The digital speedometer, rev-counter and two ancillary dials are a model of simple clarity, neatly housed straight ahead of the driver in
an orderly horizontal band and sized according to importance. The largest of the four, the 160mph speedometer, takes pride of place.
The 'full Monty' of instruments and warning lights are clearly visible through the top segment of the wood-and-leather trimmed four-spoke steering wheel. Crisp white-on-black graphics ensure first class clarity day or night, when they are beautifully illuminated.
The full list of standard equipment is too numerous to include here but there's automatic dual-zone climate control, auto-dimming rear view mirror and driver's door mirror, bi-xenon headlamps, closing aids for the doors and boot, a comprehensive Cockpit Management and SatNav system with a widescreen (16:9) format, 6.5-inch colour display and
6-CD autochanger, cruise control, electric folding and heated door mirrors, electric glass sunroof, one-shot up/down electric windows, multi-adjustable heated electric seats with memory, heated screen wash system, double-glazed infrared protective glass, leather upholstery, multi-function steering wheel with trip computer, parking sensors, rain-sensing wipers and Easy Entry steering column and a
host of safety kit.
You wouldn't want to pay in excess of £70,000 solely to luxuriate in some generously padded, extremely comfortable seats even if the leather covering them is very soft. The CL nurtures something else
in potential owners. Great expectations. Fortunately it delivers some impressive work-related skills in both the power and chassis departments.
First and foremost, it comes with Mercedes' superb 4,966cc 3-valve-per cylinder V8 that punches out a more than adequate 306bhp and 339lb ft of torque between 3,000 and 4,250rpm ample to send it sprinting to 62mph from standstill in a brisk 6.3 seconds. For the record, its three, harder-charging brothers do the same in around 4.5 seconds.
Not that it stops there. Keep your foot buried in the thick-pile overmat and the CL 500 breezes relentlessly into three-figures with deceptive speed, where it feels utterly stable and composed. What really impresses though is not its straight line speed off the line, but the manner of the power delivery. Squeeze the accelerator any time you like at any road speed and the CL surges forwards eagerly with a muted yet purposeful growl.
Central to its dynamic ability is the Active Body Control system that's fitted to all CL-Class models. The actively-controlled suspension system adapts the vehicle's suspension to the current driving situation in a split second, which means the almost complete elimination of body movement during drive-off, cornering and braking. It also provides greater levels of safety when making sudden direction changes, such as taking evasive action at speed. With ABC, bends are negotiated with greatly reduced roll, and our test car demonstrated competent grip and uncannily good balance control even through very tight corners.
Additionally, the total weight of the car is constantly monitored and taken into account when calculating the active suspension control parameters. The result is consistently dynamic handling almost irrespective of the vehicle load if luggage has been removed from the boot or a passenger has left the car, the ABC automatically adapts the suspension characteristics to the new load conditions. A button alongside the selector lever allows the driver to switch between the Comfort and Sport suspension programs.
Combined with Mercedes' super-smooth 7-speed automatic trans-mission and a refined drivetrain, ABC is the recipe for impressive ride and roadholding abilities. The seven-speeder 'box is refined, shifting
up and down both impeccably and imperceptibly either with or without the driver's direct input via the well-placed selector lever's
'Tip' function. A light finger tap to the right for immediate up changes; a light tap to the left for instant down shifts. While you're driving, the ABC program and actual gear engaged is clearly and permanently displayed just below the rev-counter. Oh, and should you ever need to, you can disable the ESP with a quick push on the appropriate button.
The 3-D SatNav display is brilliant. The easy-to-use menus, contoured idiot-proof buttons on the multi-function steering wheel and the Linguatronic voice-control facility contribute to making the CL's cabin
a stress-free zone. A good selection of useful storage bins and areas means there's no excuse for an untidy cabin. The large sunroof with safe, non-distracting automatic electric operation will be welcomed by anyone suffering from SAD syndrome, and will also be appreciated by taller drivers because it doesn't eat into their headroom.
Driving the CL 500 is a pleasure. For a start, it's far more nimble than most cars this big and heavy. Feel through the variable ratio rack-
and pinion steering is sensitive, with confident feedback about what's going on under the front wheels. The brakes discs all-round, ventilated and perforated at the front and ventilated at the rear
are superb, killing speed with absolutely no drama whatsoever. Look closely through the spokes of the stylish alloy wheels and you'll see
the massive callipers, finished in a discreet silver-grey.
Not only does Mercedes' ABS system prevent wheel lock-up but the emergency brake assist function continues applying the brakes for
you for maximum retardation until you lift your foot off the pedal.
So potent is the CL's stopping power that it's tempting to 'test' the system simply for its own sake. Kids seem to love the belt-locking retardation as much as a roller-coaster ride. On the serious side, all that electronic help can shave as much as 20 feet off the stopping distance from 60mph. And that could easily be the difference between a child living or dying.
Pilot the CL down a winding B-road and the restraint imposed by the active body control makes it feel as neat as, say, a CLK. Ride quality
is amazingly unruffled, continuously isolating the CL's driver and passengers from the frequent and annoying road irregularities that make up much of the UK's road network. Pressing the Sport button does four things, each easily detectable: stiffen the suspension, flatten the ride even further and crisp up throttle response for instant power delivery. Oh, and it plasters a big smile on your face. Driven like this, you can take pleasure in the purposeful, hard-edged engine note exiting the large oval rear tailpipes either side of the rear valence.
It's worth pointing out that, given the imperturbable stability and competent handling dynamics freely available in Comfort mode, we found ourselves leaving the CL in this 'default' setting most of the
time. The result? A serene mile-eating gait especially suited to long-distance journeys. And we enjoyed every minute of it.
At speed the plush and roomy cabin is refined, with nothing to spoil
the music you have playing on the Bose CD. The big V8 is whisper quiet at cruising speed and there is not so much as a rustle of wind noise from the frameless double-glazed side windows. Even more impressive is the lack of road noise or rumble from the massive 19-inch Michelin PilotSport tyres (245/40 front with 275/35 at the back). What is nice
is that although you're well-insulated in the CL, you never lose touch with the world outside.
With a potent 5.0-litre V8 under the bonnet, you definitely won't be expecting remarkable fuel economy. However, we managed to achieve a healthy 24mpg overall. Officially, the CL 500 is good for 16.3mpg around town, 24.8 combined and 35.3mpg touring. On several long, mostly motorway, runs we saw 32mpg on the trip computer but it wasn't such a difficult thing to do because 70mph is achieved at just 1,800rpm (84mph in top requires a trifling 2,000rpm). A 19.4 gallon tank ensures that although the cost of filling it might seem a little daunting, there should be quite lengthy distances between fill-ups.
The safety of driver and passengers can be taken for granted with front airbags (two-stage front passenger airbag with automatic weight classification), driver's airbag, windowbags and sidebags, high-performance belt tensioners, belt force limiters and automatic child seat recognition. So-called 'up-front' sensors at the car's front end make it possible to prime the safety aids during the initial stages of
a crash for optimum occupant protection. Also fitted is a sensor to activate the belt tensioners and large windowbags along the vehicle's sides in the event of a roll-over.
Other practical safety-orientated touches include the entry/exit lights incorporated into the door mirror housings. Casting a strong beam of light downwards to illuminate the area beside the car for safer exit
and entry in the dark, they switch on automatically the moment either door opens or if the car is unlocked with the remote. Additional safety features include the excellent bi-xenon headlights and the double-glazed protective glass, ABS with Brake Assist and an electronic stability program with anti-skid control. Combined with the Active Body Control, that takes care of the CL's active safety.
There seems to be one of those irritating urban myths doing the rounds that the Benz is not as well made as it used to be. Having tested
quite a number over the past twelve months we have to disagree.
Very strongly. Every Mercedes model we've tested, from the A-Class through to this range-topping CL, has been impressive both for its
build quality and its performance and the only disappointment has been that we've had to hand them back. We can't think of a better reason to recommend them than that. The CL 500? It's a captivating car with the kind of appeal that not only makes it desirable when you want to go fast, but it is equally alluring if you don't.
Mercedes-Benz CL 500 | £73,630
Maximum speed: 155mph | 0-62mph: 6.3 seconds
Overall test MPG: 24mpg | Power: 306bhp | Torque: 339lb ft
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