Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Advanced technology in a luxurious package.
The Mercedes-Benz CL-Class features marvelous technology in an amazing package of leather, walnut and sleek sheetmetal. You could argue all day about the perfect car, but for those who want a luxurious yet athletic coupe, the CL-Class is as close to perfect as you're likely to come.
Three models comprise the CL-Class: CL500 ($90,750) is powered by a 302-horsepower 5.0-liter V8 engine.
CL600 ($118,950) has a 362-horsepower 5.8-liter V12 engine that saves fuel by running as a six-cylinder powerplant when cruising down the highway.
CL55 ($103,500) is customized by AMG, a team of racers turned car tuners. Its hand-built 5.5-liter V8 produces 355 horsepower. This high-performance model grips the road with wide, low-profile tires mounted on special 18-inch wheels.
Every CL comes with advanced technology such as active body control suspension, a navigation system and much more. New for the 2002 model year are a Max Cool setting for air conditioning systems and a third memory setting for the front seats.
As if those three models don't provide sufficient exclusivity, Mercedes offers customized Designo versions ($9,300-$10,000) with striking paint, leather and wood combinations. A Sport Package ($4,900) is available for CL500 and CL600 and adds AMG monoblock wheels, high-performance front tires and a color-keyed AMG ground effects treatment.
The Mercedes-Benz CL is a coupe with fluid, graceful lines and an aggressive stance that suggests an iron fist in a velvet glove.
It used to be that full-size Mercedes coupes were basically two-door versions of the company's flagship sedans. No more. While this latest-generation CL is based on the S-Class sedan platform, its chassis is heavily revised for coupe duty. And it gets a unique body style.
Doors on coupes are usually long, massive and unwieldy. To address this, Mercedes uses lightweight magnesium for the door frames, and mounts the doors on articulating hinges that slide them forward as they open. So ingress and egress is much easier than in comparable cars.
Front seats slide up automatically when the seat back is folded forward, providing easier access to the back seat; that adds to the practicality of this coupe. Despite the rakish styling, the CL maintains adequate rear headroom, in part because of the low rear seat bottoms.
Crisply lighted electro-luminescent gauges anchor the sweeping instrument panel. At the center of the dash is a wood-trimmed stack that includes the COMAND display, which manages the navigation system, stereo and cellular telephone systems. Steering wheel-mounted buttons control some COMAND functions. A small panel in the center of the speedometer displays some of the COMAND information.
CL packs all of the features Mercedes buyers expect, such as multiple air bags, stability control, on-board navigation, and Tele-Aid emergency response. But it offers even more: Distronic adaptive cruise control ($2,875) uses radar to automatically maintain a safe distance from other cars. Standard Xenon lights are used for high beams as well as for the usual low beams.
Keyless Go ($995) lets drivers open locked doors and start the car when carrying the card key, without getting the card out of their pocket. Parktronic ($1,015) warns of objects below the line of vision to ease parking maneuvers.
The Mercedes-Benz CL-Class coupes offer very sharp, precise handling on twisting mountain roads. The lack of body roll in corners is uncanny and inspires confidence. The active suspension system keeps the CL on an even keel. One driver said he wished his racecar handled as well.
Automatic Body Control system is an active, hydraulic suspension system that keeps the car level under acceleration, braking and cornering. Hydraulic cylinders at each corner support a conventional spring and damper, providing adjustments to ride height without intruding on the car's comfortable ride. Mercedes engineers say they could tune this system to lean into corners, but they thought drivers might find this stance unnerving.
Charging through the twisties, the antilock brakes, traction control, and electronic stability control systems all work unobtrusively. The brakes are powerful enough, and the tires grippy enough, that extremely heavy braking is possible without triggering the ABS. We found the brakes easy to modulate and fade free after a lengthy blast through the mountains. The front brakes are ventilated and drilled for better cooling. Brake Assist comes standard to help reduce stopping distances in panic-braking situations, while the ABS allows the driver to maintain steering control.
With the active suspension switched to normal mode, the CL's ride is downright plush, and handling is excellent. Switch to sport mode and the CL hones the edge on its handling, and ride suffers so little that no enthusiast is going to care. In sport mode there is less body roll and the car feels more responsive on turn-in. Side-to-side transitions in switchbacks are also better controlled in sport mode.
On Interstates, the CL cruises serenely. Top speed is electronically limited 155 mph, according to Mercedes.
The 2002 Mercedes-Benz CL600 is about 400 pounds lighter than the previous-generation (pre-2001) V12-powered coupe. Mercedes accomplished the diet by making the roof, hood, door panels and rear fenders from lightweight aluminum and using plastic for the trunk lid and front fenders. The V12-powered CL600 is about 200 pounds heavier than the V8-powered CL500 and CL55 models; and the CL600 does feel heavier than the CL500 when hustled along winding mountain roads. But while the difference is detectable, it is not intrusive, thanks to its excellent active suspension system.
CL600 accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in less than 6.0 seconds, which edges both the Jaguar XK8 and Aston Martin DB7. CL500 accelerates from 0-60 in 6.1 seconds, while the CL55 AMG performs this in just 5.7 seconds, according to Mercedes-Benz.
On the road, the CL500's aluminum 5.0-liter V8 is as smooth as you'd expect from a Mercedes and feels every bit as strong as its 302-horsepower rating. The V8 left us wondering why anyone would want the CL600's V12.
The answer: more power. The V12 leaves the V8 feeling sluggish by comparison. The CL500 is by no means slow, but the CL600's V12 makes the car feel even faster and even smoother, thanks to the perfect primary balance inherent in V12 (and inline six-cylinder) engines.
That means that when the CL600 switches off half its cylinders to save gas, the driver cannot tell, because when running on six cylinders, the CL600's V12 remains just as smooth. Mercedes-Benz's Active Cylinder Control system in its V12 is nothing like Cadillac's long-ago failed experiment with V-8-6-4, but it does switch off cylinders. When driving in the third, fourth or fifth gear below 3000 rpm and with the throttle only partly open, the cylinder-control system deactivates the driver's-side bank of cylinders. A computer adjusts ignition timing and throttle position to make the transition seamless. And it works: the driver cannot tell when there are six cylinders running. The benefit is a 20 percent improvement in fuel economy, which lets the CL600 match the CL500's EPA highway rating of 23 mpg.
Acceleration comes in a steady rush with no perce.
For the first time, the Mercedes-Benz CL-Class offers exterior styling to compete with the other exotic European models from Jaguar, Aston Martin and Porsche. And it does this in a uniquely Mercedes package of high technology, convenience, comfort and safety.
CL500 ($90,750); CL600 ($118,950); CL55 ($103,500).
Options As Tested
Parktronic ($1,015), tire pressure monitoring system ($615), electronic trunk closer ($460).
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