Historically in America, large coupes haven’t enjoyed the same allure associated with them as they have in Europe. Americans tend to gravitate towards large, plush sedans
or performance-biased imports within the high-end segment, but with the reintroduction of the BMW 6-Series
, the reworked Jaguar XK
and the continued success of Aston Martin, there has been somewhat of a large coupe
(or grand touring car, as they are also known) revival in recent years. Good thing too, because no luxury car buyer should go without at least testing overly-luxurious, all-weather capabilities of the 2009 Mercedes-Benz CL550 4-Matic
, a car crammed with enough technology to impress a stealth fighter pilot. Purists might be scared away by its chunky dimensions – and rightfully so – but somehow Mercedes has circumvented the laws of physics and created a GT that delivers an engaging drive when pushed hard. Without a doubt, when it comes to making rapid progress in pure, decadent comfort, it doesn’t get much better than from within the cavernous interior of this most massive of coupes. Mash the gas and say, "ahhhh."
What's to Like
The CL is a machine of elegance and everything, from the fantastic multi-function LCD instrument panel to the climate control buttons, has an aura of quality and sophistication about it. 4-Matic all-wheel drive makes the CL a competent year-rounder regardless of where you live, while V-8 power moves it with surprising ease.
What's Not to Like
For the same price you could have a C63 AMG
for the summer, a Subaru WRX STI
for the winter and still have some pocket change left over for an African safari, Antarctic cruise or whatever it is rich people do for fun. We don’t know exactly, but it’s expensive.
DriverSide Driving Impressions
Upon first sight, the CL brings a few words to mind – massive, heavy, wide, unwieldy and cumbersome to name a few. Yet somehow, the CL doesn’t drive as such. The steering is light and direct, though feedback is understandably slightly vague given the amount of electronic assistance between the driver and the wheels. Weighing in at 4,639 lbs, the CL550 uses its modest-for-the-size 382 hp to manage a startlingly quick sprint to 60 mph in just 5.3 seconds. On narrow roads, the CL still feels wide, but handles nimbly, its mass only manifesting itself through faster corners where it may require a secondary steering input to keep the car on line. The 4-Matic system moves power between all four wheels as needed, helping to keep the big CL in proper shape, especially on slippery, low-grip surfaces.
Engine and Drivetrain
The CL550 is powered by Mercedes-Benz’s 5.5-liter V-8, which develops 382 hp and 391 lb-ft of torque from at a relatively low 2800 rpm. The V-8 is vocal under power, especially with the windows down, but fits the CL’s advanced and sophisticated demeanor well. Power is driven through all four wheels via a seven-speed automatic, which can be shifted manually using the paddle shifters.
Interesting Vehicle Features and Options
The CL is a veritable minefield of amazing features and everything from the LCD gauge cluster to the 11-speaker 600-watt Harmon/Kardon sound system impresses. With Keyless Go, unlocking and starting the CL is as simple as pulling on the door handle, stepping on the brake and pressing the Engine Start/Stop button. Optional Distronic Plus Adaptive Cruise Control uses radar to automatically slow and accelerate the CL during highway cruisng. Finding a comfortable seating position in the CL is a not a question of if, but when, as the seats are 14-way adjustable with bolsters that can be tailored your individual proportions. If that’s not enough, the seats also feature both heating and cooling functions.
Key Technology Evaluation
Centrally situated on the dashboard is the navigation
screen, which also doubles as the COMAND System interface, and controls a host of functions from audio to Bluetooth phone integration via a simple wheel and clicker interface similar to BMW’s iDrive controller. Parktronic parking assist uses sound waves to both visually and audibly warn drivers when they are too close to objects either in front of or behind them.
Green Evaluation/Gas Mileage
With the lowest output engine available in the model range being a 5.5-liter V-8, we didn’t expect very impressive fuel economy – then again, when buying a car this expensive, fuel economy probably resides under the column labeled “inconsequential.” That said, the CL550 returns a rather dismal 14 mpg in city driving, with that figure improving significantly on the highway at 21 mpg, thanks in part to the 7-speed gearbox.
A Closer Look: Vehicle Details
The CL’s interior is dominated by a large center console which stylishly incorporates all of the climate control buttons into one horizontal row. The LCD gauges and navigation screen are tucked into the dash, while there is a notable absence of a gear selector, as that is done from the steering column via a small, elegant selector stalk. The entire interior is garnished in elegant leather and the showcases a burl walnut wood trim.
For 2009, Mercedes-Benz is attempting to unify their coupe family by similarly styling the models with “wide, louvered radiator grills,” and “striking headlamps extending well into the front wings.” Overall, the CL550 4-Matic maintains a sleek, sophisticated GT stance, with a few stylistic cues such as twin tailpipes and 18-inch wheels hinting it has a playful side as well.
Market Segment and Pricing
The Mercedes-Benz CL550 4-Matic is on offer at a slightly nauseating $105,425 and goes up against a tough crowd, with direct competition from the Aston Martin V8 Vantage
, BMW M6
and Maserati GranTurismo
. While the competition may be sportier, you’d be hard-pressed to claim they’re equally refined.
What We Think
The CL550 4-Matic is a marvel of modern automotive engineering, refinement and sophistication. 4-Matic all-wheel drive only makes this large coupe more capable and desirable. Sure, it might give you the impression it’s somewhat of a “two-door S-Class,” but then again, is that a bad thing?