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(CL)oser To Perfection

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On: Mon, Jan 3, 2011 at 11:16AM | By: Lou Ruggieri


(CL)oser To Perfection

When the Mercedes CL-class first officially bowed back in 1998, it did so with a less than impressive splash into the market, and seemed to be an anomaly between Mercedes’ own S-class, E-Class, and even SL-Class models. It seemed to possess features of each of its brethren, yet nothing distinctive of its own. It seemed as if it could have been just one more luxury model for affluent buyers to try on in Mercedes showrooms, and to an extent … it was. Except that quite a few of those high-priced Allen Edmond-clad tire-kickers actually laid down the cash necessary to drive off in a new CL. Slowly but surely, the CL’s sales have quietly done very well for Mercedes, enough so to garner a second, third, and now most recently, fourth generation of the big coupe. 

Mercedes gets credit for being one of the first companies to develop a ‘corporate face’, that is, using a very similar set-up of headlights and grille to make sure that no matter what model you see in your rear view mirror, you can identify it immediately (Acura, Audi, and most recently BMW have adopted a similar motif). Since the overall face of Mercedes is changing, the CL is no exception starting with an updated grille, bumper, and headlights (a new bumper and tail lights complete the update out back). The hood is new and shows off its new larger grille.

Taking a page out of the Bimmer Book of Engines, Mercedes is switching from naturally aspirated, big displacement to more compact, forced induction motors exchanging the NA 5.5 liter V8 for a new direct-injection 4.6 liter twin-turbo V8 dropping 429 horsepower and a stump-pulling 516 lb-ft of torque. Make no mistake, direct-injection engines are the future of all gasoline engines. They produce better numbers with much better efficiency and the CL’s 4.6 liter V8 is no exception, making 47 more horsepower and 125 lb-ft of torque more than its predecessor, all while reducing emissions by 23% and improving fuel economy by 10-15% over the previous CL550’s EPA estimated 15/22 mpg.  

Oh, and that 400/500 combo of power numbers is for the base model. The big dog AMG CL63 gets a direct-injection of what could be steroids judging by the numbers. Again, the big 6.3 liter block is out in exchange for a new, yet familiar-sounding 5.5 liter twin-turbo that drops an almighty 536 horsepower and 590 lb-ft of torque. And at the risk of sounding incredibly ridiculous, Mercedes offers a “performance package,” as if to insinuate the previous 500/500 numbers could somehow be interpreted as less than impressive. What should be termed the “John Force” package because of the Top Fuel Dragster-esq 563 horsepower and 664 lb-ft of torque you can have under your right foot. Unfortunately, due to increasing crash regulations, the subsequent increasing weight makes it a little harder to truly appreciate how much power you are really in control of behind the wheel of the new CL. Standard all-wheel drive adds some additional heft as well, and with a curb weight of 4619 pounds, the CL550’s and AMG CL63’s performance numbers are by no means disappointing, but they obviously would more impressive with a lighter car. 0-60 in the base CL550 comes up in a C5 Corvette challenging 4.8 seconds and the AMG gets to 60 mph in a C6 Corvette challenging 4.4 seconds, which will certainly surprise a few cocky drivers who make the mistake of thinking the big Merc next to them at the light is a heifer.

Suspension is plush, but supportive through the corners, and expect an improved skidpad number over the previous model’s 0.90g (0.92g) with stability control on. Handling isn’t just about shocks and springs anymore, especially on luxury cars. Computer assistants show up to make sure their high-net-worth clients keep focused and in-between the lines. “Features” like ABS and Traction control are barely worth mentioning anymore, especially to the average luxury buyer. It’s like telling him or her that their new $1.2 million mansion has central air conditioning and a front door. They want to hear about the newest gizmos and gadgets their car has that their peers will be wowed over. Active body control helps correct the less talented drivers over rough roads and sharp corners Active lane-keeping alerts the driver he or she is drifting out of their chosen lane via a vibration sent through the steering wheel much akin to rolling over a rumble strip. Active blind-spot assist is another fun toy, or a controlling nuisance depending on how you look at it is the Active blind-spot assist, which will not allow the driver to change lanes if it detects a car in the driver’s blind spot.

All in all, there is very little left to be desired that the 2011 CL doesn’t have. Go on down to your local Mercedes dealership and see for yourself. This wonderful specimen is on sale now. Safety, comfort, speed, and elegance in spades are all readily available at your fingertips and toes. Other than perhaps asking it to lose a little weight, there is nothing wrong with this car at all. That is of course, presuming you can afford the CL550’s base price of $114,025 or the CL63’s asking price of $151,125. Otherwise, that might be the only real flaw in this near-perfect luxury car.


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