Luxist Drives the Mercedes CL550, Just in Time for Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
We love the Mercedes CL-Class. Those are the big coupes, the ones you might not have noticed at all until one happened to catch your eye, after which you asked yourself "Is Mr. Big in town?" They've been out for ABOUT 15 years now but they don't get an awful lot of attention - like the B2 bomber, they are large objects impressively impervious to radar.
In 2007 the second generation CL was cashed out like a million shares of Allianz and the current, third generation CL was christened. A completely new car, it intends to be equal to that initial investment and pay a fat profit. Wouldn't you know that fat profits aren't the only thing you can associate with this car: it has so much fat-cat ambiance to it that after a week behind the wheel of a 2010 CL550 we kept wondering, "What else can we buy? Does anyone now if Ecuador is for sale?"
Let's be clear on this, though: the CL is a big coupe, nothing less, nothing more. That is an important point, because it means there isn't really anything else like it. Do you remember the mathematical argument that a square is a rectangle but a rectangle is not a square? A survey of the CL's segment – if it even has one – reveals, no offense, a number of squares but not really any rectangles.
The CL550 starts at $110,550. In that bracket, you've got the Maserati Gran Turismo at $117,500 and... that's about it. All right, there's the BMW M6 at $102,350, but that is planted more at the distal end of a high-zoot sports car segment anchored firmly at the Porsche 911. We should probably place the Maserati there as well since its sporting intentions are evoked, and quite obviously at that, by its very name. Maserati promotes its GT as a sports car and sells a higher trim called the Gran Turismo Sport. The CL550 comes in four trims, none of them denoting sportiness, all of them denoting engine size: 550 (big engine), 600 (huge engine), CL63 AMG (ICBM engine), and CL65 AMG (The Space Shuttle).
Say we climb to the top of the CL money tower, where lurks the CL65 AMG at $207,170. You passed the Bentley GT about $30,000 ago, the Aston Martin DB9 about $20,000 ago, and you're $4,000 beyond a Bentley GT Speed. It could be argued that those cars are more prettier than the Mercedes, and as far as brand cachet goes it could be argued they surpass the Mercedes. However, the Aston is a little coupe you can drive hard, the Bentley is a big coupe you can drive hard. Circle back around to that brand argument and it could be argued that the Aston is for wealthy playboys and the Bentley is for wealthy boys who play. For all of those reasons, then, they are not the Mercedes CL.
Because the Mercedes CL is a big coupe. Nothing less, nothing more.
For a comparable reference to this car you need to go all the way to – ready for it? – coupes such as the Bentley Brooklands and Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupe. Don't be distracted by the brand and price comparisons. You can do sporting things in them, and they are sporty for what they are, but they aren't about the sports. And no other premium cars embody this philosophy: "We took our flagship sedan and redacted two doors."
These are cars for Shere Khan types in search of the gravitas of a colossal 4-door who don't need the extra ingress. They don't want to do top-speed runs – they have track-day cars for that. They aren't looking looking to tear up canyon esses – they have Porsches for that. They aren't trying to attract attention – they have mistresses for that. The point is having the same measure of stately as the grandaddy sedan, and with loss of those two doors, an accrual of aggression.
If there's anything we're not totally and completely taken with, it's the styling up front - and that's only on two of the four models: the 550 and 600. Yes, you can check the boxes next to girth, width, poise, and stolidity, and that's for all of them. But in front, the two non-AMG models strike us as, well, soft. Something about that long, bowed bumper line that curls up under the car like a lower lip... It's not unattractive, we only wish for more. And the AMG models give us that and then some, with their reworked fascias and wraparound ground effects treatments. The additional aesthetic weight below the bumperline gives the CL a larger visual footprint, making it appear more planted, more aggressive, more deadly.
No matter which CL you choose, though, once you step inside you might refer to yourself as Dr. Who - the interior is ginormous, twice as big as a tardis. We shouldn't be surprised since, as far as the front passengers are concerned, you're sitting in an S-Class sedan, not a coupe. Nor would we be surprised to find out Mercedes runs a massive joint in the wilds of West Texas called The CL Ranch – there is a lot of cow in this car. Those 14-way Dynamic Contour seats, big enough for a captain to aspire to, are grippy enough not to let you wallow, and when you want a snugger hug you can inflate the pneumatic chambers inside the seat for a mitt-like embrace. If you have three grown-up company, sure, they might prefer the front seats – who wouldn't – but they won't complain about the back.
The chrome buttons on the wood accent are large and intuitive, and the center stack is delightfully bereft of controls. A few years ago this space was filled with buttons, now all that remains is a row of fluted HVAC toggles, a panel covering the CD player, and a few buttons just ahead of the armrest to help navigate the menus on the 8-inch COMAND screen at the top of the console. Simple, and très elegant.
The CL has all the safety and luxury features you'd expect: Harmon-Kardon system, integrated Bluetooth, HD radio, four-gigabytes of media storage, whole-word voice recognition, USB and SD card sockets, Zagat hotel, golf and restaurant rating information, multi-color ambient lighting in three hues, Pre-Safe which prepares the car in case of an impending accident, Distronic Plus which can drive the car in stop-and-go traffic, Park Assist that can tell you if a spot is big enough (this comes in really handy), Blind Spot Assist to let you know when not to change lanes, and 4MATIC all-wheel-drive.
When it comes to driving, it is quiet - not so much as a Rolls-Royce, but more so than a library. It is smooth - the immense potholes that New York City seems to specialize in will be mildly registered in the cabin, but it would take an M1 Abrams not to notice those, and besides, even in your Gulfstream G650 you'll encounter occasional turbulence. It is quick - nearly as quick as the aforementioned Maserati, Aston DB9, Rolls-Royce and Bentley Brooklands. (By the time you get to the CL65 AMG you've left them all behind, including the Bentley GT Speed - in a straight line, at least.)
If you're doing the urban thing the controls are relaxed, not dead. Direct Steer is a mechanical system that keeps the steering responsive and low-effort at center and low speeds. At higher speeds the steering loads up to keeps you in touch with the front wheels and the front of the car.
The 5.5-liter V8 has 382 horsepower and 391 lb.-ft. of torque. Might not sound like much for a 16.5-foot-long, 4,643-pound car, but the CL gets from 0-to-60 in 5.4 seconds. Better responses come when playing around on twisty roads, with the seven-speed transmission busy keeping things in the rev sweet spots, the all-wheel-drive busy singing "I like to move it move it," and the ABC active suspension busy keeping things level and composed. You will not worry about having fun in this car.
Nevertheless, that's not what it's for - that's only another reason for us to love it. What we are still most taken with is the fact that the CL makes no demands, has nothing to prove, nowhere to be. It doesn't try to show off. It barely gets any attention in the same way that - until recently - Goldman Sachs didn't get any attention: a locus of money and power thoroughly unconcerned about the public eye. "Greed is good" might not be the thing anymore, but it is true that money never sleeps, and occasionally it needs to go places...