ASSOCIATE EDITOR JONATHAN WONG: Here’s a top-notch two-door cruiser. For shuffling around town in comfort and style, the CL is a great option. The interior is nicely done with soft leathers, comfortable seats and it features a healthy dose of technology. The blue ambient lighting at night is also a slick touch. And the CL is big enough to offer a backseat that’s suitable to hold a couple of average-size adults.
Ride quality is smooth, with the suspension doing its job soaking up any road imperfections. Steering is heavy and slightly slow to respond to inputs, but that’s OK for this big cruiser. The V8, when running the 4Matic AWD system, is just decent in the power department. However, in typical Mercedes fashion, this is a smooth drivetrain with the seven-speed automatic.
What you probably don’t want to do is attack expressway entrance ramps and corners with much gusto. This is a heavy buck and the soft suspension will have you leaning a lot, and there isn’t much side bolster to hold you in place when pushing it. There is still sufficient grip, though. Its natural habitat is shooting down the highway at 80 mph or cruising down boulevards.
Of course, if you really like the looks of the CL and want some more performance attributes, you have the CL63 AMG and CL65 AMG that should suit your needs. If I were shopping this market, I would have to tip my hat to the BMW 6-series for its more athletic performance traits, and I like the looks better.
EDITOR WES RAYNAL: I would have to have a lot of disposable income before I considered adding one of these to my fleet. It’s a nice-enough car, but in coupe form it is impractical–why wouldn’t I just get an S-class?
The cabin is tasteful and nicely assembled with beautiful leathers. Driving the car is fun, considering the weight. The V8 is fast and ultrarefined. I swear I can’t tell when the transmission is shifting without watching the tach. It’s like butter.
Though it weighs a lot and feels like it weighs a lot, the body remains respectable in corners in terms of body roll, and this suspension soaks up potholes like nobody’s business. Not quite agile, but a lovely cruiser.
Having said all that, I’d still just go for the S-class or a BMW 7-series or an Audi A8.
SENIOR EDITOR FOR NEWS BOB GRITZINGER: Like Raynal, and like I suggested when driving the E550 coupe recently, I’d likely opt for the more practical sedan version, in this case a full-zoot S-class. But given the sensuous lines of this coupe, and its reasonably accommodating rear seats (my teenager scrambled in and out several times without complaint), I can see where a luxury buyer looking for the best might opt for this beauty. I really think Mercedes has one-upped all the competition in the styling department, and this CL is another perfect example. I think that applies outside and inside, Audi or not.
Another huge plus for the Mercedes over any competitor is the brand’s absolutely unbelievably good Distronic Plus active-cruise-control system. I’ve gushed about this before, but this time around I let Distronic do most of the work on my daily 60-mile roundtrip commute, and I couldn’t be more impressed. Whether keeping a reasonably tight gap in commuter traffic, or “creeping” with stop-and-go traffic, or smooth slowing down and speeding up with traffic flow, the system is amazing and it takes all the pain out of the commute.
Yes, I know the purists in the crowd will decry my Distronic love as one more step toward taking the joy of driving away from us all, but let’s be realistic. First of all, it will be years before cars are capable of completely driving themselves, and second, who ever said commuting was somehow the joyful part of driving? I’d rather have a dependable, safe system like this to help with the drudgery, knowing that I’m a touch of a sport button, a click of a paddle shifter and a patch of open road away from real driving enjoyment.
2010 Mercedes-Benz CL550 4Matic
Base Price: $112,575
As-Tested Price: $116,700
Drivetrain: 5.5-liter V8; AWD, seven-speed automatic
Output: 382 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 391 lb-ft @ 2,800-4,800 rpm
Curb Weight: 4,634 lb
Fuel Economy (EPA) : 16 mpg
Options: Distronic plus package including adaptive cruise control, parking guidance, blind-spot assist ($2,850); heated steering wheel ($480)