Join Date: Mar 2001
First Drive: 2007 Mercedes-Benz CL600 (edmunds.com)
First Drive: 2007 Mercedes-Benz CL600 (edmunds.com)
A stunning balance between luxury and performance
In our recent first drive of the new Mercedes-Benz CL550, Ed Hellwig wrote that the big coupe was "as good as any car on the road."
Ed lied. Well, maybe he didn't. Maybe he just hadn't yet driven the 2007 Mercedes-Benz CL600.
If the CL550 is as good as any other car on the road, then the more powerful, more opulently appointed CL600 is, what, gooder? Does that make the upcoming CL63 AMG perhaps the goodest of the lot? It really doesn't matter; they're all a joy to drive. But as always, more money buys more power and extra layers of comfort, safety and performance, and we'd rather be among the fortunate few who can choose the V12-powered CL600. Pricing hasn't been announced but will be close to the $129,000 asking price of the outgoing CL600.
That's about a $30,000 premium over the CL550, but the rewards are many, including four more cylinders, 128 more horsepower and 221 additional pound-feet of torque. Mercedes also says the CL600 is about a second quicker from zero to 60 mph. But it's the CL's abundance of standard-issue electronic aids to comfort and safety that magnify its aura of exclusivity and place it at the leading edge of the race to be the world's best passenger car.
Safety can be fascinating
Mercedes doesn't do irrelevant gewgaws for gadget freaks. Instead the CL600's endless technology is useful and fascinating, particularly as it has been applied to safety. A cool example is Nightview Assist, an active night-vision system that translates reflections from two infrared beams into a grayscale image on the dash panel's 8-inch high-res screen, increasing forward visibility to more than 600 feet, about the same range as high beams but without dazzling oncoming traffic.
Another impressive CL600 offering is the new version of Mercedes' radar-based Distronic adaptive cruise control. It plays a big part in safety by reducing the chance of having the most common of accidents, rear-ending the car ahead. Now called "Distronic Plus," it measures closing distances, beeps a warning if it senses an unsafe ratio of speed to distance and alerts Brake Assist Plus to prepare brake pressures for optimum deployment. Here's the breakthrough part: If the driver fails to respond, the system automatically applies up to 40 percent of the braking power, a clear warning that something's happening. If the driver's reaction is to hit the brakes, the system follows up and applies all available clamping force.
All the better to see you with
To keep from being rear-ended, the CL600 has also been equipped with the industry's first adaptive brake lights, which flash rapidly during emergency braking to more quickly alert traffic to your slowing pace. The system also turns on the emergency flashers if the vehicle comes to a halt, shutting them off when the car accelerates beyond 6 mph.
Radar also is at the heart of the nifty new electronically assisted parking system, Park Assist, which, with the aid of sensors in the front and rear bumpers, can measure whether a suitable parking space is available while driving past at speeds up to 25 mph. Once a space is found, a blue parking symbol illuminates in the dash. Then, after the car is stopped and put in reverse, the central display screen shows a symbolic bird's-eye view of the situation with colored lines to guide the driver into place.
All CLs also benefit from an improved Intelligent Light System. It incorporates a new "country road mode" to illuminate the driver-side road edge more widely and brightly; a "motorway mode" to increase forward vision by up to 60 percent by adjusting upward the beam of the driver-side xenon module and increasing the wattage through the bi-xenon headlamps; enhanced foglamps that also pivot on the driver side for wider illumination; an active headlamp function that swivels both high and low beams sideways by up to 15 degrees; and a cornering function for road junctions that lights up the side areas ahead of the car.
Inside the CL600, you sit in heated and ventilated active multicontour front seats covered in "exclusive premium" leather. (It's a little smoother than the CL550's "premium" leather.) An Alcantara roof liner is also standard and poplar wood trim brings a modern, airy richness to the beautifully restyled interior. An electronic trunk closer makes life a little easier.
If we've spent the bulk of our first review of the CL600 on safety, it's only because this is a blisteringly fast machine. The big V12 makes so much torque that Mercedes' newer seven-speed automatic transmission can't handle it, so its 612 pound-feet of grunt is spread to the rear wheels through the older but stronger five-speed automatic. It, too, had to be beefed up even more in this application, with stronger planetary gears.
Having only five forward gears is hardly a step down, however, as the transmission still offers the same adaptive shift logic, Touch Shift gear selection, Direct Select (P-N-R-D lever on the steering column), and comfort and sport modes as the seven-speed gearbox.
The CL600's massive torque makes acceleration so effortless that vigilant monitoring of the speedometer is needed to avoid unsociable, license-threatening speeds. The 12-cylinder also makes 510 hp thanks to twin-turbos, 36 valves and a performance-tuned exhaust. We made animal sounds the first time we took the 5.5-liter engine up to its 8300-rpm redline.
Even with its many electronic handling aids, peerless ABC suspension and big brakes, the unwary driver can get into deep trouble very quickly. The additional margins of security are an integral component of the coupe's claim to providing the ultimate in luxury, which to us is the freedom from harm.
This is the phenomenon that gets to the heart of the powerful coupe's appeal: Its luxury-to-performance ratio is perfect. Whether we were flogging the CL600 over narrow mountain roads or coasting along the freeway, it was solid and reassuring, with plenty of engine power and road grip in reserve.
A production car with a bespoke aura
And the new CL looks as good as it drives. We first saw it sitting in a room at the Mercedes museum in Stuttgart. Asked our opinion, we responded as we do to any static display: Wait until we see it on the road. We've now done so, and we can say that it's a stunning automobile and a huge step away from the stolid conservatism of the outgoing CL.
It has sloughed off its former aloof grandeur and replaced it with a sensuous, powerful presence that has us guessing that the Mercedes design team was holed up in an Italian villa during the design process. As finely woven and crisply creased as a bespoke suit from the finest Milanese tailor, the CL600 is a gorgeous compendium of everything Mercedes-Benz knows how to do with a passenger car. Bravissimo!
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.