Mercedes-Benz CL550 – Review: For many people, finding extra money to take care of all those things after the rent and car payment have been paid can be difficult. The solution is simple: Buy a $116,525 Mercedes-Benz CL550.
Well, sort of. While driving our 2007 CL550 tester for an ever-too-brief week throughout Southern California, eyes were peeled and necks craned to get a view of this new German coupe, one that is surprisingly still rare in the land of the financially fortunate and credit dependent. Among the gazers was one cool dude, cruising shotgun in his girl’s ride, who made a point of crossing multiple lanes to offer this up at the next red light: “Man, that’s a sweet ride. Anytime you need it washed, let me know – no charge.” The average detail shop charges about $25, and with two visits per monthly, that adds up to about $600 per year. Call it saving money the Mercedes way.
Maybe dropping six digits at a Mercedes-Benz dealership isn’t the ticket to personal financial freedom. It does, however, buy one of the sexiest luxury coupes currently on the market, one with equal parts refinement and performance. With the understanding that the CL550 is born of the GT (Grand Tourer) ilk and not that of a thoroughbred sports car, all expectations will be aptly met.
What We Drove
Not surprisingly, one of the hottest Mercedes models to ever grace North American streets does not come cheap. At $116,525, our 2007 CL550 test car had us running the morning commute like wannabe execs rather than the TJ Maxx-shopping scribes we live as in the realm of reality. If not for the Timex watches and Shelby Cobra t-shirts, we just might’ve pulled it off. Regardless of appearances, we felt like kings thanks to this particular CL550’s heated steering wheel ($450); Premium II Package with a dash-mounted rearview camera, cooled front seats, night vision system, and keyless ignition ($5,650); Distronic Plus intelligent cruise control ($2,850); and the AMG Sport-Package, which added on 19-inch five-spoke alloy wheels and aggressive lower body work ($5,600). Tally in a $775 destination charge, not to mention $1,300 for the gas guzzler tax, and our tester came in a cool $16,625 above the $99,900 base price. Oh, to be faced with the choice between a few options on a new Mercedes coupe or, maybe, a brand new Scion or Hyundai.
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With a 382-horsepower 5.5-liter V-8 under the hood, Mercedes reports that the 2007 CL550 hits 60 mph in 5.4 seconds. That’s an impressive number, especially when one considers the coupe’s 4,500-lb. curb weight.
As if that isn’t enough, the CL550 delivers its seamless power with exceptional ease. Those expecting a brutal launch upon dumping the go pedal will be disappointed; those seeking smooth acceleration that just keeps rolling on and on and on (and on) will be overwhelmingly satisfied. Quite simply, the CL550 is too sophisticated for neck-jerking, tire-spinning starts, being more appropriately served by its understated muscle. Refinement is the rule of the road here, evidenced by the powertrain’s silky feel at all speeds and revs. Throttle response is dead-on and the seven-speed transmission wouldn’t dream of any abrupt shifts.
After a week of admittedly spirited driving and utilizing the sport mode’s quicker shifts, the CL550’s 17.9-mpg average fuel economy rating was higher than we’d expected. With that, it would seem that all was rosy with the CL550. Guess again. That seven-speed transmission? It may be super smooth, but it’s not exactly user-friendly. First, paddle shifters are provided, but they’re on the steering wheel and, thus, not always readily available for drivers who shuffle steer. Put larger paddles behind the steering wheel and everyone would be equally served. Second, there’s a stubby gear lever stalk sprouting from the steering column, eliminating the possibility of an engaging manual-shift lever on the center console. Third, a small digital readout next to the speedometer is all that reports what’s going on with the transmission, making it very difficult to ascertain what gear you’re in when heading into a corner. And finally, the paddle shifters are extremely slow to react. It’s almost as though a tap of the paddles registers only as a suggestion, with the CL550’s “brain” deciding to shift when it’s damn well ready. Respecting a vehicle’s capabilities is fine, but shouldn’t that respect be reciprocal?
Shoppers considering the CL550, especially folks who might find themselves alone with their new ride on the occasional twisty back road, would be wise to request an extended test drive. Think of it as building a relationship with the car, taking the time to determine what it will and won’t do, at least willingly.
From the onset, drivers will find overboosted steering with a vague feel on-center, a sensation that, unfortunately, doesn’t disappear as speeds quickly climb into the triple digits. Somewhat floaty steering at 120 mph is not a selling point. Clicking between sport and comfort modes offers indistinguishable changes.
At first glance, the CL550’s underpinning would appear to be outmatched by the powertrain’s potential, yet that perception changes with a bit more seat time. After encountering several twisty turns and gradual sweepers, we were able to increase our speeds dramatically and with confidence, thanks in part to a blossoming appreciation for the 19-inch Continental SportCompact tires’ ability to hang tight. Understeer was evident but well controlled, there was only a hint of body roll, the brakes were outstanding, and electronic stability control prevented the tail from wagging. Fact is, after a day’s driving, the CL550 can be considered a capable handler, though without more communicative steering, it will remain short of sporty.
Then again, assuming the majority of CL550s sold will spend lives on city streets and highways, debating the car’s sportiness may be pointless. Instead, shoppers may be focused on refined ride and the light steering that makes for effortless parking. What a shame.
Lacking a B-pillar, the CL would seem like the logical home of outstanding side visibility, yet the large front head restraints fill the poor visibility void and make for less than stellar over-the-shoulder viewing. Small exterior rearview mirrors, a fault we’re starting to see across the board in German vehicles, also fall on the wrong side of the visibility fence. In contrast, the CL’s A- and C-pillars are narrow and thus do their part to promote clear outward visibility.
Fun to Drive
Hell, yeah, the CL550 is fun to drive, just like it’s fun to look at, fun to sit in, fun to listen to, and fun to pass off as your own (if, like us, you’re limited to borrowing one). So it may not offer all the testosterone of the mightier CL600 and upcoming CL65 AMG models – we’d argue that 382 horsepower and 391 lb.-ft. of torque will get the job done with power to spare. That being said, the CL550 would benefit from added steering feel, larger and more useful exterior mirrors, and a sport/comfort mode offering at least a hint of differentiation. A manual shift feature that wasn’t so damn arrogant wouldn’t hurt, either.