Reviews

2011 Mercedes-Benz CL-Class Walk Around

There are high expectations for cars in the rarefied league of the Mercedes-Benz CL-Class, which includes Aston Martin, Bentley Continental GT, Maserati Gran Turismo, and maybe the BMW 6 Series. Ultra-luxury coupes are a statement of style and panache, capability and quality, and they ought to look as expensive as they are. Mercedes has been making range-topping coupes for many years, and it knows the game. The CL-Class's styling does not disappoint.

From nose to tail, the CL-Class is something out of the ordinary. Seen from the front, it's instantly identifiable as a Mercedes-Benz from its newly revised twin-bar grille and lighting. The famous three-point star emblem is front and center and as large as a dinner plate, just to be sure you don't mistake the CL-Class for any other brand. As if you could.

At 200 inches long, this is a large car. Its size gives it presence and the proportions are spot-on. It has substantial mass too, though the front fenders, hood and door skins are aluminum and the trunk-lid is composite. Surprisingly, the AMG performance models are ever-so-slightly taller.

The front end stretches wide and sweeps back into a pair of prominent flared front wheel openings, a design element derived from the S-Class sedans with which the CL-Class shares its underpinnings. Its 73.7-inch width makes it look solidly planted and substantial. There's moderate chrome up front in typical Mercedes understatement. But it's still a knockout first impression. LED running and signal lights, and hidden radar and parking sensors add the final bit of modernity to the nose.

It's the sweep of the roof that makes the CL-Class's compelling style statement. The top arcs dramatically over the side glass and down into the C-pillar without the interruption of a B-pillar, the central support post most cars have between front and rear side windows. The roofline is sleek. And this is a true hardtop; you can drop the large side windows down for a panoramic view and an open-air feeling. Handsomely wrought chrome trim framing the large side-window opening emphasizes both its shape and the absence of the second pillar. In profile, the CL-Class is gorgeous and sporty. The flank's arches framing the rear wheels appear slightly large on the all-wheel drive CL550 because it does not have the wider-rear-than-front tire sizing of rear-drive CL-Class cars.

Even as it drives away, the CL-Class keeps your attention. The rear window's horseshoe-like shape is especially intriguing, like a canopy pulled taut over a frame and not seen anywhere else in the automotive kingdom. Below the rear window the tail tapers gracefully into a pair of large taillights and a taut trunk lid wearing a subtle built-in rear spoiler at its top edge. Sedans don't look like this, and that's just the point.

Outside of the model badges and wheels, the CL550 4MATIC and CL600 models are essentially identical from the outside.

The AMG models can be identified by distinctive grilles, wherein the Mercedes star is supported by a single chrome bar over black mesh, and by their more muscular-looking front bumper with larger air intakes. Contoured side skirts carry the aggressive lines of the front bumper to the rear, where four oval exhaust outlets punctuate the air diffuser set into the unique rear apron. Both roll on 20-inch, five-spoke alloy wheels, but with a slimmer-looking forged twin-spoke design standard on the CL65 AMG.

Interior

Pulling open the door is the moment of truth in an ultra-luxury coupe. Buyers in this class are expecting sumptuousness, high-end materials and sophisticated design that convey the promise of being coddled. Everyone who looked inside our test cars uttered an involuntary sigh of approval. It's beautifully designed, richly appointed and finished with a fanatical attention to detail. And the sheer number of luxury features is almost overwhelming, another sign that big sticker price delivers something extraordinary.

Ensconced in the driver's seat, you immediately register the raked-back windshield and low roofline pressing down from above; it's a narrow viewing port by sedan standards but outward visibility is superior to most Grand Tourers and 2+2s. The CL-Class is just 2.2 inches lower than an S-Class sedan, but it feels much more personal than that.

The surroundings are a sybarite's delight. There's almost nowhere your hand falls that you're not touching glove-soft leather, polished woodwork, brushed aluminum or chrome. The instrument panel cover is stitched in leather, as are the door panels and seats, buckets front and rear. The steering wheel is silky leather or wood with leather grips at the nine and three o'clock positions. It houses buttons in front for the phone and COMAND system, and switches behind the top spokes for manually shifting the transmission (aluminum on AMG models).

The exterior's curvilinear theme is repeated in the interior. The center console curves gently into the dashboard, and the interior front door panels arc outward subtly at the elbow area, the shape accented by delicate chrome accent strips. The door armrests are an artful combination of wood stacked with leather covered padding. At night, soft ambient, adjustable light glows from tiny hidden light strips in the doors' upper sections and across the middle of the dash. Only the plastic-looking speaker covers at the window line and the arcing ridge on the console where your arm rests leave room for improvement.

The wood trimmed center stack contains a thin row of easy-to-operate brushed aluminum climate control switches, a hidden compartment for the CD changer and a pair of vents flanking a square analog clock that looks like it could double as Patek Phillipe wristwatch; on AMG models it is an IWC Ingenieur timepiece.

Living in this car is every bit as satisfying as looking at it. The center console is home to a push-and-slide-and-turn mouse-type knob that is the main interface to the COMAND system and its thin-film transistor (TFT) display. The screen is housed in a hooded binnacle to the right of the driver's gauges, some of which are also TFT technology, and the display brightness is independent of the primary instrument panel.

For cars equipped with the optional night vision system, the large speedometer in front of the driver transitions to a second viewing screen when the system is activated in darkness. Several other buttons arrayed around the mouse control transmission operation modes, the sound system, rear shade and a short-cut to the dynamic seat adjustments. Suspension adjustment switches are between the gauges and TFT screen.

Between the steering wheel buttons and mouse, you're afforded several paths of access to the multiple layers of the CL-Class's navigation, seating, climate control and sound systems. You can set your preferences for everything from radio stations to auxiliary lighting. You can program the voice control to recognize your particular intonations. You can input travel information and requests. And you can access, activate or cancel dozens of other systems, including radar distance sensing, daytime running lamps, tire pressure monitoring, and much, much more.

At times we wished it were easier to access some of the systems through COMAND; it took several steps where one touch of a conventional button would have worked more directly. It's a bit easier to learn than BMW's system but there is a learning curve. We found using the COMAND system while underway mildly distracting, but once set it up your use will be limited because much of your requests can be done with steering wheel buttons (with the info appearing inside the speedometer directly ahead) or by voice.

The harman/kardon audio system delivers 600-watt performance through its 11 speakers and sounds superb.

The navigation system works well, with an easy-to-read rolling map and good graphics. With the optional Splitview, the passenger can watch a DVD with audio on headphones while the driver views a map or car data, all full-size on the central screen.

Front-seat comfort is beyond reproach. The front cabin offers all the legroom, width and headroom anyone but an NBA forward could need. The power front seats are wonderful; the width and pocketing of the cushions provide just the right amount of support to the back and under the thighs, and, with the full range of adjustments available, almost anyone can get comfortable. Even the length of the front-seat lower cushions has considerable adjustable for just the right amount of thigh support. Most CL-Class are equipped with the optional active ventilated seats, which contain several small fans to circulate cool or warmed air through the perforated leather seat covering. Pneumatic bladders built into the seats can be programmed to adjust the firmness of upper and lower side bolsters, back rest, and shoulder area, as well as lumbar support firmness and location. The seats also offer a massage feature; it's quite nice, actually, and virtually eliminates fatigue. We preferred the fast and vigorous setting; imagine a soft rolling pin making its way from your lumbar region to upper back. The programming is controlled through the COMAND interface using clearly marked pictograms. The seats can be programmed to automatically inflate upper and lower bolsters to varying degrees when the car turns a corner to provide the driver and passenger with extra lateral support. This brings the support of a sport seat for spirited driving without the big bolsters some find confining, to a luxurious armchair one slides in and out of.

The interior's only real negative is rear-seat room. But this is a coupe. If you need more back-seat space, you need a sedan. Though the rear buckets are as handsome and almost as comfortable as the front seats (they lack adjustability), this is a not a place to spend much time for anyone over 5-foot, 8 inches. Despite its full-size 116.3-inch wheelbase (albeit 8.2 inches less than that of the commodious S-Class sedan), the CL-Class's dramatic dimensions mean rear legroom is limited. We put a six-foot-three driver behind the wheel and then had him get in back, where the fit was very tight but he admitted he could do 20-30 minutes easy back there.

Oddly, that lack of four-adult room may be one of the CL-Class's strongest luxury statements: It's a large car that can afford to ignore the everyday requirement of passenger-carrying practicality. Need more space? Take another car. Virtually everything that might compete with a CL-Class at some level has a less comfortable rear seat, including the Bentley Continental GT, BMW 6 Series, Aston Martin DB9, and Ferrari 612 Scaglietti.

Cargo room is just the opposite. The trunk is deep, commodious and finished in a handsome gray carpet; as large as that in Audi's A8 long-wheelbase flagship sedan. Under the trunk floor is a shallow but still useful cargo tray, and under that a spare tire (the type varies by CL-Class model but any flat will fit under the floor). Liftover height is about average, and the electric powered opening-and-closing feature saves fingernails and paintwork.

Request More Info