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The Mercedes-Benz CL-Class dates from the 300S of 1952. The concept has evolved with the times, but the fundamental mission of these exclusive coupes remains the same: high performance and high luxury in a gloriously stylish package.
The earliest versions looked cozy and close-coupled, with no rear quarter glass behind the side windows. An all-new body for 1961 introduced the more modern style that the CL-Class retains today, with rear quarter windows but no central B-pillar aft of the doors to break the sleek lines of the body. With the windows down, the look is sexy and the view out is panoramic, recalling cars of the Fifties and Sixties when hardtops were in vogue.
Today’s CL-Class is much larger than its ancestors. The big Mercedes coupes of the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s were compact compared to contemporary U.S. cars, and were powered by relatively small-displacement engines. Heavier than an S-Class sedan, the current CL-Class qualifies as truly big, in size and weight, and in power.
The CL-Class does remain exclusive, however. For Mercedes-Benz in North America only the G-Class four-wheel drive and two-seat SLS AMG sell in smaller quantities; annual CL-Class sales equal Ford pickup sales for one day. That degree of distinction is alluring to CL-Class buyers.
The Mercedes-Benz CL550 4MATIC is powered by a 4.7-liter twin-turbo V8, rated 429 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque. It comes standard with a 7-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel drive and an air suspension.
The rest of the CL-Class uses coil spring suspension and rear-wheel drive. The rear-wheel-drive CL600, CL63 AMG, and CL65 AMG feel more enthusiastic on winding roads, but the all-wheel-drive CL550 rides the smoothest thanks to its air suspension and lighter weight.
The Mercedes-Benz CL63 AMG comes with a twin-turbocharged 5.5-liter V8 engine, which delivers 536 horsepower and 590 pound-feet, and a 7-speed multi-clutch transmission with SpeedShift, a feature that offers multiple shift modes.
Beyond those are the electric-smooth twin-turbo V12 engines: the ridiculously powerful CL600 with its 510-hp 5.5-liter V12 and the preposterously powerful CL65 AMG with its 621-hp 6-liter V12. Your friends with race cars will be jealous because you’ll have the faster car.
Both V8 engines were new for the 2011 model year, when they replaced larger but less efficient and therefore slightly less potent V8s. The only notable change to the CL-Class since then is the addition of the Grand Edition appearance package, which makes the CL550 4MATIC look more like the AMG models.
Like its predecessors, today’s CL-Class manages to be sporty without being a true sports car. Securing the right exterior proportions meant making the CL-Class shorter than the S-Class, upon which it is based. This produces a close-coupled, intimate interior, the kind historically associated with coupes from time immemorial. We’d call the rear passenger area moderate for adults, though similar luxury 2+2 coupes (Aston Martin DB9, BMW M6, Bentley Continental) are more cramped. The CL is for one or two people or the occasional evening quartet. If you want roominess in a big Mercedes, buy an S-Class sedan. This car is about grand touring for two.
The cabin is sumptuous and inviting, dressed in the finest materials and tailored to perfection. Fine woods, supple leather, brushed aluminum and designer-quality knobs and switches are everywhere you look and touch. The standard equipment list bulges with luxury items no one really needs but almost anyone would love to have, from harman/kardon 600-watt, 11-speaker audio to soft ambient mood lighting. Through the Mercedes COMAND central computer interface, many dozens of settings for seats, climate, sound, lighting, navigation and much more can be customized to your preferences.
The CL-Class offers a breathtaking array of safety technology as standard equipment: nine airbags, dynamic stability control, traction control, anti-lock brakes, automatic brake drying, seatbelt pre-tensioners, and automatic window closers, to name just a few.
In short, the Mercedes-Benz CL-Class is ultra-luxurious, sexy, technologically advanced and very stylish with excellent all-around driving capabilities. It’s roomier than a sports car but tighter than a sedan. The CL-Class is appealing for its stylish lines, spa-level coddling and over-the-top power.