Who would buy a CL when they could have an S-class or, more likely, an SL?
You’d be surprised just how many people have fallen for the blend of S-class refinement, seating for four and a sharper package. Merc has shipped 46,800 of the knife-edged old-shape CL since 1999; only the chunky 80’s SEC did better, at 74,000.
Doesn’t look much like an S-class
Be thankful for small mercies. The wheelarches are nicely integrated, the bespoke grille and lights give a much stronger face. The only styling element which doesn’t quite work is the huge rear window that cuts into the roof. That and the fact that if you want rims bigger than 19inches across, you’ll have to go aftermarket.
So what’s the deal?
The range kicks off with two models, a 5.5-litre V8-engined CL500 putting out 388bhp for around £70K. Then there’s a big jump to the £100k CL600, also with 5.5-litres of swept volume but spread over 12 cylinders and turbocharged to give 517bhp. And if that’s still not enough the range will soon be extended by the addition of a 514bhp CL63 and the terrifyingly fast CL65, a 612bhp, £150K Ferrari chaser.
So what’s it like?
Tasteful cabin, subtly different from the saloon’s, beautiful leather, immaculate fit and finish, room for four adults. Oh, you mean to drive? Much more fun than you were probably expecting. The V8’s the sensible choice: still fast and refined but far cheaper to buy and run than the twelve. But when testing the ultimate coupe it’s only right to try the ultimate (for now) engine, so 600 it is. The last of Merc’s old three-valve per pot engines and mated to an auto box with just five speeds, it sounds like a recipe for thirsty mediocrity. Wrong. It’s hugely cultured and massively quick: 4.6sec to 62mph and even swifter in the mid range. And the five-speed box is actually less fussy than the newer seven-speeder that’s largely replaced it.
But it doesn’t do corners, right?
Wrong again. The latest version of Merc’s Active body Control increases roll stiffness by 45 per cent, keeping the car flat when your brain’s telling you it can’t be possible. And if your conscience permits you can drive irresponsibly fast at night too thanks to the Intelligent Lighting System that boosts the offside light cone on secondary roads and both lights on motorways.
And is it the world’s safest car?
Depends what your criteria is, but it certainly makes it more difficult to have an own-fault accident. Adding to Merc’s existing PreSafe system (tightens the seatbelts ready for a crash) PreSafe Brake can actually apply the brakes for you. First there’s an audiovisual warning, but if you fail to respond the computer will automatically apply up to 40 per cent of maximum braking power. You’ll probably still crash but you might knock a week off your hospital stay.
We came to the CL almost expecting to unmask it as too predictable in style, too reliant on big brother technology. How could it be anything but a passive nose-heavy cruiser? Who would have thought that there is a real driving machine inside this piece of hugely expensive street furniture? But there is. True, the big Benz is not quite as sharp as a BMW 650i, not quite as sure-footed as the even heavier Bentley GT, not quite as emotional as a Ferrari 612 Scaglietti and not near as stylish as an Aston DB9. But it hits that sweet spot where comfort and performance and driver involvement blend with greater accuracy than any of its rivals. The new CL is not a hardcore sports car in the classic sense of the word. But it is incredibly quick, incredibly safe and incredibly sure-footed. Tuned for comfort and for speed, it combines the best of both worlds. Only purists may want to shop elsewhere.