Ushering in the seventh generation of large Mercedes Coupes, the new CL is the culmination of more than 50 years of coupe tradition and highlights some of the technology we’ll one day see across the rest of the Mercedes range. As the German carmaker’s flagship model, the CL comes with enough electronic gadgetry to keep owners ahead of the game for at least the next five years, and an interior that would make residents of the seven-star Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai envious. After all, it wouldn’t be a Mercedes flagship without the latest in over-engineered safety features, a swanky cow-skin and tree interior and the knowledge that you’re driving one of the largest coupes on the market today.
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The mega-Mercedes has grown in almost every dimension over the previous version, which itself was already as long as a hearse. Retaining the iconic pillar-less glasshouse and sloping roofline, the new model is instantly recognizable as a CL. Its visual impact is one of confidence, power, and presence. Measuring more than five meters in length and close to two meters wide, it’s difficult to miss. However, all the extra girth, as well as the endless gadgets list, moves it ever closer to the two-ton curb weight of its bigger brother, the S-class. Despite its bulbous proportions, rear legroom is very tight. We’re talking about a car that’s only 4.8in shorter than the S, which has acres of legroom in the back. The rest of the interior is unmistakably Mercedes. Wood-grain panels at every corner and hand-stitched leather on most other surfaces looks dated compared to the more contemporary style found in the latest Audis and BMWs, but it’s still a great place to be.
The luxury coupe takes safety to a new standard with the introduction of features such as Pre-Safe Brake assist, a system that automatically applies the brakes when a rear-end collision threatens or if the car becomes skittish. You also get Mercedes’ own Active Body Control (ABC), which automatically reduces the amount the car leans when going into a corner or changing lanes quickly. ABC ingeniously masks the coupe’s mass using a series of computers and sensors to adjust the suspension, providing up to 45% less body roll. The result is a vehicle the size of a limo that can carry some decent pace when cornering hard. Then we have Phaetonesque gems like the Intelligent Light System with no less than five different lighting modes for the headlights. At the captain’s helm, Mercedes has installed an upgraded COMAND control system that combines everything from the car’s stereo to the satnav and climate control. I found the steering wheel mounted buttons much easier to use than the COMAND controller located on the center console. I also thought the canopy over centrally mounted display looked out of place and ruined the flow of the dash.
For all the technical greatness and gizmos that are designed to provide the highest level of comfort and refinement, the CL suffers from a sense of detachment from the road. Press the gimmicky starter button, and the 5.5L V8 whirrs into quiet submission. Select drive, give the throttle a blip and the car takes off smoothly and quietly, but without the sense of excitement and occasion you’d expect from a vehicle costing close to 100 grand. This isn’t the car for wannabe Schumacher’s, but the CL is deceptively quick and will take you to illegal speeds in less time than it’d take you to say “so officer, how fast was I going?” With 388hp (285kW) and 530Nm on tap, acceleration is effortless. Flooring the pedal saw 62mph come up in just under 6 seconds, not quite the 5.4 seconds that engineers claim but still damn fast. Buttons mounted on the back of the steering wheel allow manual control of the gearbox but the new seven-speed self-shifter knows what it’s doing and doesn’t get bogged down with constant gear changes.
The traction control system manages to keep the heavyweight coupe out of trouble, but kicks in aggressively when the wheels start to slip. Maintaining pace through corners make the tires scream, but the CL stays in line without the driver having to struggle at the wheel. The only major gripe is the speed-sensitive power steering lacks sufficient feedback, giving a lifeless and vague feel. It doesn’t inspire confidence, and it takes half the fun out of a spirited drive up a winding road. There’s no rumble from the engine either or the shove into the leather lined massaging seats every time the 7G-Tronic auto drops a gear. The CL is more at home on paved highways where the big GT reveals why it can justify its generous price tag. Traveling at 100mph, there’s only a slight murmur from the engine bay with a hint of wind and road noise as the only distraction. Drop the hammer and the car simply pulls. A glance at the speedo moments later and I’m nearing the CL’s electronically controlled 155mph speed limit. The entire time I could have been in the back corner of a library, the engine is unnervingly quiet, even at full tilt, which brings me to my conclusion.
The CL is a prime illustration of the direction Mercedes seems to be taking with the design of its cars. It’s designers have created an elegant, unabashed luxury coupe that'll go down well with retirees with large nest eggs, but anyone with a sporting intent will soon get bored. The AMG version on the other hand…- Robert Milbourne
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