2000 Mercedes-Benz CL500

SEE ALSO: Mercedes Buyer's Guide

By Larkin Hill

"That's what I want for my birthday!" declared the voguish man that was strolling next to me with his equally stylish lady friend. He sauntered past the pool of journalists and confidently began to examine one of the polished coupes that was basking in the morning Santa Monica sun, utterly oblivious to anything and anyone around him.

"Elegant new styling"..."Innovative technology"..."Luxurious interior" ... the list goes on. The Mercedes 500 series has always been the essential social status symbol Ė a no-compromise, everyday-luxury item for the "have made it's" in the world. Joining the popular S500 sedan that was re-vamped for model year 2000; the similarly styled CL500 is the newest top-of-the-line coupe, and the first to don Mercedes' new active suspension.

Itís simple, elegant...beautiful.

I first positioned myself at an angle directly off from the driver's side -- approximately six feet away -- my eyes gently glided over the silky lines. From the prominent Mercedes star, they swept up and outward toward the A-pillars. Then, whisked over the softly sloping hood to the passenger's side, ultimately focusing on the signature star that's prominently positioned within the grille.

I moved to the right and gazed across the athletic fender then down to the wheels. Pausing briefly, my eyes momentarily moved to the front, skimmed to the rear wrap-around taillight, and only then did I realize how very long the profile was. (196.6 inches to be exact)

Gone are the stodgy angles and thick profile of the 90's. In their place are svelte curves and a light body. The CL500 is more stylish and graceful. Never be considered a small car, it is longer than both the Jaguar XKR and Porsche 911, the 2000 CL is only 6.5 inches shorter than its sister sedan and 2.8 inches shorter than its 1999 predecessor. To compliment the CL's all-new sleek styling, it has also lost weight -- 580 lbs. to be exact.

The slimmer, shorter, lighter, and less 13 horsepower than the 1999 model, the 2000 CL500 would seem to translate into "less of a car. " However, the 2000 CL500 has never been more of a car than now. Completely over-hauled for 2000, the CL500 comes standard with nearly every amenity imaginable. Plus, in traditionally Mercedes fashion, it sports the latest safety features, suspension, and interior technology.

Quickly my driving partner and I staked claim to a silver one with sport tires. Anxious to get on the road, but fully aware that the CL500 uses the latest technological gizmos, we decided to preview the owners manual and situate ourselves before flying up the Malibu freeway.

While most cars are self-explanatory when it comes to interior ergonomics, Mercedesí uses so much of the latest high-tech capabilities that it has rendered many journalists helpless and confused. Of course, the CL500 is capable of being driven without studying the ownerís manual, but there are many extra features that would be left uncovered without a quick skim of the dictionary-sized guide and we're determined to maximize our first experience. Five minutes later we were gliding off the gravel and onto the street, where we immediately met with approving stares. Light steering accompanied by a pillarless side view provided an impressive feeling of control. And the most noticeable feature on the 2000 CL was how much lighter and more nimble it felt.

While itís still a substantial car in size and weight, the improved agility was a refreshing discovery and we found ourselves driving a more aggressively than in years past. With statistics like 0-60miles per hour in 6.1 seconds, stoplights were a pleasure. The swift acceleration coupled with the gratifying growl of the all-new 302 horsepower 5.0-liter V8 engine quickly won us over as we raced up the Malibu coastline

A quick stop garnered us more approving glances. I moved to the passengerís side and basked in the luxury that surrounded me. The detail was impressive. Intricately stitched leather and high-gloss burl walnut encased the interior. The wood quality and placement impressed me the most. Smartly positioned in the areas where the interior gets the most traffic (around the radio and air-conditioning system, seat, window, and memory controls, shifter, steering wheel, and above and over the door handles), the eye naturally gravitated to those areas.

Before long we were hugging the hills behind Malibu, putting to test two of Mercedes-Benzís most bragged about technologies: ESP and ABC. (No, these arenít Mercedesí attempt at reading minds and teaching basic language principals)

ESP stands for Electronic Stability Program, which takes control of the car when it senses that the driver has lost control Ė even before the driver realizes his or her error. In the case of under steer or over steer, sensors trigger the system to apply break pressure to one wheel, either on the inside rear or outside front, thus correcting the situation. Now, the absolute latest technology is the ABC suspension system. Active Body Control basically reduces the whiplash effect caused by cornering, braking and accelerating. Every ten milliseconds, the thirteen sensors that monitor the vehicle's body movement report to a computer, which then immediately begins to take action in balancing the car. According to Mercedes Benz the result is a reduction in body roll by 68% in average situations, and 95% when the driver chooses the sports handling mode.

Yet, while the CL500 is a superior vehicle, there were a few things that didn't fit the overall greatness of the car. First of all, the center console felt too bulky and over-engineered. Specifically, the cupholders, which elaborately folded up and were positioned too high. The driver's cupholder was substantial, but the passenger received what felt like a "complimentary" holder that ended up reinforcing the driver's when not in use.

The other ergonomic annoyance was the bulky seat base. Often I like pulling my legs close to my seat, however, the CL shares the same seat configuration as the S series, which has plastic skirt on both the driver and passenger side.

The third ergonomic pet peeve was the 6-disk CD changer location. Located in the trunk and under the carpet, it was a hassle to reach. There was a CD tease in the dash that accepted the navigation disk, but no audio receptacle. An in-cabin disk changer would be a wiser substitute, but a multi-disk front-loading in-dash system would be the ideal. Perhaps, there could be a disk-changer hidden under the passenger's seat, nestled under the skirt?

With a base price $6,400 less than its predecessor; the 2000 CL500 is a steal. Pack in more luxury features, the latest technology, and the CL really begins to sound too good to be true. However, with a MSRP base price of $85,500 it keeps its spot as the most expensive 2000 coupe on the road. Its closest competitor, the Jaguar XKR weighs in at $76,800, and the Porsche 911 follows close behind at $74,400. (The Acura NSX is the closest two-door hard top in price at $84,000, but itís in a different class altogether) Only the Porsche 911 Turbo beats the CL500 in price, but Mercedes is certain to take the lead once again later this year when the V12 version is expected to make its entrance.

Overall

As expected, Mercedes Benz has stayed true to their above par reputation. The 2000 CL500 is a mechanical wonder, and is sure to please the most discriminating buyers. Improved agility, a reduced sticker price, and plethora of technical and luxury features guarantee to keep the newest coupe in high demand. Watch out for the rocket-ship 12-cylinder powerplant due out late 2000.

 
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