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2000 Mercedes CL500 Review

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SEE ALSO: Mercedes Buyer's Guide

by Ted Laturnus

Aside from limited production models from Ferrari, Bentley, and Aston Martin, the most expensive two-door coupe sold in Canada is the Mercedes CL500. At $123,000, it’s in a class all its own in terms of luxury accoutrements. Among other things, it comes with a GPS system, ventilated power seats with memory, Bi-Xenon headlights, side impact airbags, dual zone automatic climate control, and a stability control system that eliminates body roll. It’s also equipped with what Mercedes calls a “treasure trove” of automotive technology.

But before we get to that, a few specs. Power for the full-size, 1865 kilogram CL500 is amply provided by an aluminum block, single overhead camshaft V8 engine that displaces 5.0 litres and develops 302 horsepower at 5600 rpm. Mated to Mercedes’ Touch Shift five-speed automatic transmission, it’ll take this flagship coupe from zero to 100 km/h in about six and a half seconds. The car has vented four-wheel disc ABS brakes, of course, and rides on 17-inch alloy wheels and tires. It is, by anyone’s measure, a splendid automobile, with superb roadholding ability and far above average performance. It is also one of the most elegantly styled cars on the road.

Now, about that treasure trove of technology. More specifically, the Comand (COckpit MANagement and Data) System. Wondrous and impressive though it may be, how useful is it? How driver-friendly? Although I admire this automobile tremendously from a whole range of angles, the Comand system is not, in my opinion, especially driver-friendly. Quite the opposite, in fact. I spent virtually all my time with this car trying to figure out how to use things. To the point where the engineering prowess of the car - which is considerable - is lost among the techno-gadgets. The GPS (Global Positioning System), for example, is useful only if you have someone else in the car or are hopelessly lost in unfamiliar territory. Otherwise, it’s just an interesting toy that detracts from the business at hand: driving the car. True, it does have vocal prompts, but before you use it, a few hours must be spent figuring it out. After almost two weeks of living with the CL500, I confess that the Comand system had me totally intimidated. It controls the stereo system, CD player, GPS, car phone, clock, and tons of other stuff through a colour monitor located in the centre console. In an office or on somebody’s desk, it would be a godsend. In an automobile, it’s far too complicated. I’m sure one would figure it out eventually, but, again, it is extremely distracting. In order to work the system, you have to focus on it to the exclusion of everything else….including driving. The instruction manual is over 300 pages long! Personally, I just want to drive the car, not take a crash course in automotive computer technology. And I haven’t even touched on the optional TeleAid system, which is also tied into Comand and the GPS.

On the other hand, I really liked the new-for-2000 Touch-Shift. This is Mercedes’ version of the manual/automatic transmission hybrid that many manufacturers have adopted. Porsche calls their Tiptronic, BMW, SportMatic, Acura, SportShift and so on. Of all the systems available, Mercedes’ may be the most useable. A simple tap to the left or right and you’re in a new gear. This is one high-tech item I could grow to love. I was also absolutely fascinated with the door hinge system on this car. A special secondary hinge prevents the doors from arcing out to their full length while still providing easy ingress and egress. Amazing.

Mercedes is also quite proud of their new ABC (Active Body Control) system, which basically eliminates body roll during cornering, braking, and accelerating. As well as giving the car a wonderful ride, it also allows you to fling it around as though it were a sports car. There aren’t many cars of this size and class that have the same combination of lightness of feel and comfort. And all with less body weight than before; the new CL500 is almost 500 pounds lighter than its predecessor and utilizes lightweight materials such as magnesium, aluminum, and carbon fibre extensively.

During my time with the CL500, I couldn’t help but notice that everything in it is a “system.” Right down to the leather seats and headlights. I freely admit to being a bit of a Luddite, but I have to pose the question: does an automobile have to be this complex? Do all the on-board “systems” make the CL500 a better car?

Obviously Mercedes thinks so, because right around the corner is a CL500 with a keyless system. That’s right: no ignition or door key, just a plastic card.


Seating: Five Drivetrain: 5.0 litre V8 engine/five-speed automatic transmission Power: 302 hp at 5600 rpm Brakes: Four-wheel ventilated discs w. ABS Wheelbase: 2885 mm (113.6 in.) Price: $122,900