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2007 Mercedes-Benz CL550 Coupe and 2007 S-Class Reviews

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2007 Mercedes-Benz CL550 Coupe

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2007 Mercedes-Benz S550 Sedan


By Steve Purdy
Detroit Bureau

I haven’t driven anything with this much eye appeal since the Rolls Royce Phantom. The new Mercedes Benz CL550 pillarless hardtop coupe has enough visual drama to turn the heads of anyone who pays attention to cars – big, bold, massive and commanding. The girl at the drive-through bank window was amazed at the lack of a B-pillar. She said she had never seen anything like that before. Well, she was young and certainly not a car gal, but with all the windows down it does look a bit other-worldly. And, with the windows down, driving at speed I found noise and buffeting to be surprisingly absent – certainly a magnificent aerodynamic design both visually and practically.

Since I had the CL550 back-to-back with the S550 sedan, and since beneath the skin they are essentially the same car I’ll just review them together, if you don’t mind. The S550, of course, is the big Mercedes sedan, less dramatic-looking than the coupe but still impressive. The S-Class made me gasp with awe when I first saw it on the showroom floor at our local MB dealer a year ago. This new MB design language is distinctive and innovative, to be sure.

The CL550 coupe and the S-Class are MB’s biggest luxury cars – rear-wheel-drive, of course, as are all MB cars. The long wheel base, low nose and tail, and the high arched character lines seem formed by the wind to make these big Benzes look both sleek and massive, like nothing else on the road. The lack of a center pillar and graceful roof line of the CL blend beautifully with the modern lines of this luxury car. The S-Class sedan looks a tad sedate only by comparison to the CL. Both are bold and leading-edge in terms of design. There is no question that Mercedes has been a design leader for most of its 110-year existence and we already see this newest MB design language being incorporated into lesser cars.

First impressions of both were of a strikingly beautiful but overly-complex German road machine. I had trouble finding the radio controls and more trouble navigating the navigation screens, climate and other controls through MB’s COMMAND System, an iDrive-like round knob that controls all those functions. It took most of both my week each with these big Benzes to just get acclimated to the basics. Of course, I didn’t want to drag out the book as a matter of principal. If I have to do that the score for intuitiveness goes down rapidly. I’m wondering if there is some charm of exclusivity surrounding these German cars that supports the controls being complicated and non-intuitive. In fact, I find there is some measure of pleasure in conquering the controls. Once learned the systems are OK but every little quirk in managing them is another annoyance.

Base price on our 2007 CL550 coupe is $99,900. I guess they wanted to keep it under a hundred grand. For ’08, though, the base price has gone up to $103,875, so maybe you ought to get out there and pick up one of the ‘07s before they run out. The CL comes in a V12, 500+horsepower variant as well that starts at $144,000. That one’s going up next year as well. You’ll get a lot of fine automobile for the money, though. Having driven a competing Lexus LS460L a couple weeks ago, I must say, that extra 15-to-20 grand would be pretty well spent, if you were in that high-performance, big luxury sedan market. Don’t get me wrong, that Lexus is a mighty fine automobile and a technological marvel in its own right, fast and full of innovation, but there are some aspects of this Mercedes that remind us that 110 years of heritage is still worth something.

The S550 sticker shows a bottom line of over 99-grand, from a base price of $88,750. Only one option is listed, a “Value Added” package, which includes: Dynamic Rear View Monitor, Parktronic, Active Ventilated Seats in front, Driving Dynamic Front Seats, Heated Steering Wheel, SIRIUS Satellite Radio, Electronic Trunk Closer, Keyless Go, designo Graphite, and Beige Nappa Leather. These, with the $775 destination and delivery charge and gas guzzler tax of $1,300, bring the sticker to $99,975.

The smooth power we barely hear rumbling under the broad hoods of both cars comes from a new 5.5-liter V8 making 382 horsepower and 391-lb.ft. of torque. That’s enough to motivate these 4,500-lb artful machines from zero-to-sixty mph in a scant 5.5 seconds, about what we would expect from a performance sports car. Sixty-to-zero takes 115 feet - again, admirable. EPA estimates fuel mileage to be between 15 and 22-mpg on premium fuel. We managed a little over 22 on short freeway trips and the worst we got was 17.5 around town driving spiritedly. Our average for the week was 19.5. Not bad for a 4,500-pound car.

The 7-speed automatic transmission with electric shift hesitates a bit when we downshift with the go-pedal but with the little button shifters on the back of the steering wheel shifts are much more expeditious. With Z-rated, 18-inch, 255/45 tires the top speed is 130-mph, but only because it is electronically limited.

The chassis, as you might expect, is state-of-the-art for big, loaded rear-wheel-drive luxury cars. Every imaginable dynamic control system is in play here to keep the enthusiastic driver from getting into trouble on any surface no matter how slippery, bumpy or loose. Sensors and algorithms everywhere tell all the hydraulic, electronic, pneumatic and magic parts what to do in any risky situation. I’m not sure if some can be overridden or disabled if you want to slip and slide for recreational purposes. We’d have to look more deeply into the book to find all that out. If you are into that sort of thing you’re probably driving a different kind of car anyway.

Inside, the CL550 makes us feel pampered and appreciated. Open the little door to the cup holder and the base rises up an inch or so to receive our drink. Corner briskly and the seat bolsters press against your leeward side to hold you against the centrifugal force (that’s the optional “Dynamic Seats”). Select seating choices within the automobile’s screen-controlled systems and feel the seats randomly massaging your back and sides. Ambient lighting along the dash and doors at night reminds us of a softly lit luxurious restaurant. The CL interior was just a bit different but the rich Hereford color leather (dark reddish brown) made it look much more special.

We can spend a whole paragraph on those great seats – heated, cooled, bolstered and active. They adjust 14 ways and we can adjust the bolsters, lumbar supports and seat base. There are 15 pneumatic chambers within those seats. The door-mounted controls for most functions are well-designed and easy to use. The internal functions like massage are managed through the COMMAND screen and are less easy to figure out. But, oh how wonderful to feel the massager going up and down our backs while driving down the road.

Luxury features are, as we might expect, pervasive with both these cars. Start the car without pulling the key out of your pocket with just the push of a button (Keyless Go) and put it in gear with just a bump of the small stalk on the right side of the steering column. That’s an electric shifter, just like the system on the Rolls. That, too, takes a little getting used to but is quite gratifying. Fit, finish and quality of materials is first rate, of course. I especially love the beautiful stitching in the leather everywhere. The only design feature I’m less than happy with inside is the dual cup holder that will not accommodate a mug handle. The Germans have never been particularly concerned with such pedestrian issues anyway.

In spite of all this electronic assistance and gadgetry we still feel like we’re driving this big, long, sleek automobile. Steering feedback is good, brake effort is just about right and we never feel overly insulated from the driving experience in spite of the intense quiet inside. Ride and handling are firm and precise with a feel of being in a machine of substance. With Active Body Control the suspension has two settings and ground clearance can be adjusted.

We first wondered why the big speedometer in the center of the gauge cluster appeared to be an electronic screen rather than an analog unit like the surrounding gauges. I didn’t figure it out until late in the week when I found a colleague’s review touting the night vision screen. Yes – night vision. Each of the headlight clusters sports an infra-red light and somewhere up there are two infra-red cameras. Together they produce a black-and-white image of the road ahead allowing the driver to see in the dark.

One other difference in these two big beauties stands out. Both, of course, have dual exhausts, but the CL has chrome trimmed, rectangular outlets incorporated into the rear lower fascia - pretty cool-looking. The S-Class, on the other hand, hides the outlets under the fascia, raw and turned downward as if they are part of the guts not to be seen.

Basic warranty on these fine automobiles is 48 months/50,000 miles.

I’m forever amazed that there are enough folks out there with enough money to support the production and profitability of all these big luxury automobiles – Rolls, MB, Big Bimmers, Lexus, Bentley, etc. But I’m sure glad there are, so that I can keep reviewing them.

Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved