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Mercedes-Benz CL500 (2001)

SEE ALSO: Mercedes Buyer's Guide

by John Heilig


MODEL: 2001 Mercedes-Benz CL500
ENGINE:  5.0-liter 24-valve V-8
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 302 hp @ 5,600 rpm/339 lbs-ft @ 2,700-4,250 rpm
TRANSMISSION:  Five-speed automatic with Touch Shift
WHEELBASE: 113.6 in.
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 196.6 x 73.1 x 55.0 in.

Mercedes-Benz has established its reputation as the builder of excellent luxury automobiles. The company has essentially three platform ranges, C-Class, E-Class and S-Class. M-B also builds a couple of coupes and convertibles on these chassis. The CLK coupe and cabriolet, for example, are based on the E-Class chassis.

This week's tester, though, is based on the larger S-Class chassis, and as such carries with it a stiffer price tag. The price may well be worth it for a car of this type, however, since the CL500 offers everything the S-Class sedan has to offer, but in a sleeker, sportier-looking body. The "face" of the CL500 resembles the e-Class to a certain extent with its four oval headlamps, but this car is definitely in a higher class.

One obvious definer of a higher class is the 5.0-liter V-8 engine under the hood. This engine develops a whopping 302 horsepower and 339 lbs-ft of torque. Both of these numbers assure fabulous acceleration. There's a possibility that a V-12-powered CL coupe may be available later in the year, but that has yet to be confirmed by M-B. The car exists in Europe, where it is the favorite of Grand Prix drivers.

What makes the CL500 a true luxury car, though, is the lack of noise even when the engine is working its hardest. Mercedes-Benz engineers have worked hard to eliminate any unnecessary noises that may intrude into the cabin. Therefore, you can drive hard and accelerate hard, but your passengers will still be able to carry on a conversation at a decent volume level.

The CL500 features Active Body Control (ABC), a high-performance active suspension system that virtually eliminates body roll and pitch during cornering, braking and acceleration. Active suspension depends on advanced electronic controls and extremely fast-acting hydraulic servos at each wheel. The result is sporty handling, with a flat attitude during cornering at high speeds on tight corners. The best part, though, is there's no disadvantage to the passengers caused by the stiff suspension that would normally be required for such handling capability. The CL500 has a normal luxury car ride when it's headed in a straight or relatively straight direction. But when the road turns, the shock absorbers stiffen, but only when necessary.

The CL500 also has Mercedes-Benz's ESP electronic stability control, which applies the brakes at certain corners of the car when the car detects understeer or oversteer. It helps you get through the tougher turns with a minimum of intrusion.

As a true luxury car, the CL500 has high intensity xenon discharge bulbs for both low beam and high beam. These are the "blue" lights you often see coming at you down the highway. Xenon gas burns cooler, so they can be run hotter, giving enhanced visibility.

The CL500 is also an extremely safe car. In conjunction with the normal seat and shoulder belts, there are front air bags, side air bags for both front and rear passengers, a head protection curtain that deploys out of the A-pillar to protect front passengers, and a similar curtain that deploys out of the C-pillar for the rear passengers. Milliseconds after any impact, all the passengers in the CL500 are protected from impact with the inside of the car.

That impact wouldn't be too shabby. The CL500 has leather seating, tasteful wood trim, enough accessories to choke a horse, a navigation system, excellent sound system, dual zone climate control, a TeleAid automatic call system with precise vehicle location via Global Satellite Positioning for emergency response and non-emergency client services (tactfully put, it's M-B's answer to OnStar), and a heated vibrating seat that can actually give you a back rub as you're traveling along. The rear seats don't have the back rub, but they are heated.

The rear deck is built of a composite material, which allows the TeleAid and telephone antennae to be placed inside the lid. A metal lid would render the antennae useless.

The Cl500 isn't for everyone, although everyone we talked with felt they'd like to own it. As a coupe, it's not the most practical, even though access to the rear seats is about as good as it gets. And some people don't need all that power (yeah, right).

But for the rest of us, the CL500 is an ideal. It's probably just a dream for most of us, too, but, well, pleasant dreams.