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Mercedes-Benz CL-Class review (2010 onwards)
Summary - a Grand Tourer in the best of the old style: fast, extremely comfortable, discreet. And now cleaner than ever.
We like - great comfort, svelte styling, commanding performance, improved C02 and economy
We don't like - still massively expensive to buy and run, sports mode could be sportier still
The CL is Mercedes' flagship luxury car, as long you are prepared to overlook Maybach. Derived from the S-Class, the CL is as long as the saloon, so despite the two-door configuration there are genuine possibilities to sit four adults in comfort.
Sophisticated styling is the big reason wealthy buyers choose the CL over the S-Class and, with all four windows lowered, the side of the car opens up in a stunning manner.
For 2011 there are a few styling changes, confined mainly to the lights and grille.
Despite the money-no-object price tag (few will sell for less than £100,000 after the desirable options are added) Mercedes feels it has to do the right thing by making the CL a greener proposition.
Thus a new engine in the most popular CL500, which now has a 4.6-litre twin turbo V8 in place of the old 5.5-litre non-turbo unit. Despite the lower capacity, power is up from 388hp to 435hp, with an even greater rise in torque.
This BlueEFFICIENCY engine reduces CO2 by 64g/km, taking it down below the important 225g/km level, with an economy improvement of 23% also claimed.
Prices are up a touch but, according to Mercedes, this is balanced by the additional safety features the revised CL incorporates.
A Mercedes with a V8 is rarely less than a seductive proposition. This new turbo V8 won't disappoint drivers used to the larger capacity engine, the immense torque ensuring that it pulls more strongly in all conditions.
The seven-speed transmission gives you a number of options, from straightforward Drive to Sport and Eco settings, as well as offering manual control through the paddles behind the wheel. It's good, smooth changing and rarely intruding on your driving enjoyment.
Where it isn't 100% is in the manner that Mercedes has chosen the shift patterns. While Drive is suitably relaxed, Sport still settles into the high gears rather too readily, and it takes a long, firm prod of the accelerator pedal before it - suddenly - kicks down two or three ratios.
That means the transition can all happen a bit too urgently for a classy car like the SL. Jaguar undoubtedly do it better, and provide quicker shifts when the paddles are used too.
Still, there's much to admire about this CL500, the sound of that V8 coupled to fast and relaxed high-speed touring a trump card.
Ride and handling
With tyres the width of a fridge, there's never going to be a shortage of grip on the CL. It corners hard and fast, taking all and any of the heavy throttle inputs you care to throw at it.
The CL steers nicely too, with enough weight at the wheel to give you confidence, and a surprising ability to position this large car just where you want it on the roads.
Size is an issue that can't be overlooked, though. Roads of a width that wouldn't affect a Golf or Porsche 911 can seriously impede the big Mercedes, forcing you to slow to a crawl if you meet traffic coming the other way.
It rides beautifully though, isolating passengers from quite severe bumps, with suspension control that deals with uneven surfaces in corners with great composure. And being one of the very best Mercedes, it is simply stuffed with electronic systems to make your life safer. An example is the new 'active body control', which detects crosswinds and compensates by rapidly altering the CL's suspension settings at each corner to maximise the car's stability.
Luxury is the key here, with armchair seats in the front that simply define the standards of automotive comfort. Adjustable every which way, and with massage functions built in the backrest, there's a splendid time to be had.
The soft and enveloping leather is carried through to the rear where, with no loss of length over the S-Class saloon, there's genuine space for two more adults.
Mercedes' closest competition in this area is arguably the Bentley Continental GT. Although the British car is significantly more expensive it does line up alongside the quicker Mercedes CL derivatives from AMG.
But the German approach is different. Yes, there is wood if you choose, but the interior is ultra-modern rather than classical, and that works for me.
Once you learn the Mercedes logic, the controls are pretty straightforward to use, leaving you to delve into the delights of the hard drive music system, sat-nav and much more.
The CL comes with the same clever screen you'll find in the latest Jaguar XJ and Range Rover, where the front passenger can watch TV while the driver sees the sat-nav instead. It's the latest automotive talking point.
The boot lid opens and closes automatically, of course. The sill height is reasonably low (a characteristic that's become harder to find these days), the storage capacity for cases impressive.
Economy and safety
Improving the economy of any car by 23% is a staggering achievement. Getting better performance at the same time is the stuff of dreams.
But the previous Mercedes CL 500 was starting at a low baseline, so these improvements were more easily won. The theoretical figure is 30mpg but our experiences showed that nearer 20mpg will be more realistic.
The CO2 gains are very welcome and a real achievement. The CL's safety is a given on both important levels - preventing an accident in the first place and protecting occupants should the worst happen.
The MSN Cars verdict
The CL answers every question a potential buyer might ask, not just with a satisfactory response but with an overwhelming one.
Sure, it's still not the most economical car and it's still 'just' a Mercedes. But it's a supremely well-developed coupé that impresses deeply.
|Need to know|
|Engines, petrol||4.7 turbo V8, 5.5 V12, 5.5 turbo V8, 6.0 turbo V12|
|Power, hp||435 - 630|
|Torque, lb ft||516 - 738|
|0-62mph, secs||4.9 - 4.4|
|Top speed, mph||155 (limited)|
|Mpg combined||19.5 - 29.7|
|CO2, g/km / Tax, %||224 - 334 / 32 - 35|
|Rating||Mercedes-Benz CL500 BlueEFFICIENCY|
|Ride & handling||*****|
|MSN Cars verdict||*****|
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