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Mercedes-Benz CLS 55 AMG review (2005-2007)
I’ll admit I was sceptical when Mercedes first revealed details of the CLS. When the first pictures landed on my desk the usual clamour in the office to see a new car soon abated. What’s more, Mercedes were calling this odd looking car a ‘four-door coupe’.
Seeing the ‘Vision CLS’ concept on a motorshow plinth did little to change my opinion. Had Mercedes had created a niche too far?
It seems not, as no car has seen me change my opinion so dramatically. When I first saw the CLS in the metal, in natural light on the street among traffic its styling just knocked me out. Its aggressive front lights and grille gave it with a muscular stance, while the graceful arch of its roofline tapering towards its pinched tail makes for a spectacular profile. From any angle the CLS is an absolutely stunning looking car. So much so it’s almost impossible to get your hands on one. Mercedes can barely build them quickly enough – the result an order book brimming with eager buyers. And there’s some real depth to its beauty, as it’s an accomplished drive too.
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The V6 and V8 engines in the CLS 350 and CLS 500 are impressive enough , but like virtually all Mercedes models these days the CLS is also available with a supercharged 5.4-litre V8, installed by the hooligans at AMG. With 476bhp and a whopping 700Nm of torque the CLS 55 AMG wants for nothing in the power department. Just be sure to leave the door ajar when you get and turn the key. That way you can hear the full effect of that engine starting. You can further the drama by feeling its 700Nm of twisting force by blipping the throttle to enjoy the CLS rocking on its suspension like a ‘70s muscle car. Throw in the quad tailpipes adding their purposeful, deep note, the more visually arresting, lower stance on bigger alloy wheels and the CLS 55 AMG is an experience just sitting still.
However tempting it may be to sit all day rocking the car with the throttle and listening to the V8’s extraordinary aural repertoire, it’s even more so to get out on the road and experience its power. Like all AMGs it’s a real cinch to drive at slow speeds - so long as you remember not to push past the first centimetre or so of accelerator travel. Do so and you enter a zone that’s reserved for the quickest overtakes, the swiftest 0-62mph runs and the sort of mid-range urgency that you’d usually require an afterburner for. Search for a quiet stretch of unrestricted road and the CLS AMG 55 will demonstrate its 4.7 second 0-62mph time all day long, though you’ll be accompanied by a constantly blinking traction control light and quickly wear out a pair of expensive rear tyres.
On the road
It’s pace makes more sense on the move, where unless you’re brutal with the accelerator it provides brisk, easy progress. Start pressing it a bit harder though and it all gets a bit more interesting, the way it gains momentum scarcely believable for such a big car. Here you’ll be thankful of the difference provided by the AMG tweaked AirMATIC DC suspension and electronic control systems like ESP and traction control. The changes allow it to scythe through bends with greater poise than the its less focussed relatives, though of the three suspension settings on offer we’d avoid the stiffest, as it ruins the otherwise remarkably compliant ride.
The brakes provide prodigious stopping power when you find, as you often will, that you’re carrying a touch more speed than you’d perhaps expected. The weighty steering improves in the AMG too, with slightly increased feel through the wheel’s chunky rim. However, like the brakes it could do with just a bit more feedback to maximise communication. It leaves you short of references for your increasing speed, the CLS not providing the sort of intimacy desirable in such a rapid machine. It means you’ll find yourself driving it in segments, revelling in the glorious acceleration along the straights and backing off when the road becomes more challenging.
That’s not to say it’s not fun. That acceleration is really addictive, even if it results in woeful economy. Mercedes claim 21mpg combined, but use its power as you’ll want to and you’ll struggle to achieve anything like that. That’s not a complaint though, as you’ve got the choice to back off and just ride along on engine’s huge wave of torque. But you won’t. At £70,570 the CLS 55 AMG represents something of a bargain. Remove its limiter and it’s certain to breach 180mph and there are only a handful of cars capable of that. Unsurprisingly, there are ways you can make it far more expensive, the car we drove boasting £7,320 worth of extra equipment. Some, like the dynamic multi contour seats we’d recommend, others like the Linguatronic and remote boot closing we’d leave unchecked.
But whether I’d opt for the CLS 55 AMG over the 350 or 500 is a different question. As much as I enjoy its pace it’s somewhat at odds with the CLS’s otherwise stylish, restrained demeanour. With the AMG version the CLS is almost trying to hard to be noticed. When, really, it needs absolutely no help at all.
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