This CL550 is very old-school Mercedes. It is large, feels heavy, and is extremely cosseting. I’m generally not a big fan of large coupes as they always seem to lack interior space for their substantial exterior dimensions but at least the CL can hold adults in the back if needed. That feature sets the Benz apart from the much less spacious BMW 6-series.
It’s interesting that Mercedes fits four-wheel drive as standard on the CL550. The traction is nice, but I’m not sure that most of the target market for this car needs that feature. Plus, $120K is a lot of money for a big coupe.
In the end, I can’t help but think that an S550 sedan is still the smarter choice for those looking for the ultimate $100K luxury car. At least you don’t need to flip the front seats forward to get your passengers into the back.
Marc Noordeloos, Road Test Editor
A year ago I was in Stuttgart for a sneak peek of everything Mercedes-Benz had in store for us for the 2008 calendar year, and at that time we were told that starting in autumn 2008, all CL550s would come standard with 4Matic all-wheel drive. This seemed surprising at first, to add extra weight and complexity to a car when not everyone would want it. But Dr. Thomas Weber, Mercedes-Benz board member in charge of passenger-car R&D, boasted during a presentation that “our new 4Matic is small and light enough that it [carries a penalty of] less than one-half liter of fuel per 100 kilometers.” That translates to a virtually imperceptible fuel economy penalty, especially in a car like the CL550, which is already big, heavy, and thirsty.
I was also reminded of another Mercedes-Benz experience I had in Europe, after the Geneva Motor Show, in March 2006. We drove S-class sedans with Mercedes-Benz’s then-new 4Matic system (it was much more compact than the previous one) up into the Swiss Alps to a ski area. Mercedes had reserved a long, steep road up the back side of a mountain that was a service road for the ski resort. It and the surrounding terrain were piled high with snow. The 4Matic-equipped Mercedes-Benzes had no problem whatsoever getting up to the top of the mountain, where Mercedes had set up an obstacle course of sorts, with huge mounds of snow. These big, heavy, luxurious sedans had no problem with this very challenging course that, at first glance, looked like something only a very capable SUV with high ground clearance could tackle.
All this is by way of saying that the 4Matic system is really good when you need it and largely transparent when you don’t. If I were spending six figures on a grand luxury coupe, I’d be happy to have it. After all, even people who live in Los Angeles or Phoenix or San Francisco drive their cars up into the mountains to go skiing.
And as for this particular CL550 4Matic, I worked late the night last week that I drove it, and my mood lifted when I walked into our parking structure at about 10:30 p.m., pressed the remote unlock, and saw our test car’s gorgeous interior illuminated. Wow! What beautiful brown leather. Stunning.
Joe DeMatio, Executive Editor
I know the old adage of there being “no replacement for displacement,” but having driven both the CL 63 AMG and the CL550 4Matic, I think I actually prefer the less-powerful version.
Why? Well, for one thing, it’s actually possible to apply the 5.5-liter V-8’s power to dry ground without setting the ESP into an epileptic frenzy. That’s not to say the car wants for power; 382 hp and 391 lb-ft of torque are more than respectable numbers, and they do quite a good job of hustling the 4650-lb coupe around.
But I also have to give props to the 4Matic system. As Joe mentioned, it’s more than capable of clawing its way through inclement weather (a good thing, as the roads by me were snowed over and unplowed this morning), but it’s presence is virtually unknown by the driver – the car doesn’t seem bogged down by two extra driven wheels, and handling still feels sharp and rear-biased.
Aside from the drop in power, you do lose some of the insane go-fast parts and suede-trimmed interior parts included with the AMG models, but the CL550’s sumptuous saddle-on-black leather-trimmed cabin wowed every passenger who crawled inside. It may not be the fastest CL on the autobahn, but the everyday usability of this car – particularly for those in areas that receive regular precipitation of any kind – makes up for the disparity in power.
Evan McCausland, Web Producer
Based on the notes from my colleagues, you’d think this CL is a suitable replacement for a pack of sled dogs. That’s not quite true. I drove this car for a weekend and couldn’t believe it had the 4matic system. The problem is all-season tires are really only three-season tires in places that get snow. I (accidentally) had this car sideways on several occasions because the rear bias is so strong and the Continentals were no match for falling snow. I don’t mind the 4matic system being standard, but it’s not going to excuse you from buying a set of snow tires if you plan on taking this car to a ski resort. I’m sure those European cars Mr. DeMatio tested were equipped with proper winter rubber (as virtually all European cars seem to have in the winter) while climbing the mountain.
Still, like Evan, I prefer the CL550 to the CL63. There’s an air of dignity and grace about this car that make you feel like attending a black-tie affair each time you slip behind the wheel, and the bark of an AMG with the 6.2-liter engine doesn’t quite fit this car’s character. And, as he said, this 550 never leaves you wanting for power.
My absolute favorite part of the CL is the incredible sound insulation. Through loads of engineering (and probably a little magic) Mercedes is able to remove the B-pillar from this giant coupe and there is virtually no exterior noise penetrating the cabin. This is the sort of touch that keeps Mercedes above all the other luxury car players in my book. BMWs may be a little more involving for the driver in a 3-series class, but if you want a real luxury car Mercedes is a clear choice for the larger classes.
Phil Floraday, Senior Online Editor
2009 Mercedes-Benz CL550 4Matic
Base Price (with destination): $107,275
Price as tested: $120,110
-Gas Guzzler Tax – $1300
-iPod Integration Kit – $425
-Heated Steering Wheel – $470
-Premium II – $3370
-Distronic Plus Package – $2880
-Sport Package – $5690
Fuel Economy: 14/21/17 mpg (city/hwy/combined)
Size: 5.5L V-8
HP: 382 HP @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 391 lb-ft @ 2800 – 4800 rpm
Transmission: 7-Speed automatic
Weight: 4650 lbs
– 19″ AMG 5-spoke wheels (size)
– 255/45R19, all season tires