The notions of a big car and a coupe generally stand in opposition to each other. Coupes are personal, sculpted, sporty, intimate. Big cars are expansive, spacious, luxurious, accommodating. The Mercedes-Benz CL-class is one of the few cars that attempts to bridge this dichotomy. No other luxury marque sells a coupe version of its flagship sedan, yet the CL is essentially a two-door version of the S-class.
Why buy a CL rather than an S-class? Style, mostly. Speaking of which, we love the CL's wide grille, elegant greenhouse, and characteristic B-pillarless hard top. We'll confess to being not so turned on by the new car's higher beltline and its rounded, stubby-looking rear. But notions of beauty are intensely personal--how else to explain the appeal of Angelina Jolie?--so at this point we'll assume that you're smitten with the looks and proceed from there.
Compared with the four-door S-class, the less practical CL also makes a statement: This hyperexpensive big Mercedes is just for me. I don't shuttle family or clients around in it. I'm successful enough to indulge in a six-figure coupe all for myself.
Fair enough. But if you were to bring three others along, how would they fare? Pretty well, as it turns out. The rear seat can fit a six-footer sitting behind a six-foot driver, although there isn't much room to spare. The absent B-pillar and the thin C-pillar, however, alleviate the claustrophobia that one normally suffers in a coupe.
Of course, the driver and the front-seat passenger get the truly deluxe accommodations. The front seats boast all kinds of features, from the useful (extending seat cushions, massage action) to the debatable (adjustable lateral bolsters) to the absurd (the dynamic function, which firms up lateral support on one side or the other in response to cornering forces but which is always a beat behind).
Front seat or back, everyone gets to enjoy the interior ambience, which basically mirrors that of the S-class. The CL shares its four-door sibling's expensive-looking finish and trim as well as the high-quality feel of all the moving bits. Navigation is standard, and night vision, radar cruise control, and parallel-parking assist also are available.
There are four CL models, which frankly strikes us as a lot. There's the standard, V-8-powered CL550; the CL600 with its 5.5-liter twin-turbocharged V-12; the AMG-tuned CL63 with a big-block V-8; and the CL65 AMG, also a V-12, also twin-turbocharged, but displacing 6.0 liters and making more than 600 hp. The CL550 and the CL600 are supposed to arrive as you read this, with the CL63 to follow in late spring and the CL65 due next fall.
The 5.5-liter V-8 under the CL550's expansive hood would hardly seem to be a slacker, and indeed, mated to Mercedes' seven-speed manu-matic, it moves the big coupe with all the urgency a reasonable person would require (0 to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds, according to its maker). But the CL isn't about meeting reasonable needs; it's about sating irrational desires. Which is why the rush of acceleration brought on by the CL600's mighty V-12, with its 612 lb-ft of torque, is not only so satisfying but also feels so right when you're behind the wheel entertaining Master of the Universe fantasies.