First Drive: 2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS550

Active Park Assist is another new CLS feature, but we are more impressed by drivers who can parallel-park themselves in one smooth move.

European CLS buyers will choose from a menu of new engines to pair with the improved seven-speed automatic transmission, all with higher output and lower fuel consumption, including two V-6s (one gas and one diesel CLS350); the first four-cylinder diesel for this car (CLS250 CDI); and a third-generation, direct-injected 4.7-liter twin-turbo V-8 (CLS500). That engine, sans the start/stop function standard on all European models, is the only one coming to America (where the model will be called the CLS550) and will produce 402 hp and 443 lb-ft of torque. This means it can slam into its paltry 130-mph electronically limited top speed in a hurry. And if it should slam into something more substantial, the CLS550 is packing no fewer than twelve air bags.

This was less of a joke to a couple of Aussie journalists, who each encountered the dark side of the new optional Active Lane Keeping Assist (one of twelve "intelligent" driver-assist electronic aids on the CLS equipment list) on our Tuscan drive route. One of the Aussies tried to move right to avoid an oncoming car, and the CLS suddenly jerked back into the lane. He forced it back right and missed a collision. His buddy did the same thing when a motorcycle was pulling past him from behind. The CLS jerked hard left, forcing the bike to make a quick evasive move. One engineer explained that if you use your turn signal during these emergency moves, it will cancel the Lane Keeping action. Another said the best idea is to turn off that function when you are on two-lane roads. Not such a good thing when your smart system counts on the driver being smart, too. But it did give both Aussies an opportunity to admire the brand-new electromechanical power steering, which, incidentally, works even with the engine off. Still, you can save a few bucks skipping Lane Keeping Assist altogether. Save it for the 4Matic, which will be available shortly after launch.

Mercedes-Benz CLS550

On sale: Mid-2011
Price: $75,000 (est.)
ENGINE: 4.7L twin-turbo V-8, 402 hp, 443 lb-ft
DRIVE: Rear- or 4-wheel

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"Yes, if you could just flip on your turn signal as you're ramming head-on into that car..." Is this what they mean by "over-engineering"?

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