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