Review: 2006 Mercedes-Benz CLS500

Each CLS model gets its own potent engine/automatic transmission combo. The CLS500 pairs a 5.0L/302-hp with an innovative seven-speed that offers Touch Shift control and snaps to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds. A 5.5L/469-hp supercharged variant is teamed with a five-speed unit that incorporates AMG's SpeedShift programming in the CLS55 AMG. That electrifying combo shaves nearly a full tick off of the 0-60 mph sprint.

The CLS500 matches its high-profile appearance with equally high-energy performance. Brisk acceleration is helped by an autoshifter that responds quickly but smoothly to both its internal adaptive programming and driver-directed changes. Like the CLS55, the CLS500 with AMG Sport Package adds F1-style shifter buttons on the upper steering wheel spokes. Powerful but somewhat difficult to modulate, the car's ultra-techy, Servotronic ABS brakes are masters of the short, straight stop.

Standard Airmatic II semi-active suspension enhances the already well-sorted multilink underpinnings with Comfort and Sport settings, four levels of adaptive damping, and self-leveling. Keener at countering unpleasant pitch and roll motions than at dramatically changing actual ride compliance, it keeps the CLS500 poised and confident regardless of setting, while maintaining M-B levels of isolation. Slightly elevated steering effort and tire noise at speed reflect the sporting character of the CLS. Even though its standard ESP and traction controls always remain in at least fail-safe mode, manually deactivating the setup does permit a certain degree of throttle-induced tail slip -- up to a preset limit.

Some may find the diminutive greenhouse and low roofline of the CLS-Class a trifle claustrophobic and detrimental to rear sightlines. Bright sunlight also tends to reflect annoyingly off of the numerous chrome interior accents, and frequently obliterates the climate control readouts. But those faults notwithstanding, this striking four-door "coupe" delivers an enthusiast-grade driving experience while maintaining true Mercedes-Benz character.

The CLS-Class enjoys the latest Mercedes safety technology including a strong unit body with engineered crumple zones, ESP stability control, enhanced ABS disc brakes with Electronic Brake force Distribution and Brake Assist, a rollover sensor, and "smart" front airbags plus standard side and side-curtain airbags.

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