April 16, 2008
Vienna, Austria – The CLS-Class is probably the most recognizable car Mercedes-Benz makes. It is a sedan that Mercedes-Benz designates as a coupe: a car with four doors cleverly disguised in the body of a coupe. Long and low, the CLS gives the illusion of an elegantly stretched two-door.
It is, in my humble opinion, one of the most gorgeous cars on the road today.
So no wonder that after nearly four years, Mercedes chose not to mess with success in giving the four-door coupe an expected, if not really necessary update. For 2009, the CLS Class gets new front and rear fascia, new side mirrors, some new wheels, a three-spoke steering wheel and improved telematics.
At the front, the grille has been modified with two louvres instead of four, placed against a grey diamond-shaped mesh background. At the rear, a new apron brings the bumper lower, accented by trapezoidal tail pipes replacing the previous oval exhaust openings. The tail lights are now LED units that light up faster. The rear turn signals look like arrows when they light up.
LED technology has also been employed in the side markers and outside mirrors. LED turn signals built into the mirrors are also arranged in the shape of an arrow. The surface area of the mirror has been enlarged.
Inside the most noticeable change is the new three-spoke steering wheel. The CLS 550 gauges have also received an update with new white dials.
Audio, entertainment and telematics enhancements include standard Bluetooth telephone connectivity, a higher-resolution 6.5-inch colour display with a new graphic interface, a navigation system now located on a hard drive and a standard audio system capable of accepting input from just about any device, as well as Sirius Satellite radio.
The 12-speaker Harmon/Kardon Logic 7 surround sound system includes a video-capable DVD changer, an SD memory card slot and cables to accommodate iPod, USB and Aux-in Audio. The navigation system uses a new generation Linguatronic system.
The standard interior trim is black birds eye maple, while dark ash wood and burl walnut wood trim are optional.
The standard equipment list on the CLS 550 is voluminous but notable highlights include dual front, side-window curtain, front and rear seat side and driver’s knee air bags and Pre-Safe; Parkatronic, sunroof, heated steering wheel, airmatic air suspension, active bi-xenon headlights, heated windshield washer system, and new 18-inch 5-twin spoke wheels.
The latter can be upgraded to either an 18-inch five-spoke design or a more sporty five-spoke design with larger performance tires.
The equipment list on the CLS 63 AMG is similar, although the standard wheel is a 19-inch 5-triple spoke design, with a forged 19-inch five-spoke design optional.
Power for both the CLS 550 and the CLS 63 AMG has not changed: the base engine is a 32-valve 5.5-litre (5461 cc, actually) V8 that produces 382 hp and 391 ft-lb of torque, while the CLS AMG has a 6.2-litre V8 with a rated output of 507 hp and 465 ft-lb of torque. Published acceleration times for both, from zero to 100 km/h, are 5.4 seconds and 4.5 seconds respectively.
We had the opportunity to drive both versions on Austria’s fast moving freeways, as well as some challenging back roads in the hilly region around Aggsbach on the Danube River. On the big highway, the CLS 63 AMG is a hard-charging cruiser, with an ever present V8 rumble and exhaust burble. A new AMG Speedshift 7G-Tronic Plus transmission gives the 6.2-litre a throttle blip with each downshift, enhancing the sporty nature of this car. Paddle shifters allow you to move through the gears manually and to hold a gear even against the rev limiter.
But the added weight of the bigger engine gives the handling advantage to the CLS 550, which is no slouch itself, despite the lower performance specifications. Both cars had a tendency to display significant understeer when pushed hard through tight corners, but the heavier 63 AMG proved to be a handful. The more nimble CLS 550 was restrained only by its electronic stability program (ESP), which forced the car into an understeer mode, even when disabled. While ESP is a potentially life-saving safety feature, it can make a rear-wheel driving car behave like a front-wheel driver.
From my perspective, I found the CLS 550 to be the more balanced car for all situations, providing a quiet and comfortable ride without the unnecessary intrusion of engine and exhaust noises. While it is easy to be critical of the way these big cars handle on tight, twisty mountain roads, it is unlikely that their sporting capability would be high on a buyer’s list of priorities – there are many other more capable cars to consider if this is a concern. They are both quite capable and stable if driven within their limits.
But for the daily routine of highway driving, commuting and getting to where you want to go, there is nothing quite like the CLS for getting you there comfortably, safely and stylishly.
The 2009 Mercedes-Benz CLS 550 and CLS 63 AMG go on sale later this spring. Pricing will be announced closer to their release.
The coupe version of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, the CL 550 gets a major powertrain change for 2009. Now standard on the CL 550 is Mercedes-Benz’ 4Matic all-wheel drive with airmatic suspension. As a result, rear-wheel drive and Active Body Control are no longer available.
Already available in the S-Class, 4Matic integrates a lightweight transfer case with central differential into the seven-speed transmission. Drive torque is split between the front and rear axles in a 45 and 55 ratio. Electronic stability program (ESP) and the 4ETS traction system, which brakes a spinning wheel, increasing drive torque to the wheels with grip, are combined with the 4Matic system. Despite being all-wheel drive, the CL 550 still accelerates with authority, reaching 100 km/h in just 5.4 seconds, the same as the CLS 550.
Fans of the previous CL 550 will miss Active Body Control, which kept the car flat through corners, but overall the move to all-wheel drive will enhance sales of the CL in Canada where all-wheel drive is viewed as preferable to rear-wheel drive, particularly in winter.
Where some may have considered the CL 550 to be a luxury summer car, the addition of 4Matic clearly makes the big coupe a year round luxury coupe.
Feature: "Mercedes-Benz Coupes through the years", by Grant Yoxon
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