By on August 10, 2006

front.jpg Small changes can have a major impact. Remember Jennifer Grey, the female lead in the film “Dirty Dancing?” Her fine proboscis lent her an air of distinction. Then she had reductive rhinoplasty and dropped out of sight. Although Audi's Auto Union-inspired snout seems to be going for the reverse effect, Mercedes is wise to the law of incremental effect. In the case of the CLS550, small changes have transformed a wannabe into a gotta have.

When the CLS500 first appeared on the scene nearly two years ago, I was intrigued. Architecturally, it was as if Mercedes had grabbed the E-Class at both ends and pulled, compressing the passenger cabin and elongating the design. When I got up close and personal, I discovered that the resulting interior spaces were wide yet useless, with limited head and legroom. The car’s curvaceous roofline and tiny windows also restricted rear visibility, while huge side mirrors hampered the view at eight o’ clock and two o’ clock. And without the optional electronic parking assist, backing into a parking space was an expensive game of blind man’s bluff. 

2006_cls500-img_2798.jpgI was also distanced by the pretentiousness of its monniker: "four door coupe” (it’s still listed as such on Mercedes’ website). The fact that the CLS borrowed liberally from the cheaper E-Class’ mechanical underpinnings heightened my sense that the car was a triumph of packaging over character. My wife, however, was smitten by the “German Jaguar’s” bodacious exterior; she insisted that a CLS500 find its way into our garage. I never warmed to its fluffy brakes, handling and steering. Even the styling lost its allure; I felt like a poseur driving the beast.

For the CLS’ first major refresh, Mercedes slotted their 5.5-liter 382 horsepower V8 underhood, euthanized the electronic SBC braking system and tightened-up the steering rack. For an extra five G’s (on top of 75 large), the CLS550 gains a sport package. Although it’s a no-cost option in the E-Class, a CLS550 so equipped comes complete with AMG labeled wheels and big, fat (plastic) paddles behind the steering wheel. My tester was painted the same color as the launch edition, Indium Grey. The interior was suitably black, with more metal accents than a blinged-up bouncer.

interior.jpg The CLS’ cabin distinguishes itself from its E-Class cousin with a huge swath of burled wood across the dash. Along with its higher door and dash panels, the design delivers a dramatic cocooning effect, magnified by the car’s machine gun slit windows. The Mercmeisters have dressed the cabin in acres of sumptuous leather, including the top of the dash. Overall, the CLS offers more of a sense of occasion than the E, albeit with more than little arrogance. And now…

I love driving this car. For one thing, the CLS550’s steering has gained much-needed heft and driver communication. The rack-and-pinion set-up integrates speed-sensitive power assistance and hydraulic dampers. It leapfrogs BMW’s Novocained tiller, returning to the gold standard set by the previous generation BMW 5-Series (go figure). The wheel itself is as addictively caressable as a baby’s head.

The CLS550’s Adaptive Damping System II does a Mad Max, proving that a sequel can be better than the original. Combined with Airmatic semi-active suspension, the CLS550’s does the near impossible: eliminates body dive, roll and squat; smoothes out all but the most vicious potholes and delivers outstanding road feel. The two-ton Teuton won’t give a Porsche Cayman any trouble, but the CLS550 is as fast and nimble a luxobarge as money can buy. In terms of acceleration, the CLS550 is a velvet hammer; it accelerates to ridiculous speeds with imperious ease. Equally important, the new, non-newfangled stoppers shed speed with genuine authority and perfectly modulated feel.

back.jpg The CLS550’s driving experience is worlds away from the E550. In fact, almost everything I didn’t like about the E550 feels spot on in the CLS550. The CLS’ Harmon Kardon sound system sounds livelier than the E’s equivalent unit. The bigger car’s interior is more modern and contemporary than its mid-sized cousin. The CLS’ seat comfort is beyond reproach, and includes the “comfort” headrests found in the E. The CLS’ seven speed transmission is transparent and seamless, with none of the awkward downshifts that bedeviled the E550. As a rule, as a driver, I prefer a smaller car to a bigger one.  But the E’s price and sun visors are its only apparent advantages over the new, improved CLS.

Incredibly, modest changes to the 2007 CLS550 have catapulted the chop-top four door to the top of my lust list, whereas the 2000 changes incorporated into the E-Class do nothing for me. Obviously, I still have issues with the CLS’ design and visibility. But now, once I’m behind the wheel, all is forgiven. The new CLS is one of those rare brutes that loses weight as it gains speed, and gains balance as it loses your license. This Baby just got a whole lot better.  

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

43 Comments on “Mercedes CLS550 Review...”


  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    Jay — how great is that transmission?

    I mean… all makes should outright steal it.

  • avatar
    Lesley Wimbush

    I haven’t driven it myself, but a race driver/journo buddy of mine, so oblivious to the status aspect of a car that he’d drive the Oscar Meyer weinermobile if it could handle a chicane… absolutely loved it.

    Agreed on the Jennifer Grey thing. Wonder if they could put it back.

  • avatar
    Sajeev Mehta

    I still don’t get the whole 4-door coupe designation, the CLS is just a modern interpretation of the Hooper Coachwork of the 1930-1950s. They never called the 1980 Seville a coupe with two extra doors.

  • avatar
    MRL

    This car is the 00′s version of the Monte Carlo or Firebird for Long Island guidos. I have never seen anyone behind the wheel who was not festooned with gold chains and teased chest hair, looking like he was on the way to a Soprano’s look-alike contest. The few women you see driving it are silicone bottle blondes with skin the color and texture of a SlimJim. Think that was the market segment MB was aiming at?

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    I’m also the only person on planet earth who thinks it is ugly.

  • avatar

    No.

  • avatar
    Yuppie

    Still prefer the E550 of the same year, which is classic, understated, elegant, and marginally lighter. $$$ saved is a bonus.

  • avatar
    jazbo123

    They should have left this styling to Hyundai.

  • avatar
    dolo54

    Well I disagree. I see plenty of these in person and I think they are absolutely georgeous. This is the only Mercedes that I would actually buy.

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    There hasn’t been a good looking Mercedes since 1937.

    There, I said it.

  • avatar

    The current SL is a classic.

  • avatar
    Lesley Wimbush

    No way – you’re forgetting about the ’55 300 sl gullwing!

  • avatar
    gbh

    Jonny,

    Now I understand… lol

    Personally, I love the look of the CLS – in black or silver. I have yet to see it in another color that ‘works’. I can certainly appreciate that many don’t like it regardless of hue, it is an odd duck.

    As to the drive, a CLS 55AMG is my kind of highway car. Not quite the same as a tuned W140, but definately interesting and comfy enough. Easy to kill off 1500+ miles straight-through in either one.

    Have not had occasion to drive the 2007 yet, but sounds interesting from Jay’s description.

    BTW- Jennifer Grey is alive and well (and still working). One can easily pull her up on Imdb.

  • avatar
    JSForbes

    It looks great in black (Vadermobile? Batcar?) but otherwise I don’t like it. If the grille were less truck-like and the back end less strange it would look nice.

  • avatar
    dean

    It looks a little too much like a 4-door Solara for my taste. I’ve seen a couple around and haven’t been impressed.

    I’m inclined to agree with Jonny. Then again, the AMG SL55 I saw the other day (at a dog park of all places) was gorgeous.

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    The Gullwing is cool as diamonds, but Gorgeous?

    That’s one naked Emperor you got there.

  • avatar

    I like the rear of this car, and it’s nice to see a new vehicle with an interior that doesn’t look inspired by a $50 Wal-Mart boombox.

  • avatar
    Yuppie

    The slanted and tapered front and back ends are evocative of the previous generation oval Ford Taurus.

  • avatar
    ktm

    For the same price, I would much rather have an Audi A8L 4.2. Mercedes is not even close to Audi in interior quality, and the A8 is just pimp (unless the new S8 rolls up).

  • avatar
    Lesley Wimbush

    Beauty is in the eye of the beholder :)))

  • avatar
    lizthevw

    …and pimp is a good thing? Well, I am glad you like the A8, even if you aren’t old enough to drive.

  • avatar
    adehus

    Awww, c’mon guys, this thing is beautiful. I like everything except for the steering wheel barnacles.

  • avatar
    tom

    I’m not so sure about the head lights. But still it is one of the most gorgeous vehicles I’ve ever seen.

    I love the styling, but of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. For those people who don’t lioke it there is still the more conventional E 550.

    In this case, diversification really makes sense.

  • avatar
    Ryan

    The whole look of the car (or just about any new Mercedes Benz, for that matter) just doesn’t sit right with me. The CLS, in particular, looks droopy, the lines and wheels don’y work with the rest of the car, and from a side view, the rear end reminds me of a ’70′s Camaro.

    I think the problem is that the design staff just took the outgoing models, left it in a microwave for a few minutes, and decided they had the new car.

  • avatar
    ghillie

    It doesn’t do it for me – looks like a badass Hyundai or a Lexus that’s lost its way.

  • avatar
    Steve_S

    Not a bad looking car but not great either. The 4-door coupe is the new trend with luxury brands. I believe both BMW and Audi are looking to produce the same. Doesn’t Maserati and Porsche have them in development as well?

    The only real 4-door coupe that comes to mind in production is the RX-8.

  • avatar
    TomWyld

    I love(d) Jennifer Grey. Most of the girls in my high school had that awesome look — and wanted nothing to do with me.

    When I first saw the CLS from a distance, I thought it was a new Lincoln Mark. It had that awesome look. Guess Lincoln wanted nothing to do with it.

    Even its big, sweeping dashboard reminds me of the Mk VIII’s dash.

    So it’s the CLS instead of the MKS. With a vanity plate that reads JGREY.

  • avatar
    Hutton

    That thing is hideous. In profile, it looks vaguely like a manatee. And for some reason, designers think that sharp edge running the length of the body belongs on every car now. And I don’t understand this 4-door coupe trend at all… Shouldn’t 4 doors = sedan? (except possible in some cases like the RX-8). I haven’t driven it, so I can’t make judgements on that, but major thumbs down for style, and for pretending to be a coupe for no logical reason.

  • avatar
    imageWIS

    Jonny:

    The 1937 540K Spezial-Roadster?

    Jon.

  • avatar
    imageWIS

    Just FYI, coupe means ‘cut’ in French, thus the rear roofline is ‘cut’. Mercedes merely used the literal meaning of the word.

    Jon.

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    Jon.

    Yah.

    -Jonny-

  • avatar
    ktm

    lizthevw, a bit pretentious are we? It only serves to make you look the fool when you know nothing about the individual you think you are putting down. I am 35 and well-educated. Pimp is an expression much like ‘sick’, ‘bad’, ‘cool’, etc. The connotations with such expressions help to convey more than such adjectives as ‘beautiful’, ‘gorgeous’, etc.

  • avatar
    imageWIS

    I live in south Florida, so you see a lot of CLS’ down here (along with every other expensive car you can name), and the more I look at the car the more I see that it truly is the best looking ‘large’ Mercedes sedan out there. Sure, the rear just doesn’t seem to work right for some reason and the lights seem to evoke something, anything rather than ‘Mercedes’, but I think the rest of the car is perfectly designed and proportioned for what Mercedes was going for: a niche market of upper-end (for Mercedes, this is not the RR / Maybach / Bugatti crowd) buyers who want a ‘large’, ‘sporty’ sedan that looks very slick, but don’t want to buy the massive S-Class, and don’t want to be seen in the oh-so-common E-Class.

    The interior is very English (Jaguar was a good comparison) in its inspiration and looks better than any other of Mercedes’ interiors (certainly better than the far more expensive S-Class). The interior feels sturdier than what you usually find in modern-day Mercedes (please note I am comparing this to my friends 05’ CL500 and his 06’ SL600), and seems to be designed in a more driver-oriented manner, its more pre-Bangle BMW in some ways than it is a Mercedes. The fact that other car companies are now jumping on this bandwagon (Porsche Panamera, Aston Martin Rapide, Audi, and BMW) is a testament to just how well placed the CLS in it’s niche.

    Jon.

  • avatar
    Jordan Tenenbaum

    The CLS has grown on me. Will I ever own one? No, probably not. But it’s better to look at then anything Bangle bageled.

    There, I said it:p

  • avatar

    This car is better looking than 96% of what’s out there. But then, the Trabant is better looking than at least 29% of what’s out there, so today’s aesthetic standards aren’t exactly up to MoMA. (google it if you’re unfamiliar with it.)

  • avatar

    Hutton writes: That thing is hideous. In profile, it looks vaguely like a manatee.

    Darn you Hutton. Now you’ve ruined it for me.

  • avatar
    Lesley Wimbush

    A manatee? Hmmm
    You know those scraggy lookin’ Serengeti scavengers that hover and lope around a carcass with their arses tucked under them? That swoopy curved-under design reminds me of those, but well-fed.

  • avatar
    Steven T.

    I really want to like how the CLS looks, because at least Mercedes was willing to take a different approach to sedan design. Alas, I think they tried too hard. The CLS could have been the contemporary heir to the original XJ if Mercedes had shown a bit more subtlety and — dare I say it? — sedan practicality. For example, what good is a four door if it has the constrained back seat of a two door?

    I say all this with the caveat that perhaps I’ve fallen behind the times. Perhaps we have moved into an era where “loud” designs are necessary to stand out from the crowd. Then again, perhaps this too will pass: Perhaps in time the CLS will be viewed like the 1960 Cadillac — a case study in excess that aged rather quickly.

  • avatar
    Kamikaze

    I LOVE the looks of this car. What are the 0-60 and 1/4 mile times?

  • avatar
    DaveClark

    What’s with the melting derriere? MB stylists have lost there way to these eyes. I swear, I could design a more attractive ride than what they’re serving up. Chris Bangle is starting to look good my comparison, and that ain’t no compliment.

  • avatar
    Jay Shoemaker

    The factory quotes a 0-60 time of 5.4 seconds.

  • avatar
    luiz.stockler

    This is the perfect nouveau riche ride. Self-awareness-0-meter jumps to 10 on this one, unless of course, you look like Bernie Ecclestone

  • avatar
    westcott

    I like the look too. It is not as practical as the E Class but at least you have the choice if style is more important and money is not a consideration. But, then why not buy a true coupe? Oh Yeah…………a CL will set you back an extra US$30K and so will an SL.

    I guess it is a decent compromise after all and fills a niche for those who want something a little different.

    Kamikaze

    P.S. I would guess that the 0-60mph is around 4.8 seconds if you extrapolate from the E550 numbers at C&D. 1/4 mile in 13.4 seconds @ 106mph!!!


Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Subscribe without commenting

Recent Comments

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Staff

  • Authors

  • Brendan McAleer, Canada
  • Marcelo De Vasconcellos, Brazil
  • Matthias Gasnier, Australia
  • W. Christian 'Mental' Ward, Abu Dhabi
  • Mark Stevenson, Canada
  • Faisal Ali Khan, India