By on September 20, 2011


The Mercedes CL550 is one of the most exclusive Mercedes models sold on our side of the pond. With the highest base MSRP of any non-AMG product, and rarer on American roads than all but the boxy G-class and the incredibly rare SLS AMG, the CL plays in quite a different league than the S-class on which it is based. I am told that Ford sells more F150s in a day the CL’s yearly sales figure and judging by the number I see on the road, I am inclined to agree. The CL was separated from the S-Class line in 1998 to help aid in the exclusive reputation of the model. For those that wonder, CL supposedly stands for Comfort Leicht (or Comfort Light in my native tongue). The comfort is obvious (and mandatory at this price point), but “light” must truly be a relative term as the CL tips the scales at a biscuits-and-gravy fed 4,700lbs. Does this matter? Let’s find out.

Why is the CL so exclusive? Aside from the fact that personal luxury coupés generally sell like ice to Eskimos in the US, the answer is mostly price. The “base“, CL550 starts at $113,150. Distinction is alluring to premium luxury buyers; the price affords them a level of uniqueness that can’t be found at the $80,000 pricing level. Strangely enough, what appealed most to the luxury car shoppers I quizzed at a local luxo-barge meet, was the CL’s blend-in-ability. When the CL arrived, it did so with a much lower sense of occasion than the (cheaper) Range Rover Supercharged I had the week previously. Sure the front grille is menacing, but the overall profile is swoopy and sedate. The CL just doesn’t lend itself toward becoming “rolling bling” like an Escalade or GL and for that I am eternally grateful. Instead of bling, the CL exudes grace and large proportions. The side profile is dominated by sashless windows and absent b-pillars. For 2011 Mercedes has tweaked the exterior with a revised front and rear clip integrating the ever-so-popular LED running lamps. The real changes for this year however are under the hood.

Although the model number remains the same, Mercedes tossed out the 5.5L V8 in the CL550 in favor of an all-new 4.6L twin-turbo V8 engine. You may be wondering why the 2011 model isn’t called a CL460 (I know I still am). Nobody seems to know why the name remains, other than to placate buyers who might turn their noses up at trading in their old CL550 for a lower number. Sound silly? You’ve never spoken with a certain segment of car buyers.

Proving once and for all there is a replacement for displacement, this new smaller V8 puts out 429HP and 516lb-ft of twist (47HP and 125lb-ft more torque than the outgoing V8) and does it all with a power curve as flat as Kansas. If you own last year’s CL63, it may be time to trade-down to a CL550. Our tester served up 60MPH in 4.6 seconds, only one-tenth slower than a 2010 CL63 I was able to get my hands on. If that’s not enough of a reason here’s another: The CL550’s standard 4Matic AWD means I arrived at 60 in 4.6 seconds with zero drama on wet pavement, broken pavement, or around a corner. Try that in your CL63.

Should you be in the market for something faster and have an even fatter wallet, Mercedes offers not one but three engines above the CL550 to choose from including no fewer than two AMG trims. What’s the cost of this extra thrust you ask? The CL63 AMG is one-rung up from the CL550 at $150,250, and it gets you to 60 in 4.4 with its 536HP blown V8. If 12 cylinders are more your style, the 510HP CL600 will scoot you to freeway speed in 4.5 for $157,000. The big-daddy CL65 AMG is the king of the pack at $209,300 sporting an insane 621HP, 739lb-ft twin-turbo V12 good for a 4.2 second sprint to 60 [Ed: and is the last two-door available with this Götterdämmerung of an engine].

The CL550 may be the “cheap” CL, but in my mind it seems to have nailed the personal luxury coupé as squarely as its fire-breathing siblings have missed the mark. The CL550’s air suspension delivers a glassy smooth ride, and while it does seemingly little to quell body roll in the corners, the grip is still more than adequate. The real springs found in the other CL models may sound sporty (and they do improve the corner-carving ability) but a stiff suspension is at odds with both the [almost] 5,000lb curb weight of the V12 and the CL’s luxury pretensions. Similarly the 7-speed auto found in the CL550 suits the role of a large luxury coupé to perfection with shifts that are fairly quick and glassy smooth. This is far more than can be said of ye-olde 5-speed that connects the V12s to the rear or the herky-jerkey “Speedshift” contraption the CL63 is “blessed” with.

Aside from the mechanical differences, few technological goodies separate the CL550 from the upper-crust CLs. The CL550 still comes standard with standard navigation, stitched dashboard bits, key-less go, iPod/USB interface and all manner of standard luxury amenities. Although options like the radar cruise control, split-view video screen, massaging seats and heated steering wheel may be included in the other CL models; you can get essentially everything in the base CL as well, with the exception of the heavily bolstered AMG seats with quilted leather. If you recall my review of the S400 hybrid , I complained that the S-Class’ interior just didn’t look special enough when compared to the LS600. I was afraid the CL would give me the same let down but I was pleasantly surprised to find the CL delivers all the same shapes, but covered with stitched leather and pleather. The extra effort dresses up the interior more than I could have expected and easily brings the CL into firm competition with interiors from Maserati and Aston Martin.

Let’s talk gizmos. The Mercedes Command system is not quite as intuitive as the BMW iDrive and isn’t capable of voice controlling your music device in the same way Ford’s SYNC product can, but all is not lost for the tech weenies like me. The optional split-view screen allows the driver to see the navigation system and the passenger to see something else like watch a DVD or play with the radio. The system works far better than I had expected with the display remaining completely crisp while in operation and totally indistinguishable from the regular command system screen.

The iPod interface worked well with my iPods and my iPhone4, but it is a little strange that Mercedes doesn’t put track forward/backward buttons on the steering wheel instead making you use the in-speedometer menu and buttons to change tracks. The Navigation system’s voice command system utilizes a very natural voice and readily understood every address I threw at it, more than can be said for many luxury car systems. In addition to the usual goodies, the Command system lets you adjust all manner of strange options you didn’t know could be adjusted like the footwell temperature, how “direct” you want the air blowing on your personage, what color you like your LEDs to glow and how high you want your trunk lid to open.

So what’s it like to drive? I should first state that I have a large soft spot for large, softly sprung vehicles that go like stink. If that’s what you like in a luxury car, the CL delivers in spades. Body roll is well controlled even on the twistiest of mountain highways, and despite the porky curb weight, the wide tires deliver plenty of grip. When you do try to toss this 5,000 luxurious pillow into the corners, the chassis is very predictable and rather forgiving when you reach the limit of adhesion. In the end however there is just no denying the laws of physics; the hefty curb weight of the CL550 (the lightest CL) consorts with the numb steering to make the CL seem less than nimble than it is.

Still, I wouldn’t call a large Bentley coupé “nimble” either, and with these prices in mind, it should be no surprise that the CL competes with the likes of Aston Martin, Maserati and Bentley. A BMW 6 you ask? Too cheap. This means cross shop¬pers are logically looking for something slightly cheaper and more discrete than a Continental or Roller, and in this light the CL550 might even be considered a value. While words like “practical” and “value” should never be used in the same sentence as a $126,000 car (as tested), it is the fact that the close siblings (CL600, CL63 and CL65) are so rare and only a few tenths faster that the best “deal” under 200K might well be the CL550. How’s that for a TTAC bombshell?

Mercedes provided the vehicle for our review, insurance and one tank of gas.
Statistics as tested
0-30: 1.91 Seconds
0-60: 4.6 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 12.9@106

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44 Comments on “Review: 2011 Mercedes CL550 4Matic...”


  • avatar
    jmo

    I recall James May’s recent complaint about automakers and their fascination with the Nurburgring. There still a sizable market for quite, comfortable, powerful cars.

  • avatar
    stuki

    This is one of the few genuinely nice luxury cars left on the road. The 6 has 19″ 40 series runflats. Fat chance of that keeping up with this air suspended rocket carpet.

    The pillarless greenhouse is another feature making the CL so userfriendly and airy feeling. As is the larger/longer than sedan doors, which really come into their own when you’re entering wearing your bespoke camel hair overcoat..

    Still bothers me that neither Caddy nor Lincoln (nor Lexus nor Hyundai) can offer 85% of this at 50% of the price, as this is a class of car that makes much more sense as executive transportation than any number of Ring tuned midsizers with two never to be opened rear doors.

  • avatar
    Acubra

    Another achingly beautiful car from MB – that is totally meaningless past warranty due to complexity and upkeep costs. Pity.

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      that is totally meaningless past warranty due to complexity and upkeep costs. Pity.

      How much ride quality should they sacrifice so your replacement shocks aren’t so expensive? If you want the best you have to pay for it – there is no free lunch.

    • 0 avatar
      Alwaysinthecar

      Only meaningless to those who shouldn’t be owning one in the first place. CLs are purchased by those who can afford the upkeep just like they can afford the upkeep to their 10,000 square foot homes. It’s the people who buy them used after the depreciation who get themselves into ownership trouble. Just like they did when they bought that big house they couldn’t afford. Or the used Ferrari they should have stayed away from.

      • 0 avatar
        jmo

        . It’s the people who buy them used after the depreciation who get themselves into ownership trouble.

        They only get in trouble when they think they are getting something for nothing. I’m fairly certain that the car market is fairly efficient, if a 10 year old 12 cly BMW is $4,000, there’s a reason!

      • 0 avatar
        Acubra

        I don’t care that much about the used market affordability.
        My point was that unlike past gen S-Klasse coupes, which were made to last a long time (and it was economically feasible to do so), there will simply be no any meaningful numbers of these cars as classics/old-timers, as it will be cost-prohibitive to keep them. Hence my pity.

      • 0 avatar
        Zackman

        Now you know why I drive an Impala!

      • 0 avatar
        mikey

        @zackman….You drive an Impala for the same reason I drive an Impala. Not for one moment would I dare to compare an Impala, and a high end Merc. However I’m not in a financial position to even consider a high mantainence car. If I was,it would be a 57 Chevy rag,another car, completly out of my league. “Alwaysinthecar” has summed it up pretty well.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        @Zackman:

        It might cost over $100K, but the CL550 is a coupe that has roll down rear windows and no b-pillar.

      • 0 avatar
        jmo

        My point was that unlike past gen S-Klasse coupes, which were made to last a long time (and it was economically feasible to do so)

        I don’t know about that, the only direct experience I have of that is a friend who drove Mercedes through the 70s and 80s and switched to Lexus in the 90s. He said they were great cars, but the maintenance was always ruinous.

        Also, much of the nostalgia re: reliability and durability is due to the fact that people (in their cloud of misremebered nostalgia) are comparing a 1982 Mercedes with a ’82 Caddy or an ’82 Jag no a 2008 Honda Accord.

    • 0 avatar
      cdnsfan27

      Acubra your information is dated and innacurate. M-B warranty costs have declined 82% over the last ten years and scheduled maintenance is every 10,000 miles. Like any other high-end car they have to be properly maintained and in return will give you years of trouble-free and enjoyable service. Das beste oder nicht.

  • avatar
    threeer

    One question…how do you get your way into the seat of one of these for a test drive? I mean…do you show up in a Rolls Royce or something?

    • 0 avatar

      It is almost impossible to get a test drive in any low volume vehicle, especially one costing over $100K. It has nothing to do with how your dressed or what you pull up in, it is just not a vehicle that every dealership will even get an example of, much less a sales manager demo to test drive. Mercedes is not the only one with this problem. Audi and to some extent BMW have the same problem. Just not enough of these to go around and when they do hit the lot, they are usually special ordered or sold within minutes of arrival.

  • avatar
    Alwaysinthecar

    “The real springs found in the other CL models may sound sporty…but a stiff suspension is at odds…..”

    The CL550 comes with Airmatic air suspension and ADS II. But the more expensive CL600 comes with the better hydraulic ABC suspension, instead of pneumatic. ABC is even smoother and with active controlled body roll, and it’s the most advanced suspension Mercedes produces. It also has self leveling like Airmatic does. The AMG CL63 and 65 also come with ABC (although the suspension is tuned slightly differently than the non-AMG CL600.)

    ABC is by far a smoother and better suspension than Airmatic.

    • 0 avatar
      crush157

      Totally agree with the ABC over Airmatic. Unfortunate that Mercedes changed their tune on the newer CL (Post 2006) to have Airmatic in the base model. I have the 2006 CL500 and it has ABC. I also have the 2004 S500 with Airmatic. The CL500 with ABC is way above the Airmatic in ride and body control. Thank goodness for the warranty as I had one ABC strut replaced $1500 parts, $500 labor.

      Just wait 3-4 years and you may be able to pick this up sub $55k.

      The Bentley Continental GT was created to compete the 1999-2000 MBZ CL class.

      No Baruth jokes on the hate of the W220 and W215 from these years…. I like the styling better…..

      • 0 avatar

        I am rather partial to the curvy lines of the older designs too. Shaped more like a woman should be. Don’t get me wrong, the new chiseled look is growing on me but I find women are not as complimentary of the latest designs. I hope an S or CL is in my future before the party is over HP wise (although I thought the same thing in 2008 and it just keeps galloping forward).

  • avatar
    Mandalorian

    I really like the Mercedes Column shifter. I have always preferred it to the others’ console ones because it was rare.

  • avatar

    When you buy an S550 or a CL550 it’s better to LEASE because then, you don’t have to worry about maintenance or depreciation. I would have bought the CL over my S550 if the CL had more interior space.

    I CAN’T SIT UPRIGHT IN A CL550.

    • 0 avatar

      Not much data at TrueDelta on the S class and none on the CL. I try to remind everyone at MB World Forum to participate but I have not had a lot of luck. I encourage everyone here to do the same. Nothing compares to a dynamic reliability report over the life of a vehicle from actual owners. Makes JD Powers and Consumer Reports irrelevant.

  • avatar

    “If you recall my review of the S400 hybrid , I complained that the S-Class’ interior just didn’t look special enough when compared to the LS600. ”

    YOU MUST BE KIDDING ME.

    The LS460 and 600 ARE BORRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRING.

    That car had absolutely NOTHING going for it when I first drove it. Same goes for the Audi A8. That’s why the S class is KILLING the LS in sales. I will admit the S-class/CL interior is dated now, BUT THOSE INTERIORS CAME OUT BACK IN 2005 WINTER. Back then, CARS LOOKED LIKE CRAP INSIDE in general. I hate it when people talk bad on the S class interior cause it does A LOT of things right that most of these newer luxury cars DON’T DO.

    At the end of the day, the only thing that matters IS WHICH CAR PEOPLE BUY MORE OF. 2013 S550 HERE I COME.

  • avatar
    Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

    What’s with the trunklid’s cheezmo trunk-impinging supports? Right out of some plebian Chevy product if you ask me..

  • avatar
    Alwaysinthecar

    Not sure what you mean? The trunk is an electronic open/close trunk (with a button under the trunk lid and one in the cabin.) The hinges take up zero trunk space since they’re the same width as the two side trunk pockets and the storage netting.

    Did you expect brass cabinet hinges? :-)

  • avatar
    James2

    This is irrelevant but M-B needs to rethink their naming scheme. Since this is an S-Class coupe, shouldn’t it be called SC or SLC. By starting it with ‘C’ it sounds like it is derived from the C-Class. Acura’s alphabetical scheme is equally illogical.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    The phrase “Wretched Excess”, comes to mind.

  • avatar
    Advo

    How high are expectations now for interior design in this car category/price range?

    The CL doesn’t look elegant, or have Italian flair, or the very futuristic style that some show cars have. The new S-Class models will have to have something that at least matches Audi.

    • 0 avatar
      RentalCarGuy

      I used to think the same. Until I drove one (an S, that is). And you know what? They’re perfect. Yes, they don’t look as exciting as those exotics or the products from Audi and the COMAND (with one m – it’s short for COckpit Management ANd Data system) hasn’t as much eyecandy as an MMI, but once you’re inside one, they breathe the air of solidity that in the decades past was the very core of the M-B experience and is slowly coming back. I can’t really put my finger on it, but they feel great, even with their silly, old-timey large steering wheel and everything.

    • 0 avatar

      Audi is the poorest selling German sedan in the US for a reason. Their reliability is atrocious and they cost far more than their performance provides. They have limited availability and we are treated like third class citzens here in the states with VERY limited offerings. I would not wish one on my worst enemy.

  • avatar
    JJ

    In Europe it’s still called CL500 as was the previous iteration with the 5,5 so go figure…

    Anyway I don’t care much for the CL. Given the choice I might consider it over the Continental GT but that’s because I don’t like that either. I’d much rather have the Maser or the AM.

    But yeah if you’re going to get one the 550 might just be the best one, cause if the chassis is anything like the last one it can’t put the extra power down anyway (and the close to identical 0-60 times pretty much suggest this is the case again). I guess that’s why they had to make the quilted leather available only on the more powerful models to at least give people a real reason to choose those.

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      cause if the chassis is anything like the last one it can’t put the extra power down anyway

      In terms of 0-60 perhaps but I think as much weight was given to high speed autobahn cruising as 0-60.

      • 0 avatar
        JJ

        They’ll all be limited at 250kph and I doubt the 4,6 TT V8 will have too much trouble getting it up to that speed. If you’d put ‘the pedal to the floor’ in the higher powered versions I’d imagine they would just break traction in the higher gears if it weren’t for the TC cutting the power down, especially in even the slightest of moist or greasy conditions.

        I think the argument to get a V12 in a GT car like this where you’re completely isolated rom the engine anyway (noise), is almost entirely ‘because we can’ and not so much ‘because it really adds something to the experience’. Sometimes that kind of thinking yields awesome results (for instance, AM V12 Vantage vs V8 Vantage) but in this case I don’t see how the bigger engines would suddenly tranform this car into something better than it is as it stands.

  • avatar
    Nick

    Looking at that road and the fog I was hoping this was going to be an article about TTAC’s entry in the Targa Newfoundland.

  • avatar
    Joss

    The truly rich are usually stingy and won’t throw it at depreciation. Also they consider luxury cars a rather crass statement and not a true indicator of wealth.

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      The truly rich are usually stingy and won’t throw it at depreciation.

      Those who use to be rich and are trying to justify their reduced circumstances are stingy.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      For someone truly rich, the cost of a car, any car, is about as significant as the cost of a glass of orange juice. Which depreciates even faster, and which many of them prefer buying at Whole Foods rather than Wal-Mart.

    • 0 avatar
      JJ

      Right, because why drive a luxury car if you can drive a Camry, eventhough you could pay for said luxury car with pocket change.

      Anyone who is truly rich and has even the slightest affection for sweet rides will find themselves indulging on whatever luxury car takes their fancy sooner rather than later.

      If you’re talking about ‘old money’ and they’re driving Camrys then either the money has ran out or they have some misconceived reservations about actually using the fortune granddad earned them, which is commendable and also a bit sad.

  • avatar
    tallnikita

    So frigging gorgeous. If I had one, I’d just turn on the radar stop system and go full speed through valet parking turnabouts if there are any Ferraris sitting there. When the car stops inches from the Ferrari I’d be pretending to be busy adjusting the trunk lift and asking the valet what the coffee icon is for on the instrument panel. Then I’d demand that their store/restaurant/clubhouse interior temperature be adjusted to exactly the same settings as what I had in the car.

  • avatar
    philadlj

    MB continues to go back-and-forth with its naming conventions, as the CLC and CLK have given way to the C-Class and E-Class coupes…but separating the CL makes more sense, considering they want it to be more exclusive. I doubt the next-gen CL will be renamed the S-Class coupe.

  • avatar

    You may be wondering why the 2011 model isn’t called a CL460 (I know I still am). Nobody seems to know why the name remains

    …other than to placate buyers who might turn their noses up at trading in their old CL550 for a lower number.

    Same reason the 63s are still called the 63s, except the SLS.

    Pretty sure that F150 figure is incorrect.

  • avatar
    obruni

    is it me, or do the CL coupes have terrible resale value?

  • avatar
    jerseydevil

    “Dah-ling I love you but give me Park Avenue. ”

    -Green Acres.

    THis car is a perfect example of the life that I am not leading.

  • avatar
    MBGuy

    My experience with the CL550 has been amazing. After alot of hard work in building my business paid off big time, I wanted to celebrate with a luxury purchase and the CL was it. I chose it for one of the reasons brought up in the review, it wasn’t garish in that “look at me” way. Depending on the dealer they will let you test drive this if you come in like I did saying, prove to me that this car is worth buying. My sales guy didn’t even hesitate grabbing the keys to their only model in the dealership. This car is crazy fast and with the new engine you avoid the unpleasant gas guzzler tax the gov’t is so happy to slap on vehicles in this category. I’m happy I bought the car and I honestly wasn’t worried about re-sale value or any of that. The best thing is that when I take people for a spin, they get these goofy grins on their faces when I tromp the throttle and you hear the turbos spin up!


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