By on October 10, 2013

rf

What unalloyed pleasure it gives me to welcome TTAC’s august founder, Robert Farago, back to these pages. Robert’s a little too busy with what might be the biggest firearms news site in the world to give us much more than this review of Mercedes’ four-door-not-really-a-coupe, but to paraphrase John Mayer, it’s hard for me to take a stand when I will take his work any way I can. Go visit Mr. Farago at his new digs and say hello… and enjoy this review! — JB

When the heat breaks in Texas Hill Country the air is as dry as an Oxford grad’s sense of humor. And when my ML350 broke blasting across four lanes of traffic my Mercedes dealer passed me the key to a CLS550. And so I found myself behind the squared-off wheel of Germany’s lowered limo on a starry Texas night, contemplating cats’ eyes roller-coastering into the distance. I felt an old yet welcome urge to press my luck with local LEOs.

So I stood on the CLS550’s accelerator, whose brand-faithful response brings to mind nothing so much as player piano pedals. With apologies to Johnny Lieberman, the acceleration was volcanic. Not like the business end of an eruption—a comparison that applies to various Ferraris and a Nissan GT-R that I’ve had the pleasure of surviving. The Merc’s forward urge was more like a fast-moving lava flow: seamlessly unstoppable. Yes, I know: Princess Diana proved the limits of that particular Mercedes metaphor. But as the CLS550 passed 60mph—a 5.1 second sprint accompanied by a bad ass big bore bellow—I knew it was just a waypoint. This tank-like limo wants to hunker down, spool-up and unwind on an endless autobahn. It doesn’t much care for all the speeds between minimum and maximum velocity.

rf2

Don’t get me wrong: Mercedes’ E-Class chop-top isn’t just a straight line bahn burner. The portly sedan does an admirable job of staying on the road through the sinuous bits—although that’s not saying that much given Austin’s glassine pavement. Even so, the CLS550 is another fine example of German engineers’ ongoing and surprisingly successful war on basic physics (cough rear-engined Porsche cough). In this case, a trick Airmatic suspension and super-sticky Pirelli P-Zeros tie down a 4425lbs automobile motivated by 4.6 liter bi-turbo V8 generating 406hp @ 5000 rpm and 443 lb-ft. of twist @ 1,800 rpm.

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The CLS550‘s electronically-assisted steering helps best the beast. The more you ask of the helm the more heft the electronic brain adds to the equation. Initially, it feels as if someone’s placing a series of increasingly heavy stones on the chassis’ chest. Eventually, the CLS550 is as precise as you wanna be, with more on-center feel than Bill Clinton demonstrated in his second term. Whether that holds true when the car’s shod with Michelin all-season tires and weighed down with optional 4MATIC all-wheel drive is another question. What happens to the car’s handling in the wet is anyone’s guess (Austin hasn’t had sustained rainfall since the Cretaceous period). I suspect the $70k CLS has an app for that, involving a flashing light and a sudden loss of power.

The CLS550‘s tri-mode transmission is no boon to the handling equation. Under hard acceleration, the seven-speed torque-converter automatic’s frantic, jarring hunt for an appropriate gear simulates confidence-sapping turbo lag. Once that’s sorted out, ladies and gentlemen, lunge is served. Unless you put the seven-speed box into Sport. In which case lunge is served as well, only all day long, from any speed, without delay. Works for me.

Jack Baruth could make mince meat out of race track with this thing (TTAC’s founder-approved jefe tried, unsuccessfully, to buy an Indium Grey CLS63 AMG that had been used as a traveling on-track demo.). For me, cornering the CLS550 at its limit of adhesion is like asking Scarlett Johansson to direct a Brazzers video. Scary, exciting, pointless and, ultimately, self-defeating. Caning the car at seven-tenths? All day long. Why are we talking about this? As it was in the beginning so it is forevermore: the CLS550 leads the style-driven life. Despite the engine, chassis, brakes, suspension, transmission and tire upgrades to ye olde E, the CLS is no sports sedan. It remains an eye candy car for buyers who (rightly) consider the E-Class’s sheetmetal is bit too pedestrian, a bit too Eurotaxi. But don’t want to leave the German brand’s embrace. The kind of people who can spot the difference between an Armani and a Brioni suit. And know that most people can’t. And like that.

rf1

The CLS550‘s newly sculpted shark-nose, unnecessarily athletic haunches and low roofline give these Ray Donovans both the uberholprestige and cut-and-thrust cachet they crave. The fact that the CLS550‘s rear end design is what the Brits call a dog’s breakfast is neither here nor there. They’re more interested in the toys: Active Lane Keeping Assist, PARKTRONIC with Active Parking Assist, Active Bling Sport Assist. I mean Blind Spot Assist. I mean, I love the thing that ratchets the seatbelt down on your shoulder before take-off. Who cares what it does? It feels hi-tech. While the big Merc’s cabin is as well screwed-together as anything Audi assembles the CLS550 suffers in comparison to Ingolstadt’s ergonomic excellence. The only snick you hear is the snickering of Audi’s interior design team as they contemplate the silver-effect plastic deployed for the CLS550‘s steering wheel and buttons.

IMG_0557

Siri kicks Mercedes’ ass in the sat nav department. While the carcoon known as the rear passenger compartment now offers plenty o’ legroom there’s only slightly more side visibility than an M1 Abrams tank. Still. On the flip side, holding the IMG_0555CLS550’s chunky steering wheel is like holding your father’s hand. And there’s a small, square, white, hugely anachronistic
analogue clock in the middle of the dash (a sign that Mercedes can’t best British design, either). The CLS’ bog-standard boom box beats all that audiophile stuff I shoehorned into various whips before I could afford a proper car. Which brings us to the CLS550’s trump card: the engine note.

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The CLS550 doesn’t burble like an E39 BMW M5, the first German car to ditch sonic refinement for multi-decibel muscle car machismo. But it’s not unlike the V8 M5’s sonic signature either. And holy Bolivian blow Batman, is the latter day luxobarge’s engine note addictive! You can almost hear the guy in the tux announcing “Let’s get ready to rummmmmbbble!” And then you hear the rumble. All. The. Time. Can someone PLEASE fire-up the AMG version of this thing for me? Wait! Don’t! My cash flow can’t float that boat. But tell me the engineers built-in that wind roar to enable the engine sound’s entry into the cabin. No? Just lucky I guess.

After using FM 2244 as a runway in a fun but fruitless attempt to reach rotation I rocked-up to my local pizza place to secure my customary glass of (What’s Up) Languedoc. I cruised the upmarket strip mall. Windows down, I clocked the big Merc’s burble bouncing off low-slung limestone walls. I swear the CLS550 was skulking through the parking lot. Shark nose indeed.

A woman of a certain age (and timeless beauty) occupying the terrace looked over her date’s shoulder and smiled. Whether she smiled at me, the car or simply because that’s what Texas women do on the first crisp night after an oppressive summer doesn’t really matter. The CLS550‘s soundtrack had etched the moment into my memory. That’s what a great car can do. And some not so great ones too, as long as they have greatness in them. Which, strangely enough, this one does.

What was it that Enzo used to say? We sell them an engine and throw the car in for free. Like that.

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105 Comments on “Review: Mercedes CLS550 (By: R. Farago)...”


  • avatar
    carveman

    R Farago is a national treasure and as such should be the headliner for our version of Top Gear. I always wondered what happened to the executive who ok’d the Aztec.

  • avatar
    jmo

    Such a great review!!

    And, no comments about leases and soccer moms and the rest of the thinly veiled jealous snark one sometimes finds on TTAC.

  • avatar
    ash78

    “Siri kicks Mercedes’ ass in the sat nav department”

    Now THAT is the scariest thing I’ve read in a car review in ages.

    Great to see you back here, Mr. F. And nice to see you haven’t lost the touch. I can’t even imagine that guns have enough attributes to make proper use of your prose. In other words, please come back more often.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    It is with unalloyed pleasure that I read Mr. Ferago’s review.

    The new TTAC, indeed.

  • avatar
    olddavid

    There goes the neighborhood.

  • avatar

    Robert – our car world is poorer with you serving the weapons side, but it’s great to see you back. The CLS write-up is superb, but most of all I hope you are quite proud of what you started. Your prescience about where we were headed in 2008 was remarkable, yet the tea leaves had been there for the reading since the late 70′s – just no one was reading.

    Any thoughts about starting “The Truth about Government”?

    • 0 avatar
      carveman

      TTAG excellent idea. Can you imagine the carnage the wailing and gnashing the wringing of hands and the twisting of mommy boy’s panties. A frontal assault on the cesspool in Washington led by the clear eyed razor tongued R. Oh for the love of god man your country needs you.

      • 0 avatar
        NN

        no kidding. Mr. Farago, your talent, clarity and passion can serve a higher calling. I remember why I initially came to this website now. I wouldn’t have read a review of this car if it were written by most other writers. But you have the ability to foster interest in a subject on an apathetic audience, which is a rare power.

      • 0 avatar
        dash riprock

        There already is a TTAG…..The Truth About Guns. It is the product of the reviewer. If you are wondering the truth about guns is that they are good…real good, and only better with more killing power.

      • 0 avatar
        cdnsfan27

        Oh I would so read that!

    • 0 avatar
      Landcrusher

      RF would kill himself trying to cover government. He would stop sleeping with so much to write about.

  • avatar
    rocketrodeo

    “Austin’s glassine pavement”

    That word does not mean what you think it means–unless you are suggesting those roads are as slick as a sheet of translucent waxy paper.

  • avatar
    vvk

    Ernest, is that you?!

  • avatar

    It IS a great car, but I wonder how many others prefer the old body style to this new one? Even MB factory folks, when candid, admit the old car was a classic.

  • avatar

    Great to see a review from Robert again, it was highly entertaining.

    “Once that’s sorted out, ladies and gentlemen, lunge is served.” While I have an older CLK500, I can quite attest to this lunging of the luxobarge when tromping on the accelerator. The second paragraph describes the eagerness of these engines very entertainingly.

    Let’s hope Robert’s ML breaks down (under warranty, of course) a few more times for some more reviews.

  • avatar
    grzydj

    The stunning depreciation curve on these means I can afford one in about 10 years.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Holy cow, topical references and wordplay abound.

    Glassine obscene.

  • avatar

    It’s like you never left! But welcome back anyway, Robert.

  • avatar
    Chris FOM

    Welcome back. And great review. Gets across exactly what the car is both trying to be and how well it accomplishes those goals.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Cars like this are far too anutilitarian for my tastes. Seven-tenths? Even in Texas, one can only cane it to 2 or 3 tenths before smashing the prow into an armadillo or the rear axle of an F-450. Such a waste of engineering talent. Sadly, there is no Texas-size Tree of Woe for their contemplation.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      Well at least in central TX you can do a legal 85mph down the BBQ corridor south of Austin on the toll road, and I reckon if revenues continue to fall short they may boost that limit up even higher..

      However, beyond the pickups and armadillos the other big worry is feral hogs, they can cause quite a mess when hit @ 80+ mph..

  • avatar
    LKre

    After having spent years on building mental discipline to read regular reviewers who inherited TTAC from Farago, I get to read this. Thanks, all my efforts were just destroyed in 10 minites.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    WOW! What a treat for me, reading a car review by Mr. Farago as I signed on here in 2010, long after RF left. I can only imagine – maybe consulting the archives sometime – what TTAC was like in those days!

    I believe TTAC has healed superbly since the “re-launch” some months ago! It just keeps getting better, which is very refreshing.

    Thanks to all and well-done!

    • 0 avatar
      MK

      Okay enough! Lol
      I only caught the tail end of the Farago period and didn’t visit very often back then (no bearing on why though) but I hope this essay wasn’t what every review was like because that was so overwrought it makes my inner voice hurt reading it.

      And I though JB could go on a bit…..

  • avatar

    “…lunge is served…”

    Robert, that was all I needed. Good to see you back on these pages. Hope it’s not another three years before we see you again.

  • avatar
    jg1708

    Hey Farago (or anyone else at TTAC) how about a review of the Corvette?

  • avatar
    The Soul of Wit

    RF… Good to see your talent is not wasted on the car…as much as the car’s attributes are not wasted on you…

    Texas being Texas, you were probably packing, right?

  • avatar
    james2k

    Welcome back!

  • avatar
    philadlj

    I didn’t come across this site until long after you left, but I enjoyed the review. I found it to be colorful, concise, and entertaining.

    It also made me wonder how or why someone would drive one of these (the 4MATIC version) barely 30 mph on a 40 mph back road, as I (and many others) found myself behind such a driver yesterday…

    • 0 avatar
      fincar1

      Aaah, there’s always one of those drivers. I remember back in the 60′s getting stuck behind a white-haired old foof driving a then-new 250S sedan as though it were a Model A. Frustration….

    • 0 avatar
      brenschluss

      Your last sentence was what I popped in to say.

      All this talk of thrust and velocity, and yet they all seem to be driven by the infirm.

  • avatar
    mikey

    I wouldn’t give a Mercedes space in my driveway. However ,I did read every word of the review.

    Ya RF….I’m still here. Good stuff Robert, hope to see you back for some more.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Good stuff…

    Personally, I think Mercedes dropped the ball on the styling of this car. The old was just about perfect.

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      I concur.

      The recent “swoopiness” (angled, nay, curved beltines!), as I put it, of the MB line is something I find deeply unattractive, compared to the mid-2000s and their clean lines.

      (Like in the E-class; the W211 was great. The W212 is not.)

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    Please have Robert review the Subaru Tribeca replacement. It’s just right.

  • avatar
    dingram01

    Thought the writing, like the car, was showy and trying too hard.

    But this should finally end all the debate about turbo fours, right everyone? See, Mercedes likes them enough they put TWO in this car.

  • avatar
    Domestic Hearse

    RF,

    An important and glaring detail has been omitted from your review.

    No doubt, you were CCW, probably somewhere amidships on your person. Yet no mention of how the chiseled Merc’s seats accommodated your piece or affected your comfort and access.

    Rollicking good review. And props to TTAC’s Tame Racing Driver and Editor in Chief Pro Temore for bringing the founder back for a guest appearance.

  • avatar

    Robert, very glad to see a guest appearance from the guy who gave me and Jerry an opportunity to write for TTAC back in 2009. You have not lost that lovin’ feeling for cars and I hope you can find some time to occasionally feed that hunger on TTAC.

  • avatar
    mcarr

    So, for roughly the same money, I could buy this, or an optioned up 4-cyl BMW 5 series…

    Let me think about that for a minute…

  • avatar
    TTAC Staff

    If the TTAC Staff robot could express emotions, it would say that it’s happy to see Robert’s byline here at TTAC again.

  • avatar
    Johnny Canada

    Robert Farago – The Howard Roark of automotive provocateurs.

  • avatar
    Numbers_Matching

    Somehow, I now have a seat-of-the-pants feeling for this car..

    I owned a used, beat-up ’03 E500 Wagon for a couple of years. got rid of it once the Air-matic suspension started to act up. 243,000 miles (mostly highway) when I sold it – loved the 5L V8. Nothing spectacular on paper, but man, it would hussle..

  • avatar
    05lgt

    Jack’s got things for you to do! And Mother wants you!

    I know she does!

    Farago!

    Farago!

    Come back!

  • avatar
    Sigivald

    “And there’s a small, square, white, hugely anachronistic
    analogue clock in the middle of the dash (a sign that Mercedes can’t best British design, either). ”

    The problem is that it’s not round and in the instrument cluster, where God and Robert Moses Browning… er… Stuttgart intended.

    (cf. http://www.californiaclassix.com/images3/c473-dash-remote.jpg)

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      For some reason, clocks in dashboards have a tendency to look cheap to me. Doesn’t matter if its the clock VW slapped in the middle of the Passat’s dash, or one from a Cadillac DTS, or the round one that was in the dash of many Lincoln Town Cars right up till the bitter end, or the one in this MB. They just look cheap and chintzy to me.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      If the analog clock isn’t internally sync’d with the digital clock (which preferably is sync’d to GPS and handles stuff like DST and time zones automatically), then it’s a waste of space if you ask me.

      • 0 avatar
        CGHill

        My daughter knows my tendency toward CDO (which is, you’ll remember, OCD with the letters in alphabetical order, the way they should be), so when I showed up one day last decade with a second-generation Infiniti I30, she wanted to know how I could stand it when the analog clock didn’t match the digital.

        Piece of cake. This car’s audio head unit has no clock at all. (Even more weirdly, the analog clock atop the stack keeps pretty good time: between DST resettings, it loses maybe 20-30 seconds.)

  • avatar
    lmike51b

    Great review. And it’s great that the flux capacitor is working.

  • avatar
    genuineleather

    Glad to see some Farago flavor return. If the CLS is the Brioni of Mercedes, than the E-Class is Oxxford: similar quality, but stodgier and less expensive.

    The CLA is Hugo Boss: brand-driven crap.

  • avatar
    campocaceres

    Welcome back, sir. I had nearly forgotten just how enjoyable the sheer passion and flowery prose of your review style can be. It makes any other article just seem bland by comparison.

    Didn’t realize you’re down here in Texas now. Makes a lot of sense though, considering.

  • avatar
    racebeer

    Good to see you back, RF!!! I follow you over at TTAG, and was hoping for your return as a reviewer some day.

    However, I do have one question. I’m just wondering if you were enjoying a few Margaritas with Dr. Bud E. Bryan while you were in Austin writing this essay?

  • avatar
    coatejo

    I don’t often comment on TTAC anymore, but it has been a daily routine of mine since I found the site around 2006. Robert’s writing got me hooked, and I’ll echo the sentiment that I hope he has many more guest contributions to TTAC in the future.

  • avatar
    Brian E

    You let him get away with 1200 words? For shame.

  • avatar
    Tinker

    FM 2243 from I-35 to US183 (Leander) would have been more fun, but then you have to worry about old F150s with a bent frame, out there.

  • avatar
    thornmark

    Fine review. I like the analog clock and his sensible politics.

  • avatar
    NN

    When Chrysler put the analog clocks in the dashboards of the 300 at first, it looked really cool (in an otherwise junky interior). But now they’re doing it with the same Timex Indiglo color in the ghastly 200 (4cyl) that I rented earlier this week in Florida. Just the fact that it’s being put on a car that bad means Benz should avoid it. They should know better–they designed the Sebring/200 themselves.

  • avatar

    Is P.J. O’Rourke still alive?

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      Yes and you should read “Driving Like Crazy”, “Eat the Rich”, and “Parliament of Whores” if you haven’t already. They’ll all make you laugh and educate you at the same time.

  • avatar
    Ishwa

    I couldn’t give one flip about a MB, but I had to check this out when I saw you wrote this, Farago.

    Regarding the article…It sucked me in, love the writing style. The car actually seems very appealing. I’ll have to check out TTAG too.

    On a side note, I find it very interesting how you managed to spawn two (that I know of!) very successful websites with many dedicated readers. It may seem silly as just a frequent reader, but I feel proud of this site and so lucky to have one day stumbled upon it years ago. Thanks for everything, your work and those who came after you has certainly improved my life!

  • avatar
    360joules

    I enjoyed the review. Nothing wrong with describing visceral impressions and sensations.

  • avatar
    jkross22

    Robert, you’ve got a face and voice for radio, but a keyboard meant to do this.

    The Truth About Government would be a helluva read.

    Something to mull over tonight when you can’t get to sleep…

  • avatar

    Thanks for the kind words. Getting back in the car reviewing groove felt good. We’ll do this again sometime.

  • avatar

    RF writes a car review again?

    Now that will part some waters and probably cool the planet too.

    “Merica may survive after all!

    Actually, sir, thank YOU for the words! Well done – and entertaining – as always.

  • avatar
    Beerboy12

    My first reading of the famed and worshiped Fargo. Good job. A bit dramatic at times but well done. Some questions though. How did the brakes feel/perform (I guess you don’t need them in Texas but…)? What was the trunk space / access like? Visibility for the drive, front and rear? Gas mileage (I know… for this car WTF… but I still want to know, OK)
    I do like this car, now I want one more…

  • avatar
    Davekaybsc

    Mercedes interior designers would snicker right back at the dirt cheap plastic Audi uses in the entire lower center console of the A7. Sorry Robert, but in an interior materials fight between CLS and A7, advantage CLS. The cup holder door in the Audi feels like it should be in a VW Golf.

  • avatar
    JD321

    Here’s hoping that RF’s ML breaks down in front of a Ferrari dealership.
    The new CLS is just vulgar looking like they styled it for sociopathic Banksters. The entire thing is a dog’s breakfast compared to the last model.

  • avatar
    probert

    Farago reviewing a car made in a socialist state by union workers. What kind of reading material is he stocking in the bunker?

  • avatar
    pb35

    RF, I didn’t know you were in Central TX. I’m in West Austin, would love to buy you a drink of your choice if the opportunity arose.

    Nice review, good to see you back. Don’t be a stranger.

  • avatar
    threeer

    I tailed a new CLS when they first started hitting the road back in Germany years ago, taken by what I saw was a timeless elegance. The new variant? Eh…not so much. Seems too much “Ballers and Bling” to me, but I guess that is more than likely the actual target audience…

  • avatar

    That was simply fantastic.

    ‘Round these parts the locals almost always get the AMG, and some opt for the sport exhaust. If I see a 6.3 AMG anything rolling up, I kill the radio and drop the window to hear it rumble by. The big Benzs are no exception. It reminds me of a 66 GTO, with a German accent.

    After reading that stunning review, I feel compelled to drop to my knees ala Wayne’s World and chant;

    “We’re not worthy…We’re not worthy”

    Please add my voice to the resounding chorus of “Welcome back”

  • avatar

    Oh, and awesome pre-jump pic of (what I assume to be) a jr Farago sporting “dueces” from the back seat.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    Welcome back Robert, and welcome to Texas! You’ll love the wide open roads and casual attitude towards speed. You’ll miss seasons (it gets chilly, and the leaves brown and drop overnight). Of course, you may have heard we have guns down here.

    ProTip: Never take 290 to Houston. Always do 71 to 10.

  • avatar
    Joss

    Fine ride. The emblem defines the CLS550 as Benz more than the car… So much acceleration & brakes to the next red light.

  • avatar
    SupaMan

    I’ve missed these reviews. Thanks for throwing us a bone Sir Farago!

    I’d say that the AMG 6.2 V8 has got to be up there with the great V8 engines. But the twin turbo 4.6 is no slouch and Mercedes definitely knows how to tune a V8 for great sound.


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