Mercedes CL550 Review

Jay Shoemaker
by Jay Shoemaker
mercedes cl550 review

During my soujourn on the other side of the pond, I was delighted to score an early drive in the new CL550. Unfortunately, my enthusiasm was somewhat blunted by the French Mercedes salesman’s incessant questioning. He kept interrupting my concentration to ask me how to adjust his seat massage system. Then, thanks to his oafish fiddling with the car's COMAND navigation system, I was distracted by a computerized frenchwoman ordering me to make a U-turn s’il possible. I contemplated pulling over sur le grand-rue to garrote both of my companions, but I couldn’t find a Parisian parking space of sufficient enormity to berth the German dreadnought. Tant pis pour moi.

America used to build gigantic Eldorado and Continental coupes like this: impossibly large luxobarges with rocker panels suitable for a secret stash. No more. The list of modern coupes just under 200 inches long begins and ends with the CL550. While the mighty Merc shrinks when you weigh anchor, we’re still talking about a two-door that’s only slightly larger than a Range Rover. Aside from Darth Vader’s Maybach-derived Exelero, automotive size-queens have found their car.

Of course, coupes of all dimensions generally succeed on their appearance. Although there's more than a touch of CLS to the rear, the CL550’s got so much snout you’d be forgiven for thinking that mon ami photographed the test car with a porno lens. Still, props where props are due: the latest CL is sexy in a German Cabaret sort of way: projecting a mix of brand appropriate aristocratic arrogance and unabashed kink. In fact, I suspect more than a few Parisian pedestrians thought my nearasdammit $100k ride deserved immediate immolation.

Luckily, California hasn’t had a proper riot for years. And anyway, the monster Merc is an inside out kinda car, reserving most of its delights for the cabin’s residents. Of course, all the luxury toys are present and accounted for. The materials may be a bit serious minded, but they're well up to the Bentley benchmark. On the downside, despite winning a gong from a German authority on seating comfort (the mind boggles), I couldn’t find a comfortable sitting position– no matter how much I tilted, squabbed and lumbared. Clearly, the CL550's chairs were designed for drivers whose girth matches their motor’s.

Big yes, but this behemoth can boogie. To make Merc’s two-and-a-quarter-ton two-door handle like a car rather than, say, a tank, Munich’s boffins deployed second generation ABC (Active Body Control). The faster acting hydraulic servos transform the elephantine CL550 into something approximating an anti-gravity device. Roll, dive and/or squat are virtually nonexistent, at any speed, during any maneuver. Grip is available in appropriately large doses. Of course, with the sound insulation, the CL550’s tires could have been squealing like teenage girls at an Orlando Bloom film festival for all I know.

That’s the penalty for the poise: a dearth of dynamic feedback. Not only is your body isolated from anything other than graduated G-forces, but the CL550’s steering (complete with bus-like helm) is too slow and numb for rewarding control. Mercedes’ seven speed transmission, rightly and universally praised for its seamless cog swapping, adds to the non-sense of isolation. In fact, with Mercedes' ever-improving sound system cranking out insufferable Europop, the CL550 could well be the world’s fastest driving simulator– if you know what I mean.

If only [s]the video screens[/s] windows provided a better [s]image[/s] view. The CL550’s front windscreen is a bit of a bunker slit, the rear pillar is to three quarter visibility what sweatshirts are to bikini tops, and the back bumper is a few klicks to the rear. Good thing Merc provides CL550 pilots with parking aids fore and aft, night vision assist and Distronic plus radar-guided cruise control. While the technology protects against inflating insurance premiums, it adds to the feeling that the owner’s role in the erstwhile driving experience could be a little, um, superfluous.

Disengage cruise control, depress the go-pedal and there’s a large measure of hanging on involved. The CL550 sprints from rest to sixty in 5.4 seconds. The top end is electronically limited to 155mph– the exact point at which the heavy machine begins to feel nimble. Unless you’ve done serious circus time as human cannonball or the automotive equivalent thereof (i.e. own a Brabus-fettled Merc), the CL550’s in-gear acceleration doesn’t disappoint. The brakes are formidable! Or so the salesmen said when I avoided squishing an old Peugeot like a new accordion.

As I returned the CL550’s key fob to the friendly Frenchman, I wondered who’d end up owning the car. Back when I was an aspiring plutocrat, I found the last generation CL hugely appealing. Now that most of the plutocratic population is either behind bars or awaiting sentencing, this group’s sway over the buying habits of the upwardly mobile has diminished. These days it’s bling avant tout. (Hence the CLS550.) Still, there’s a soft spot in my heart– and an empty spot in my garage– for this extravagent teleportation chamber. Sometimes getting there is more than half the fun.

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  • Robert Farago Robert Farago on Oct 15, 2006

    I have removed the anti-French comments under this article and the replies to same. (Please note: Mr. Shoemaker was not attacking the French in general.)

    Also, while I will allow political discussions relating to the issues raised by TTAC's reviews and rants, there are limits. Here are the basic rules, in case you've forgotten.

    1. No accusations of anti-domestic bias against this site, its authors or commentators. Any such comments can be sent directly to me at

    2. No personal attacks.

    3. No bad language. OK, limited bad language.

    3. Nothing exceedingly off topic.

  • Logankf Logankf on Oct 16, 2006

    "While the mighty Merc shrinks when you cast anchor..." So you're saying that it shrinks when you stop? I would think it seemed smaller from the drivers seat while underway, which would mean you had "weighed anchor". Sorry, I am in the Navy, so I couldn't let it pass.

  • Funky D I despise Google for a whole host of reasons. So why on earth would I willing spend a large amount of $ on a car that will force Google spyware on me.The only connectivity to the world I will put up with is through my phone, which at least gives me the option of turning it off or disconnecting it from the car should I choose to.No CarPlay, no sale.
  • William I think it's important to understand the factors that made GM as big as it once was and would like to be today. Let's roll back to 1965, or even before that. GM was the biggest of the Big Three. It's main competition was Ford and Chrysler, as well as it's own 5 brands competing with themselves. The import competition was all but non existent. Volkswagen was the most popular imported cars at the time. So GM had its successful 5 brands, and very little competition compared to today's market. GM was big, huge in fact. It was diversified into many other lines of business, from trains to information data processing (EDS). Again GM was huge. But being huge didn't make it better. There are many examples of GM not building the best cars they could, it's no surprise that they were building cars to maximize their profits, not to be the best built cars on the road, the closest brand to achieve that status was Cadillac. Anyone who owned a Cadillac knew it could have been a much higher level of quality than it was. It had a higher level of engineering and design features compared to it's competition. But as my Godfather used to say "how good is good?" Being as good as your competitors, isn't being as good as you could be. So, today GM does not hold 50% of the automotive market as it once did, and because of a multitude of reasons it never will again. No matter how much it improves it's quality, market value and dealer network, based on competition alone it can't have a 50% market share again. It has only 3 of its original 5 brands, and there are too many strong competitors taking pieces of the market share. So that says it's playing in a different game, therfore there's a whole new normal to use as a baseline than before. GM has to continue downsizing to fit into today's market. It can still be big, but in a different game and scale. The new normal will never be the same scale it once was as compared to the now "worlds" automotive industry. Just like how the US railroad industry had to reinvent its self to meet the changing transportation industry, and IBM has had to reinvent its self to play in the ever changing Information Technology industry it finds it's self in. IBM was once the industry leader, now it has to scale it's self down to remain in the industry it created. GM is in the same place that the railroads, IBM and other big companies like AT&T and Standard Oil have found themselves in. It seems like being the industry leader is always followed by having to reinvent it's self to just remain viable. It's part of the business cycle. GM, it's time you accept your fate, not dead, but not huge either.
  • Tassos The Euro spec Taurus is the US spec Ford FUSION.Very few buyers care to see it here. FOrd has stopped making the Fusion long agoWake us when you have some interesting news to report.
  • Marvin Im a current owner of a 2012 Golf R 2 Door with 5 grand on the odometer . Fun car to drive ! It's my summer cruiser. 2006 GLI with 33,000 . The R can be money pit if service by the dealership. For both cars I deal with Foreign car specialist , non union shop but they know their stuff !!! From what I gather the newer R's 22,23' too many electronic controls on the screen, plus the 12 is the last of the of the trouble free ones and fun to drive no on screen electronics Maze !
  • VoGhost It's very odd to me to see so many commenters reflexively attack an American company like this. Maybe they will be able to find a job with BYD or Vinfast.