2011 Mercedes-Benz CL550 Review

2011 Mercedes-Benz CL550 - Mercedes continues grand old large sporty coupe tradition with the CL550 from its CL-Class line.


The 2011 Mercedes-Benz four-passenger CL550 coupe I tested from the automaker's CL-Class line is a throwback to the grand  Mercedes coupes of decades ago.

That was when Mercedes engineers were given a pretty free hand to design the automaker's large sedan and coupe models, complete with thick double-pane side glass. .

Those big powerful cars thus were superlative and majestic. Although heavy, they were  fast and had no serious competition in America, where they were overqualified for most U.S. driving-and for most U.S. drivers, who were accustomed to soft U.S. luxury cars.

The new CL550 coupe is the entry model in Mercedes' CL-Class coupe line. It's a two-door version of the sumptuous Mercedes S-Class sedan and thus has all the luxury and high-tech items found in S-class four-door models, along with perhaps excessive electronic sophistication.

The CL looks rakish and has an imposing presence. Styling revisions for 2011 include  a new grille and air intakes

CL-Class models start at $113,150 and shoot all the way to $209,300.

As with the old big Mercedes coupes, the CL550 is no lightweight at approximately 4,600 pounds. But it's agile, even if the easily activated firmer "sport" driving mode isn't selected. The CL550 has Mercedes' nicely engineered all-wheel drive, although other models have rear-wheel drive.

Steering is accurate and almost too quick for highway lane changes. The car rides smoothly and tackles curves virtually like a big sports car. And the brakes quickly and surely bring things to a halt, although the car's weight can be felt.

The CL-Class  has new turbocharged V-8s. The CL550 I tested has Mercedes' new twin-turbo 4.7-liter V-8, which produces 429 horsepower and a whopping 516 pound-feet of torque. That's up from 382 horsepower for last year's non-turbo 5.5-liter V-8. The new engine produces lower emissions and a claimed 10-15 percent increase in fuel economy..

Estimated fuel economy for the CL550 is 15 mpg in the city and 23 on highways. Premium fuel is required.

The CL550's 429-horsepower V-8 makes it very fast and an easy high-speed cruiser. Also offered are CL-Class models with a 5.5-liter twin turbo V-8  with 536 horsepower, a 5.5-liter twin-turbo V-12 with 510 horsepower and an outrageous twin-turbo 6-liter V-12 with 621 horsepower and astounding 738 pound-feet of torque.

All CL-Class models are loaded with comfort and convenience features, along with advanced safety equipment.

The few accessory groups on my test CL550 were desirable but expensive, costing from $2,950 to $5,900. The bottom line price, including a delivery charge, thus rose to 127,870.

The CL550 I tested had a driver-adaptive seven-speed automatic transmission with an easily used manual-shift control via paddles, but a five-speed automatic also is offered. My test car's automatic shifted efficiently, but you could feel it changing gears a lot to keep the engine in the right power range during in-town driving.

Although large, with long, heavy doors, the CL550's quiet interior has only four seats. The two comfortable ones in the rear are separated by a console and large armrest with  pop-out cupholders. Rear windows lower all the way. Front seats have a power back-forward feature to allow easier entry to the rear.

Although the CL is large, legroom for a 6-footer is tight behind a driver, although it's OK behind the front passenger. There's plenty of room up front in big, supportive seats.

Gauges are easy to read, but it takes some time to sort out all the controls, some of which are very small. Some control a variety of electronic functions and may leave you wondering if they're really all necessary. I had to consult the thick owner's manual more than once to find out how some things worked.

A deep front console bin holds lots of stuff, and doors have fairly deep storage pockets. But the small glove compartment is mainly occupied by the owner's manual. And the lid for the twin front cupholders gets a little in the way of accessing them when open.

The large trunk has a low, wide opening, and its lid has an interior pull-down feature and is lined. A shallow covered storage area resides under the trunk floor.

Finding the hood's interior release is a trial without the manual, but it raises smoothly on twin struts, revealing a complicated-looking engine compartment.

Mercedes coupes always have been especially prized by the automaker, and it should be especially proud of the new CL550.

Dan Jedlicka

Dan Jedlicka's Website

Dan Jedlicka joined the Chicago Sun-Times in February 1968 as a business news reporter and was named auto editor later that year. He has reviewed more than 4,000 new vehicles for the Sun-Times--far more than any newspaper auto writer in the country. Jedlicka also reviewed vehicles for Microsoft Corp.'s MSN Autos Internet site from January, 1996, to June, 2008.

Jedlicka remained auto editor at the Sun-Times until October, 2008, and continued writing for the newspaper's AutoTimes section, which he started in 1992, until February, 2009. While continuing his auto writings at the Sun-Times, he served as assistant financial editor of that newspaper from 1970 to 1973, when he began his automotive column.

He has appeared on numerous radio and television shows, including NBC's "Today," ABC's "20/20" and "The CBS Evening News." He was a host, consultant and writer for Fox-TV Channel 32's 1991 New Car Preview show and that Chicago-based station's 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1995 Chicago Auto Show Previews.

Jedlicka's auto articles have been printed in national magazines, including Esquire and Harper's. His auto columns have been reprinted in U.S. government publications and economic textbooks and he is profiled in the "World's Greatest Auto Show" history book about the Chicago Auto Show. In late 1975, Jedlicka was host and technical advisor for three one-hour television specials, "Auto Test 76," which aired nationally on PBS and were the first nationally televised auto road test shows.

In 1995, Jedlicka was the recipient of the Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois Inc.'s Consumer Education Award, given annually to a person who has gained distinction in the field of consumer education. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award in the Media category and inducted into the Legends of Motorsports Guild at the Carquest World of wheels custom car show in Chicago in January, 2006.

Jedlicka was a member of the North American Car and Truck of the Year jury, composed of a select number of auto journalists from throughout the country, from 1995 until 2009. From 2010 to 2012, he was a member of Consumer Digest magazine's auto experts panel that gave Best Buy new vehicle recommendations.

He is a 1987 graduate of the Bob Bondurant Race Drivers School and later of the BMW "M" and Skip Barber Advanced Driving schools. He was a member of the U.S. team that participated in the 1987 1,000-mile Mille Miglia race/rally in Italy and has been a race winner at the Chicago area's Santa Fe Speedway.

Jedlicka has owned 25 classic cars, including 1950s and 1960s Ferraris and 1950s and 1960s Porsches, a 1965 Corvette, a 1967 Maserati and a 1957 Studebaker supercharged Golden Hawk. Jedlicka resides with his wife, Suzanne, in the Frank Lloyd Wright historic district of Oak Park. They have two children, James and Michele.

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