SAVANNAH, Ga. – The clopping of horse-drawn carts sounds like mini-thunderstorms here at the most genteel outpost on the Georgia coast. Savannah’s cultural district draws gaggles of tourists that want to see the places made famous in “The Book” (Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, for the unknowing), and for most folks the carriage ride is the only way to go.
Us? We’re gliding from square to square like the world’s most elegantly powerful chess piece, an AMG-modified Mercedes-Benz CL55 two-door. What makes it so special? There’s the absurdly powerful, 354-hp V-8 engine. Then there’s the equally absurd $101,145 price tag.
With all that pretension to greatness, it’s no wonder that the parking attendants trip over each other for the chance to break traction on the city’s cobblestone streets. “I’ve been waiting for this one all weekend!” glowed one lot boy.
Does the CL55 live up to its presupposed superstardom? The first thing you realize is that, even without its AMG add-ons, the CL coupes are some of the most graceful designs penned by Benz. It’s no crime to mark the similarities with Lincoln’s Mark VIII or various Thunderbirds, not to mention an Acura coupe or two. But somehow, especially in Mercedes’ beluga black, the same basic theme becomes timeless.
Then more reality sets in. With the AMG massage, the sleek CL55 grabs the reins to a marvelous weapon of a powerplant, a 5.5-liter V-8 stroked to 354 hp and 391 lb-ft of torque, and it’s transformed, from a boulevardier with impeccable road manners to something a little more naughty.
Commandeering this much power on Savannah’s squares seems almost silly, but on Interstate 16, it’s stunning. Passes are slingshots, onramps are aerobics classes. Just spot a car in the distance and gradually squeeze the throttle, and the CL55 puts itself alongside the other vehicle with remarkable pace. If you obsess on numbers, Mercedes says it will glide to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds, and top out at 155 mph.