With its all-new exterior shape, the new Mercedes-Benz CL is the only two-door pillarless hardtop coupe in production and certainly one of the most beautiful cars in the company’s history. It’s also the first purpose-built coupe in the company’s history, built on its own platform in its own production facility, and sibling, rather than a descendant, of the S-Class sedan.
It is quite a bit smaller and more coupelike than the two previous big coupes were. It’s 196.6 inches long overall, 2.8 inches shorter than the previous model, 73.1 inches wide or 2.2 inches narrower, and 54.8 inches high, or 2.3 inches shorter. The 113.6-inch wheelbase is 2.3 inches shorter, and the front and rear track measure 62 inches — 1.5 and 0.5 inches narrower, respectively, than the old CL Coupe — but there’s more room inside in nearly every direction.
The CL Coupe carries more on-board electronic systems than any other car, period. For in addition to ABS, electronic brake force distribution, ESP yaw control, traction control, and GPS navigation, the CL is the first car in the world with true active suspension, the system called Automatic Body Control, or ABC.
ABC uses a system of sensors, pumps, valves and hydraulic servos to adjust the four-wheel independent suspension system to constantly changing road conditions. It’s used to cancel out almost all the pitch, dive, and roll of the body, working in milliseconds to adapt the CL to every driving situation and every road surface. Unlike the AIRmatic suspension system introduced on the S-Class last year, ABC uses conventional steel coil springs with the adaptive shock absorber units.
The CL carries forward a number of the technologies introduced in the S-Class, including the new GPS navigation system, the COMAND control system for audio, navigation, telephone and environment, the Distronic radar-commanded cruise control system, the Keyless Go pass card entry system, and the TeleAid emergency communications system.
2000 Mercedes-Benz CL Class
COMAND unifies the controls for the car’s most frequently used systems in a single control panel with redundant controls on the multifunction steering wheel, and once you learn how all the functions work, it is quite easy to use, especially with the navigation system and entertainment system.
With Keyless Go, as long as you have the pass card in your pocket, you simply approach the car, touch the door handle, and the doors unlock. Once inside, you step on the brake, press the chrome button in the center of the shift knob, and the engine starts. To shut if off, just touch the knob again. To lock the car, simply touch the door handle and walk away.
The optional TeleAid communications system will automatically notify emergency personnel when the driving situation warrants, using the cellular telephone system and GPS navigation system to communicate the whereabouts of the car.
Flying by wires
Along with these technologies and ABC, which is available exclusively on the CL Coupe, there is an astonishing array of other technologies inside, outside and underneath the CL, many of which are simply not available on any other car anywhere.
For instance, the CL is the only car available with bi-xenon high-intensity discharge lamps that produce that penetrating blue-white light on both low and high beams. All others are low beam only. The new lamps use 70 mm projectors instead of reflectors to generate and aim the light, using a mechanical mask over the beam to create the low beam. The larger outer lamps house the headlamps and turn signals, and the smaller inner lamps house H7 high-beam spotlights, side beams and parking lamps, with fog lamps housed low in the bumper. A new light level sensor built into the windshield automatically turns on the headlamps when light is low, such as in rain, in a garage or in a tunnel, and the headlamps can be programmed to stay on for up to one minute after the car is locked.
As before, there will be a CL500 V-8 and a CL600 V-12, but we will not get the V-12 until the late spring of 2000, so all the showrooms will initially be filled with V-8s only. The new 60-degree V-12 is a modular engine in the sense that it uses the same single-overhead-camshaft, three-valve-per-cylinder, twin-spark plug architecture as the 3.2 V-6 and the 4.3 and 5.0 V-8 engines. It is some 22 percent lighter than the previous V-12 engine design and gets 20 percent better fuel economy.
2000 Mercedes-Benz CL Class
The V-8 is rated at 306 horsepower at 5600 rpm, with 340 pound-feet of torque at 2700 rpm, while the V-12 will be rated at 367 horsepower at 5500 rpm, with 390 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm. Both will be packaged with a five-speed overdrive, fully electronically controlled automatic transmission using the new sequential shifter mechanism that requires only a quick sideways motion of the stick from Drive to select the next higher or lower gear.
In Europe, both the 5.0-liter V-8 engine and the 6.0-liter V-12 engine will feature automatic cylinder cutout, the first pair of engines ever to offer this technology in a single car line. In the United States, where gas-guzzler taxation is still a reality, we will get automatic cylinder cutout only on the larger, thirstier V-12 engine.
Inside, because of the hardtop roof design, the electronic instrumentation similar to but not the same as the S-Class, the central console and wood accents of either light walnut or dark chestnut, and the much lower seating position, the new CL Coupe has the sportiest, most modern flavor of any Mercedes-Benz, including the SLK and the aging SL.
A completely new level of luxury is present in the CL, because the instrument panel, the seats, the door panels, the rear side panels, and the center armrests are all covered in very high quality leather on the CL500, with Alcantara standard on the CL600.
The seats, similar in function to those in the S-Class, with memory, heating, cooling, a huge range of adjustment and optional ventilation and pulse massage, are different because they had to be. With no B-pillar, the coupe requires seats that incorporate the entire seat belt mechanism, and the seat belts move fore and aft with the seats themselves to provide comfort at whatever level of adjustment.
The steering wheel is a new multifunction design that allows fingertip control of sound system loudness and program, the navigation system, the cellular telephone, and other functions, and now incorporates an Easy Entry function that raises the wheel up and out of the way when the doors are opened for easy entry and exit.
2000 Mercedes-Benz CL Class
And, speaking of the doors, they use a new hinge system that allows the doors to swing open to 41 degrees and outward away from the body at the same time, so that occupants can swing their legs and out get their feet on the ground much more readily than would be possible with standard coupe door hinges. As always, the door glass drops down slightly before opening to clear the soft seals before a door is opened and returns to its position inside the seal when the door is closed. Power window controls are returned to the door panels in the coupe, along with seat and mirror controls and memory.
Driving the new CL V-8 and V-12 around the south of France, we tried to find a proper niche, a proper definition for the car. With the ABC active suspension, it corners like a sports car, but it’s not low enough to be a sports car. It’s certainly a sports coupe. It’s also got enough creature comforts to be a true luxury car — perhaps the most luxurious sports coupe there is. It has real, useable back seats, so it qualifies as a Grand Touring car. And it has enough power to perform like a muscle car, especially the astonishingly smooth V-12. Its stated competitors are the Jaguar XK8 and XKR and the Ferrari 456, all of which are very nice cars but wanting in the electronic wizardry that the CL has so much of.
It’s the most fun-to-drive Mercedes-Benz we have ever driven. Only a few will be built, about 50,000 over the next seven years. And the price of entry for the CL500 V-8 will be a daunting $85,500, a fact sad enough to make a grown man cry. The V-12 is expected to be closer to $100,000 when it arrives here next spring.
Base Price: $85,500 -
Major standard equipment: