Like the 2007 Mercedes-Benz S550, the CL550's navigation system features a 20GB hard drive, which enables it to provide lightning-quick response and refresh times for inputs. Programming a destination is straightforward: drivers use the COMAND wheel to select state, city, or street, then use a rotary action to select the required letters and numbers. A particularly impressive feature is the system's ability to calculate addresses by ZIP code.
Like the iDrive system in upscale BMW models, the CL550's COMAND interface features haptic feedback, which gives a physical indication when the limit of a range of menu options is reached. With the destination entered, the system calculates the route in less than three seconds--a vast improvement on the navigation systems in lesser Benz models. Zooming in and out using the dial is also impressive, as the system is able to go from a nationwide view to street-level perspective as quickly as the driver can turn the dial.
Another option for zooming maps is the CL550's voice command system, activated at the push of a button on the steering wheel. Pressing the button and asking the system to zoom in or zoom out has the effect of adjusting the map by a single level of magnification at a time. Other functions of the voice command that we discovered--there was no user's manual in our test car, meaning that we had to use our favored method of trial and error when evaluating the tech--include switching between the radio, CD, and navigation screens. The voice-command system is not Acura caliber (a request to adjust the cabin temperature was met with a request for clarification), but it was gratifying to have some of our speculative commands understood.
Also to our liking is the CL550's turn-by-turn voice guidance for navigation routes, which we found prompt and accurate. When approaching a turn or an intersection, the map screen divides into two, with the right-hand side showing a detailed close-up of the road configuration--a nice feature for negotiating complex junctions.
As well as providing a convenient platform for controlling the COMAND dial, the center console-mounted pod also contains a hard-button keypad for making calls using the CL550's hands-free calling interface. While we do like this feature in theory, we were not able to use it in practice as our car was equipped with neither the $200 MHI proprietary hands-free calling interface (which works with only 5 cell phone handsets) nor the $408 Bluetooth interface that works with a mere 20 models of phone. We are not at all impressed with the necessity to splash out hundreds of extra dollars on a phone module for a car that bases at $99,000. Perhaps the most ridiculous thing on the CL550's option sheet is a $400 phone cradle that works only with the Motorola Razr--why anyone would spend that much money to tie themselves to a single (outdated) model of phone is beyond our ken.
Back to more positive subject matter, the CL550's audio system is very impressive. The standard in-dash six-disc CD changer handles regular Red Book CDs as well as MP3-encoded discs. When playing the latter, the audio system instantly indexes all the tracks on the disc, making them available in list form on the LCD screen. The driver can then use the COMAND dial to navigate the entire library of tracks at a glance. In addition to MP3 discs, the audio system can handle DVD Audio discs, but WMA-encoded discs are not accepted. All sources play back via the CL550's 600-watt, 11-speaker digital surround sound system, which delivers startlingly clear and crisp audio reproduction.
Under the hood
"Where do you put the key?" asked the parking attendant as we went out for our first test drive. It's a good question. Our tester was equipped with the Mercedes Keyless Go package that enables you to get into the car and fire it up without having to take the key from your pocket. The CL550's 5.5-liter V-8 engine is called into life with a touch of a chrome pushbutton start, giving the driver access to plenty of performance potential.
With net power of 382 horsepower and net torque of 391 pound-feet, the CL550 can get itself from zero to 60mph in just 5.4 seconds--no mean feat for a car with a curb weight of 4,360 pounds. Like many of Mercedes' high-end 2007 model-year cars, the CL550 comes with a seven-speed, driver-adaptive transmission, which apparently learns the driving style of whoever is behind the wheel, adjusting the timing of up- and downshifts accordingly.
For those who wish to adjust their own shifts in more spirited driving conditions, the CL550 features manumatic shifters on the back of the its steering wheel. As a testament to the spirited driving that can be done with the shifters, your correspondent was flagged down by the California Highway Patrol and given a speeding ticket while driving in manumatic mode.
Performance and safety technology on the 2007 Mercedes CL550 are almost as plentiful as the car's cabin gadgetry. Like the 2007 SL550 that we reviewed last month, the CL550 comes with Mercedes' Active Body Control (ABC) suspension system that's designed to reduce body roll in cornering, accelerating, and braking. Using 13 sensors placed around the vehicle, the ABC system theoretically detects and counteracts vertical- and transverse body roll by regulating the suspension via hydraulic servos located at each corner. Unlike the ABC system on the SL-Class, which has a separate setting for Sport mode, the CL550's ABC appears not to be adjustable. One performance feature that can be adjusted is the CL550's automatic shifts, which can be set to either Sport or Comfort modes depending on your mood.
For having such a large engine, the CL550 displayed passable gas mileage in our week-long test drive. Over 200 miles, we saw an average gas mileage of around 20mpg in mixed city and freeway driving.
Driving the CL550 around town, we found its power-assisted, speed-sensitive, rack-and-pinion steering a little too light for our liking: we understand that the CEOs and Hollywood agents likely to buy this car don't want to do any more work than they have to, but we would have preferred a little more resistance and feedback to remind us that we were actually driving. In fact, if you prefer outsourcing your driving duties, the CL550 is the car for you. As part of the $5,650 Premium II package, the CL550 comes with Distronic Plus adaptive cruise control, which enables drivers to peg their speed to that of other cars on the freeway. And one of the most innovative safety technologies on the car is the as-standard Pre Safe system. Pre Safe works by monitoring data from the car's braking- and electronic stability systems. If the systems suggest that the car is getting out of control, the car automatically adjusts a number of interior settings to minimize the effects of any potential impact: measures include adjusting the driver- and front passenger seats for more effective airbag deployment; inflating the seat's outboard side bolsters; and closing the windows and sunroof. Fortunately, we did not get to see any of these functions in action.
Our 2007 Mercedes-Benz CL550 came with nearly every available option. As well as Distronic Plus ($2,850) and a heated steering wheel ($450), we got the $5,650 Premium II package, which includes active ventilated front seats, dynamic multicontour front seats, a back-up camera, Night View Assist, and Keyless Go. With a gas-guzzler tax of $1,300, a destination fee of $775, and a base price of $99,000, our tester claimed the title of CNET Car Tech's most expensive review vehicle ever, with a price tag of $110,925.
The CL550 is a car at the crossroads of consummate luxury, admirable performance, and advanced onboard and driving technologies, although most people will need a second mortgage before they start to think about owning one.