Mercedes-Benz resisted Bluetooth for a long time, opting for a cradle docking system for cell phones. But recent models have included Bluetooth. Unfortunately, the number of compatible phones seems very limited, as we tried both a Samsung phone and an iPhone, finding neither worked with the system.
As for audio, the Harman Kardon system in the CL550 pumps 600 watts out of 11 speakers, and uses Logic 7 processing to take two-channel audio sources and separate them into 7 channels. We found the audio quality to be high, with very good clarity in the high range, although midrange vocals were just a little muddy. Available audio sources include Sirius satellite radio, a six-disc changer, which can handle DVDs and MP3 CDs, and the aforementioned substandard iPod interface.
Beyond that trio of cabin tech, the CL550 sports Distronic Plus, Mercedes-Benz's adaptive cruise control system, which uses forward facing radar to match speeds with slower moving traffic. We found the system easy to set using the simple stalk controller, helped by the instrument cluster display which shows the speed you've set and the car's actual speed. In practice, the system works well, and had no problem slowing us down to speeds below 20 mph in a traffic jam. We only fault it for not accelerating quickly enough when we changed lanes to get around a slower car. The radar for this system is also used for collision warning, as the car will sound a tone if it thinks you are about to crash into the car ahead. If you fail to hit the brakes, it will go into precollision mode.
The night vision system is another technology we've seen before. It throws out infrared beams, with an infrared camera picking up an image and displaying it on the instrument cluster. You wouldn't want to try and drive just by looking at the display, but it does offer information about the road ahead on dark nights that can be taken in with a quick glance.
Finally, the blind-spot detection system is new for Mercedes-Benz. We found this system very effective at letting you know when a car is hidden off the CL550's rear quarter, with a red icon lit up on the sideview mirror. If you signal to turn while the icon is lit up, it will flash and the car will beep, giving you an extra warning. Unlike some systems we've seen, the icon only lights up when another car is solidly in the blind spot, if it's approaching but still visible in the rearview mirrors, or right next to the CL550, the icon won't light up.
Under the hood
You get plenty of power out of the 2009 Mercedes-Benz CL550's 5.5-liter V-8. This double-overhead cam aluminum power plant delivers 382 horsepower at 6,000rpm and 391 pound-feet of torque from 2,800 to 4,800rpm, giving the car some low-end power bias to get its 4,639 pounds moving. Mercedes-Benz claims a 0 to 60 mph time of 5.4 seconds, making the CL550 a surprisingly quick coupe.
Mercedes-Benz has done a good job of refining the automatic transmission, so this seven speed shifts smoothly on its own, yet follows your lead when you use the paddles for manual mode. There is a little hesitation between shifts when you click the paddles, but it would be tough to push in a clutch and change a manual as fast.
Our CL550 was equipped with Mercedes-Benz's 4Matic all-wheel-drive system, a first for the CL-class. This system has been refined to the point that it only adds 154 pounds to the car, according to Mercedes-Benz. A multiplate clutch on the center differential is supposed to make it act like a limited slip, but getting this car into a situation where 4Matic would make a difference takes some irresponsible driving. That said, we did push it around on some wet corners with intermittent rises, putting the car in a nonoptimal traction situation, but it showed no signs of leaving the road.
From a sport perspective, the steering wheel tuning is on the light side, making it easy to throw around quickly but not providing as much feedback as we would like.
The CL550's big V-8 isn't what you would call economical, with an EPA mileage of 14 in the city and 21 on the highway. During our time with the car, the mileage stuck at 17.3 mpg for a mix of city and freeway driving, keeping to the middle of the EPA range. When gas prices go up again, this CL550 would be hard to justify. Surprisingly, the car earns a ULEV II rating for emissions, a step above the minimum.
The 2009 Mercedes-Benz CL550, with the 4Matic all-wheel-drive system, goes for a base price of $107,000. Fortunately, many features, such as the navigation and Harman Kardon stereo, are standard. Options on are vehicle included the Distronic Plus adaptive cruise control, blind-spot detection, night vision, massage seats, and iPod kit. The total price for our CL550, which includes a $1,300 gas guzzler tax, comes up to $122,910. That's a hefty price for a car with poor iPod and cell phone compatibility. For that kind of money, you could get the Maserati GranTurismo, which looks even better than the already impressive CL550. Or you could get a few miles per gallon better fuel economy with the Lexus LS 600h.
In our ratings for this car, we consider the design outstanding. The pillar-less roof gives it an open feeling with the windows down and the roofline is very attractive. We also like the sculpture along the sides. The interface for cabin tech drags the overall design score down just a little; it's good but not the best we've seen. We would have downgraded the cabin tech score substantially for the poor iPod and Bluetooth connectivity, but features like blind-spot detection, night vision, and the massage seats buoyed it back up. There are a lot of toys to play with in this car. As for performance, while we are impressed by the power and the all-wheel-drive system, that overall score gets lowered because of to the mediocre gas mileage.