You'll Like The 2008 Mercedes-Benz CL-Class If...

If a full-size, fast four-seat coupe loaded with the latest intelligent gadgetry fit for a microchip tycoon turns you on, the 2008 Mercedes-Benz CL550 heads the list. You'll like the big solid sedan feel from behind the wheel (it's based on a modified S-Class sedan platform), and safety improvements include automatically closing the windows and sunroof if the sensors detect an impending rollover.

You May Not Like The 2008 Mercedes-Benz CL-Class If...

If you're not much of a reader the 700-page owner's manual offers a daunting prospect. The Cockpit Management and Data System (COMAND), which controls navigation, audio, telephone, seat massage, suspension and other crucial settings, requires studying no less than 240-plus pages to decipher the different functions. An additional 175 pages discuss COMAND in more detail. Power window instructions occupy a full four pages.

What's New

Two limited-production AMG models, the CL63 AMG and CL65 AMG, join the line up, as does a 40th anniversary-edition CL65.

Interior Features

Luxury abounds door-to-door, floor-to-roof, from the high-gloss wood trim to the small silver dashboard clock elegant enough to wear as a dress watch. The leather-trimmed aviation-style cockpit is divided by a wide center console that holds the COMAND controller. The monitor for GPS, satellite radio, emergency calls and other functions crowns the instrument area and also displays Park, Neutral, Reverse and Drive after you've shifted the small, delicate shift lever. The rear seats are full-sized, but legroom might be snug if the front occupants require anything more than average legroom.

Exterior Features

Mercedes-Benz is to be congratulated for the restraint of the stunning, sporty restyling of its flagship line. The roofline sweeps smoothly from windshield to rear window without the interruption of a B-pillar. The two heavy doors open exceptionally wide, and Mercedes-Benz has figured out a clever electronic assistance for smaller persons, who may have difficulty in reaching out to close them. The signature grille and fender flares are toned down by the understated wedged body design, and the integrated trunk lid rounds off the aerodynamic styling at which the German manufacturer excels.

Driving Impressions

Standard driving practices are not applicable to the 2008 Mercedes-Benz CL550. By allowing the driver to pre-set dozens of preferences, the COMAND system can tailor the car to an individual driving style and preferred comfort level. The result is one of the best combinations of ride and handling we've ever experienced. Even at high speeds the car glides as smoothly as a Venetian gondola, the transmission traveling seamlessly through its seven gears. The active body control suspension is especially effective, hydraulically adjusting all four wheels depending upon driving situations. You can also electronically set following distance and lane changing, but the system is not infallible and may not detect vehicles not in its sightline.

Pricing Notes

Price is rarely an issue with cars like the CL550, which epitomize the pure essence of discriminating elegance, performance and comfort sought by the affluent. The CL550's Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) starts at almost $104,000, which is about $20,000 more than that of the Jaguar XK, for example. AMG models begin close to $140,000. Our CL550, with various options, had a retail price around $117,000. Fair Purchase Prices that represent prices consumers are actually paying can differ substantially, so click on Fair Purchase Prices to compare. In terms of resale value, the CL550 does not hold up as well as its less-expensive rivals the BMW 650i and the Jaguar XK.

Notable Equipment

In addition to the long list of standard equipment one expects in a premium luxury car, the 2008 Mercedes-Benz CL550 stands out for its improved COMAND system. Performance and handling features include an adaptive gearshift, programmable suspension, Parktronic, hands-free phone system, an electronic trunk closer, an electronic stability control system and steering wheel shift buttons. Among the nine airbags is a full-length head protection curtain.

Notable Options

Distronic Plus is a programmable cruise control system with two onboard radar sensors to detect slower-moving vehicles ahead, reducing speed by adjusting the throttle and providing audio and onscreen warnings. It will even brake the car to a complete stop if necessary. Brake Assist Plus warns of imminent rear collisions, and Park Assist is radar-controlled. A new option is Night View Assist, which illuminates the road up to 500 feet ahead with infrared light and displays the view on a high-resolution screen in the instrument cluster. Among packaged options is the AMG Sport Package, and the Premium I and II Sport Packages that include a rearview monitor, ventilated and dynamic front seats, the Night View Assist, keyless entry and other equipment.

Favorite Features

Drive-Dynamic Seats

When driving around curves and corners, the seat side bolsters automatically inflate to steady the body from hip to armpit. The twistier the road, the more insistent the air pressure.


Complex until thoroughly understood, it is the brains behind the CL550's entertainment, GPS, radio, communications and component settings systems. Via the controller "mouse," menus are displayed on an eight-inch pivoting screen.

Under the Hood

Under the CL550's hood dwells a demon of an engine, yet the 5.5-liter V8 is extremely quiet as it purrs out 382 horsepower. Zero-to-60 mph is achieved in 5.4 seconds, an improvement of one second over its predecessor and a result of 26-percent more power. The seven-speed gearbox enables the coupe to maximize fuel economy and increases the pace of the transmission's reaction time. In Sport Mode the active suspension automatically lowers the car more than a half-inch to reduce lean in the corners.

5.5-liter V8

382 horsepower @ 6000 rpm

391 lb.-ft. torque @ 2800 rpm

EPA city/highway fuel economy: 14/21

5.5-liter V12 twin-turbocharged

510 horsepower @ 5000 rpm

612 lb.-ft. of torque @ 1800 rpm

EPA city/highway fuel economy: 11/17

5.5-liter V12 twin-turbocharged

604 horsepower @ 4800 rpm

738 lb.-ft. of torque @2000 rpm

EPA city/highway fuel economy: 11/17

6.2-liter V8

518 horsepower @ 6800 rpm

465 lb.-ft. of torque @ 5200 rpm

EPA city/highway fuel economy: 11/18

Editors' Notes

Perhaps perfection has its limits, but Mercedes-Benz believes differently and proves it with the latest iteration of its flagship two-door four-seater, the 2008 CL550. Along with the cachet that comes with driving this $100,00-plus coupe is the acknowledgement that its fluid, flowing lines are accompanied by superb V8 performance and one of the most dazzling arrays of hi-tech equipment ever packed into a single vehicle. The successful entrepreneur's dream car, the CL550 is neither showy nor obviously exotic. It demonstrates an arrival at the serious end of capitalism, and offers the visionary leader who likes to call all the shots a COMAND brain that, with a button on the console to press or rotate, can set a myriad of personal function preferences, including suspension settings. Other CL models include the twin-turbo V12 CL600 and the CL63 AMG.

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