Basically, a pump sends oil around the car’s four interconnected dampers, varying the pressures in each to maintain a stable ride and improve body control in corners. At high speeds, it lowers the car by up to 25mm. It’s a brilliant but unreliable piece of kit and costs a fortune to put right.
An acquaintance who owns a CL55 AMG (and loves it to bits) told me he has spent £16,000 on it in the past six years, much of it on the suspension, the rest on servicing and tyres.
His dedication to the four-wheeled money pit on his driveway speaks volumes about the more positive aspects of the big CL. Even the standard CL500 bristled with technical innovations, including the aforementioned trick suspension, and was only the second car (the first being the S-Class) to have Mercedes’ Distronic radar-assisted autonomous cruise control.
Naturally, as a flagship model, it was loaded with kit, everything from powered doors and bootlid to electric leather seats and four-zone air-con to parking sensors. Options included a TV and a voice-activated telephone. Much of the infotainment kit is prehistoric by today’s standards, but it’s all part of the motor’s once cutting-edge allure.
The CL500 was powered by a 306bhp 5.0-litre V8 and was joined by the sportier 5.4-litre CL55, serving up 360bhp, and a 5.8-litre CL600 V12 with 367bhp. The CL55 needs careful buying, because in 2002 it gained a supercharger (Kompressor) and an extra 140bhp, taking it to 500bhp. Of the two, it’s definitely the one to go for.
Small beer? Keep your eyes peeled for the bi-turbo 5.5-litre CL600 with 500bhp and the 6.0-litre CL65 AMG with 603bhp. You’ll need to look hard, because the CL500 dominates the classifieds, and with good reason: it’s the least complicated and kindest on the pocket yet still packs a punch.
An expert’s view...
LEE PARK, AUTOELITE HULL
“I’d buy a CL, but the V8, not the V12. Both are reliable, but the V8 is a bit cheaper to run and less troubled by the occasional oil leaks that can spoil the V12. Problems with the suspension have been blown out of proportion, but you shouldn’t be complacent. Get the car on a ramp and independently inspected. You’re talking thousands for new struts, pipes and pump valves — and that’s before you pay for labour.”
Mercedes-Benz CL problems - buyer beware…
Early versions of the V8 and V12 suffered water in the fuel caused by fuel tank condensation. On the V12, check for oil weep at the front timing cover caused by a blocked crankcase oil breather; also for oil leaking from the rubber gasket around the oil cooler between the cylinder banks. Change the oil and filter every 10k miles.