The Mercedes-Benz CL borrows much from the S-Class, so it's going to be good. But just how good?

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The Mercedes-Benz CL borrows its chassis, engine, most of its structure and the front half of its interior straight from the wonderful S-Class saloon; what is there left to tell? 

Well, quite a lot, as it happens. You could question the point of a less practical and more expensive car than the S-Class, and we found plenty of people who reckon a Bentley Continental GT or Jaguar XKR are more desirable, but we defy anyone who has spent some time in the CL not to acknowledge that all that goes to making the S-Class so fabulous – and a bit more besides – is present in abundance here too. 

All that goes to making the S-Class so fabulous is present in abundance here too

The range only comprises three models. Above the 4.7-litre biturbo V8 engined CL 500 sit two AMG models, the CL 63 AMG with a 5.5-litre biturbo V8 and the CL 65 AMG which boasts a 6.0-litre biturbo V12. The CL 63 AMG delivers 536bhp and makes the CL feel heroic, the CL 65 AMG’s 621bhp and 737lb.ft of torque turning the CL into a monstrously rapid car. The AMG duo are the only CLs to have an obvious direct external competitor: matching them on price, function and performance is the Continental GT, with its V8 and W12 models respectively

At around £93k the ‘entry’ CL 500 has some competition in the prestigious coupé market, though its rivals differ it in character and appeal. The Porsche 911, Maserati GranTurismo and BMW M6 are rather more sporting and lack the CL 500’s comfort, while the Jaguar XKR and BMW 650i are cheaper.

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Mercedes-Benz CL front grille

Introduced in 2006 and given an effective makeover in 2010 the Mercedes CL still cuts it as a bold statement of wealth. If status is measured by scale then the CL is a winner in the coupé marketplace, as it’s a sizeable car. At over five metres in length you’ll need a large parking place. 

Muscularly styled without being overly sporting in standard CL 500 guise the arcing roofline with its pillarless windows are a particularly neat feature, the lengthy rear and pronounced wheel arches at the back adding to its visual gravitas. 

The CL still cuts it as a bold statement of wealth

A bold feature line runs from behind the front wheel right the rear lights, while the large front grille, LED driving lights and prominent badge leaves no doubt what’s filling your rear-view mirror when a CL approaches. The AMG pairing wear their greater potential with more overt styling

There are fewer bars in the front grille, while the LED driving lights are housed in larger apertures for feeding air to the engine and brakes. AMG alloy wheels, less chrome and lower side skirts add visual menace without being too in your face. The exhausts are a more obvious quad set up on the AMG cars, while pick the AMG Exterior Carbon Package from the options list and you can turn your CL into an AMG F1 Safety Car lookalike. The CL 65 AMG gains little visually over its CL 63 AMG relation, all except those oh-so-important V12 badges on the front wings.


Mercedes-Benz CL dashboard

Given its generous length it’s hardly surprising to find that the Mercedes CL's interior is a spacious one. Inside the CL, there’s very little that isn’t S-Class derived. The rear seats aren’t, obviously, but although they’re nowhere near as capacious as the saloon’s, there is room for two large adults. The boot is only marginally smaller than the S-Class’s (at 490 rather than 560 litres) and is well shaped: long, wide and deep. 

In the front of the cabin, though, you’d be pushed to tell the S and CL apart, which, given the saloon’s standard of fit and finish, is mostly a good thing. Mercedes is slowly repairing its tattered reputation for making bombproof interiors, and the CL will do its cause no harm at all. Hard plastics are difficult to find, but there are some foibles: the cover on the phone controller’s pad hinges the wrong way for a right-hooker, the row of silvery switches on the dash is on the vulgar side, and some of the stitching could be more precise. 

In the front of the cabin, though, you’d be pushed to tell the S and CL apart

But the biggest problem inside this car is a lack of visual flair. There is plenty that’s well assembled, but the seat adjustment switches on the doors are a little clumsy and there’s too little in the way of fine detailing. To put it bluntly, a Continental GT feels a lot more special. This is less of an issue in a saloon, but in an £90,000 coupé the subjective is at least as important as the objective, and here the CL falls rather short. That’s even more apparent in the AMG models, with buyers dropping north of £160,000 on the range-topping CL 65 AMG certain to feel rather short changed despite the addition of some AMG glitter inside.  


Mercedes-Benz CL 4.7-litre V8 engine

The V8 fitted to the Mercedes CL 500 feels as refined and smooth as any eight-cylinder petrol engine on the market, and a 0-60mph time of 4.9sec is more than acceptable. 

The spread of power from the 4.7-litre biturbo V8 is outstanding, too. Maximum shove is developed at 6000rpm but peak torque – all 516lb ft of it – arrives at 1800rpm and keeps delivering right through to 3,500rpm. 

The spread of power from the 4.7-litre biturbo V8 is outstanding

A flex of the right foot is enough to haul the CL convincingly past slower traffic without triggering multiple downshifts and, although there’s a manual override for the gearbox, choosing to shift gears via the steering wheel’s buttons is something you do for enjoyment, not out of necessity. The CL 63 AMG turns the intensity up a notch, with the 5.5-litre biturbo V8 delivering a 4.5 second 0-62mph time and sounding fantastic. The throttle response is quick, the secret would seem to be not more turbo pressure, but less. Because the engine is large, Mercedes can afford to blow only moderate amounts of boost through it, which means the engine can run a compression ratio of 10.0:1, a number you’d normally associate with a normally aspirated car. So there’s no off-boost lethargy at all, nor any sudden uncontrollable bang in the back when it kicks in. Any revs in any gear and the thing just flies.

Much the same is true with the CL 65 AMG, its 6.0-litre V12 - again with biturbos - adding even more muscle to Mercedes-Benz’s biggest coupe. Its 543lb.ft of torque tests the traction control system if you choose to be brutal with the accelerator, the way the CL 65 AMG accelerates is quite breathtaking for such a weighty, comfortable car.


Mercedes-Benz CL cornering

Unlike the S-Class, the Mercedes CL is suspended on coil, not air springs and is fitted with standard hydraulic ABC active body control (available only on S 500s and above), the latest generation of which allows the CL to corner with 60 percent less body roll than the previous car. It hardly rolls at all. 

It’s an unusual but not unsettling phenomenon and allows the CL to corner with a composure you’d scarcely credit a car this large and comfortable. There is a minor delay between turning the steering wheel in faster corners and the suspension applying some muscle to the outside pair of springs to flatten body movements, and the steering is as positive as you could expect. 

The CL corners with a composure you’d scarcely credit for such a large car

It’s happy to turn its nose towards a corner and resists understeer strongly – right up to a lateral cornering force of 0.91g. 

ESP quickly reins in proceedings when the CL starts to slide, and although it can be switched off, it refuses to relinquish control completely. Around our wet handling circuit the CL could be coaxed into an adjustable, playful slide until it reached 15 degrees or so off the straight-ahead, at which point both the ESP and Pre-Safe systems intervened.

The AMG pairing naturally feature suspension that’s been fettled to better suit their greater performance. So they’re stiffer, with even the comfort setting on the suspension giving a fairly brittle ride. That’s fine for top speed Autobahn runs, but on the broken tarmac of our island it’s all a bit busy, upsetting the car’s composure. If genuine, supple Grand Touring comfort is what you’re after you need the CL 500.


Mercedes-Benz CL

Even if you pick this most basic of Mercedes CLs, you won’t be wanting for equipment. You can take it as read that you’ll get heated leather, electrically operated seats, rain-sensing lights and wipers, an electrically adjustable steering column and doors that latch closed automatically. 

You might be more surprised to learn that the CL also comes with the likes of a remote electric opening/closing bootlid, doors that will electronically hold themselves at whichever point they’re opened to and headlights that illuminate further as you go faster. The quota of CD/DVD/navigation and other telematics systems is just as good – even down to a PC multi-media flash card reader. 

Running costs will be fearsome

The COMAND system that controls it has the measure of BMW’s iDrive system, but isn’t a patch on Audi’s MMI interface or Jaguar’s touch-screen controller (though this controls fewer systems). There’s also a comprehensive list of optional equipment, but you really won’t need a great deal from it.

As you might expect in a range of cars with no engine with less than eight cylinders and near supercar levels of performance running costs will be fearsome. The CL 500 just about makes some sense to buy and run, it’s 4.7-litre biturbo V8 returning 29.4mpg and emissions of 227g/km on the official combined cycle. The CL 63 AMG’s 26.0 and 244g/km CO2 isn’t too horrendous given the performance on offer, though you might find it difficult to justify the 19.8mpg and 334g/km the V12 engined CL 65 AMG delivers.  

Depreciation hits all hard, the flagship CL 65 AMG harder than most, it likely to be worth only a fraction of its eye-watering £160,595 list price after a few years. 


4.5 star Mercedes-Benz CL

It’s aged well, but as the Mercedes CL matures there’s no denying that it’s beginning to look a bit tricky to justify against its premium rivals. What’s most difficult to ignore is the fact in AMG guise it’s priced at a point where a Bentley Continental GT is easily affordable, the Crewe machine infinitely more desirable as an ownership proposition. What it cannot do though is deliver four adults in comfort, something the CL can do with aplomb. Quite why you’d want to is a different matter, especially as you could do so in its saloon S-Class relation in even greater comfort - and for less money.

It is hard not to be seduced by the performance on offer by the AMG pairing. The CL63 over delivers, its biturbo 5.5-litre V8 offering incredible performance - so much so that the CL 65 AMG looks like a hugely and ultimately unnecessary indulgence at over £50,000 more than its lesser cylindered relation. 

It is hard not to be seduced by the performance on offer by the AMG pairing

Ultimately it’s the interior design that lets the CL’s side down a bit. There are just too many shared parts with lesser Mercedes-Benz models to make it feel special enough - the cars it rivals have been created largely without dipping into parts bins. A credible and impressive grand tourer, but its appeal wanes as cheaper rivals offer similar performance and comfort, while more expensive (or similarly priced if you count the CL 65 AMG) high end rivals from the likes of Bentley and Maserati unquestionably hold more cachet. This car is a relatively unique proposition in the big coupe marketplace though, which makes most sense in CL 500 specification.

Mercedes-Benz CL 2007-2014 First drives