The uber-coupe from Merc has some wonderful touches and is massively swift and refined, but it is in no way worth the premium over the CL 500

What’s new

Mercedes has been building aristocratic coupes for more than 50 years, and this CL is the latest. The mix is much the same as before – svelte luxury that just teeters on the right side of vulgar, authoritative performance, blue-blood refinement and an array of technologies and driver aids that will keep you immersed in the handbook for hours at a time. Happily, those with an aversion to reading the instructions will be relieved to hear that most of these systems are pretty intuitive to use.

As has been the case with CLs past, this generation debuts some impressive new equipment, which goes under the unexciting label of Pre-Safe Brake.

It builds on the Pre-Safe system in the S-class. There, the passenger seat is moved into the optimum position should an accident be imminent, seats’ air cushions are inflated and the windows and sunroof are closed.

Pre-Safe Brake warns the driver of said collision with audible and visual signals and calculates the braking effort required to avert an accident should the driver do the right thing. If he still fails to hit the big pedal the system automatically brakes, using 40 percent of the car’s stopping power to at least diminish the severity of the impact, if not avoid it all together.

There’s also a slew of more familiar things, like nightvision, massaging front seats, an excellent infotainment system, a seven-speed gearbox for the CL 500 and ABC active suspension.Two CLs are available - a £79,550 388bhp 5.5 litre V8, the CL 500, and a £106,995 5.5 litre twin turbo V12 serving a stonking 517bhp.What’s it like?

As you’d hope, supremely comfortable, fast and able – and all in a subtle kind of way. The woffling V8 sounds the more appealing engine in fact, and has more than enough go for the UK, the V12 having been conceived for the annihilation of unrestricted autobahns, in which mode it can doubtless outpace a light plane. You notice the performance difference between the two, but not sufficiently to justify the 600’s extra price.

And that’s not all the 600 has gained over the 500; the V12 adds an extra 167kg over the front wheels. That this is hard to detect is a tribute to the active suspension.

Drive this big, weighty car on a twisting road and you’ll be deeply impressed by the CL’s way with bends, its Active Body Control suspension almost eliminating roll, pitch and dive, with the result that you corner with amazing tidiness considering the power and sheer mass of this two-tonne car.

But you won’t be intimately involved – the Merc performs all this with a mild detachment that soon has you realising that it’s not a sports car, even if it is amazingly capable.

Instead, it’s better as a long distance mile-muncher, when the pillowy ride, cushioning seats (which massage and ventilate you in the 600), vault-like insulation and the richness of your surroundings will make you feel pretty good about life. The 600 even has Alcantara headlining which, while fairly pointless, feels and looks sumptuous.Should I buy one?

Spending at least £80,000 on a four-seat coupe hardly qualifies as a hard-nosed transportation decision, but the CL 500 makes some sense in this rarified area of the market. It is near-unique in being able to house four adults and a decent trawl of luggage, and its balance of performance, price and luxury makes more sense than the V12 CL 600’s, which is virtually in Bentley territory.

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Though the CL 600’s cabin is far more spacious than the Continental’s, it’s short of visual glamour, as is the brand at this level for that matter. In the UK, where the need for pulverising performance north of 100mph is sadly unnecessary, the CL 500, which is hardly slow, has strong appeal as a stylish, subtle, swift and balmingly luxuriant road weapon. The 600, on the other hand, is only for those who feel compelled to tick only the highest specification on the list.

Richard Bremner

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