CAR AND DRIVER: 2006 Mercedes-Benz CLS500

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2006 Mercedes-Benz CLS500
A 4048-pound supermodel.
BY RON KIINO
PHOTOGRAPHY BY AARON KILEY May 2005
There's always one guy in a crowd of guys at the bar rail who will, while the group flips through pages of the latest swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated, feign utter disinterest in what is obviously a particularly beautiful model while the other guys are raving about her. "Naw, she's ugly," he'll say to the utter befuddlement of his friends. For whatever reason-maybe the model has one peculiarly long toe, a misplaced freckle, orange hair, a single tooth veering to the left-even a swimsuit babe in SI can fail to appeal to some guys. So what gives? What makes that one guy stray from the unanimous decision of the group?
A similar phenomenon now arises with the introduction of the Mercedes-Benz CLS500. Most observers who witness its sleek body feel an immediate and strong physical attraction. This is a car you can't help staring at, and maybe you want to run your fingers along the smooth sheetmetal, feel the glowing red of the taillights. Is it possible to caress a car? Yet there are those baffling few who peer at the CLS and vocalize disdain, not lust.
For instance, a woman at a gas station remarked, "Your car has a droopy butt." How's that? Was she blind in one eye and unable to see out of the other? A man at a fancy mall told us, "I've never seen a Mercedes that wild. I don't know, it's pretty extreme." Is the CLS, for a Benz, too radical? Naw. Like the guy scoffing at the swimsuit babe, some people are just wrong. The CLS is gorgeous. End of story.
The CLS prompts a lot of gawking, mostly due to its startling styling. Passersby who can't see its telltale badges will blurt out, "What's that?" Retro comparisons will no doubt be made to ancient Rolls-Royce carriage styling, and someone may even see cues from that distinct 1980 Cadillac Seville's "bustle trunk." Mercedes refers to it as "the world's first four-door coupe," its gun-slit greenhouse more akin to that of a two-door. Perhaps there is some clever marketing going on here. Mercedes can test the styling waters with this single model, and should those waters prove rough, it could withdraw, no harm done.
Nevertheless, because it has four doors, the CLS, at least by our definition, is without argument a sedan. This, however, will not prevent Mercedes from declaring the CLS500 a direct competitor to the two-door BMW 645Ci, which slots between the 5- and 7-series like the CLS does the E- and S-classes. The CLS500 and the 645Ci reside in the same price neighborhood, the former starting at $66,920, the latter at $70,595. Plus, dimensionally, they're within spitting distance-the CLS, at 193.3 inches, is longer by a little over three inches and taller and wider by roughly an inch.
Like the 6-series, which is based on BMW's mid-size 5-series, the CLS borrows heavily from Mercedes' bread-and-butter mid-sizer, the E-class, which donates over a third of its bits and pieces to this new car. Thus, the E500's 302-hp, 5.0-liter V-8, seven-speed automatic, electrohydraulic four-wheel disc brakes, multilink Airmatic DC suspension, and 112.4-inch wheelbase are all present in the CLS500. The $8400 premium the CLS500 carries over the E500 gets you the new-dare we say swoopy?-styling, and 2.4 additional inches of width, a standard power sunroof, a 10-speaker audio system (versus a nine-speaker unit), and 18-inch alloy wheels (versus 17s) shod with 245/40s up front and 275/35s in the rear. Moreover, compared with the E's five-seat interior, the CLS's four-seat cabin (yep, no one has to ride the hump) is more luxurious, pampering its occupants with a leather-covered, French-stitched dash, large areas of burl walnut or laurel wood, and a tasteful dose of chrome trim bits. Rear-seat passengers get to plop down in seats that are more like buckets than a bench, and they're treated to ample legroom and foot space, although headroom is 1.6 inches short of the E500's. Otherwise, the CLS's interior doesn't seem noticeably smaller, nor does its trunk, which, at 16 cubic feet, is as accommodating as the E's.
So the CLS is beautiful inside and out, but how does it drive? Well, unsurprisingly, a lot like the E, but a notch sportier. The bigger wheels with meatier tires grab the ground for 0.87 g of adhesion, a big improvement over the 0.81 g put forth by the E500 [C/D, November 2002], a car that seems more prone to understeer than the CLS. But even though it's as grippy as its CLK55 AMG brother, the CLS500 is still not as tenacious as the 645Ci, which registered 0.94 g on the skidpad ["High-End Sports Coupes," C/D, May 2004]. The CLS's power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering feels less cumbersome than the E's, as if it were feathered a step or two, delivering a deliciously light effort at low speeds but still a relatively firm, responsive feel as the digits climb. The ride is similar to the E's, which is to say it can be elevated from plush to taut at the push of a console-mounted button. The adjustable Airmatic DC dampers offer three shock settings-comfort, sport 1, and sport 2-enabling the driver to tailor road feel to his or her mood. Whereas in the E the system sometimes feels as if the stiffest setting should be deleted and an even softer base setting should be added, in the sportier CLS the trio of choices seems perfectly appropriate.
Much of the CLS's sporty nature comes from sensations inside the cockpit. Aim your eyes straight ahead, and there's no remnant of the severely sloped hood to impede your view of the road, not to mention an annoying three-pronged ornament as on an E-class. Peripherally, though, it's a different story, in which the sharply raked A-pillars and low-slung roofline eliminate some useful sightlines. That said, the capsule-like feeling they impart does seem to convey a sense of speed. Outside or inside, the CLS feels clean and sleek, like a high-end sports coupe, er, sedan, should.
At 4048 pounds, our CLS500 was burdened with 79 extra pounds compared with the E500 we tested in '02. Yet armed with Mercedes' new-for-2004 seven-speed automatic, it proved to be substantially quicker, ripping from 0 to 60 in 5.5 seconds, 0.3 second sooner than the five-speed E. (But a current E-class with the seven-speed would most likely match the CLS's numbers.) The CLS500's quarter-mile time comes in at 14 seconds flat at 100 mph, putting it ahead of the E500 (14.3 at 99) and just behind the 325-hp 645Ci (13.9 at 102). The Benz stopped from 70 mph in 162 feet. An E500 requires 181 feet, and a 645Ci, 169. Although powerful and fade-free, the brake-by-wire binders are not easy to modulate smoothly, often causing lurches even when we were consciously judicious with our pedal input. Mercedes has improved the logic of the electrohydraulic brakes since their inception in the current-generation SL-class, but the system is still not ideal.
When it comes to the CLS500, it's hard to imagine a car that is faster and better-looking, although AMG's tuned-up CLS55 arguably accomplishes that feat. Nonetheless, the CLS500 is an eminently quick and sporty four-door. And it looks so fine, it begs the question: Do you really want to travel so quickly that passersby don't even have a chance to feel envy?
COUNTERPOINT
DAVE VANDERWERP With the CLS came my first interaction with Mercedes' Keyless Go, one of many systems that enable the owner to lock, unlock, start, and stop the car without ever removing the key from his or her pocket. Mercedes' approach, however, incorporates major annoyance with this minor convenience. Open the door, and incessant beeping ensues while a message is displayed: "Don't forget the key." How could I forget it if it's in my pocket? The same beeping and warning message happens when exiting the car, even though it's impossible to lock the fob inside. My suggestion: "Warningless Go," not the $1080 Keyless Go.
CSABA CSERE I'm really torn about this CLS500. On one hand, I'm bowled over by its beautiful lines and grand interior. On the other hand, I'm not much for the chopped-and-channeled look that greatly restricts the view adults have from the back seat. The huge gap between the front doors and the C-pillar also bothers me. Despite the low roofline, however, the driver's view is excellent and the car drives as well as the E500 on which it is based-it even seems to ride better. Still, I find something contrived about taking an E500 and dressing it up in haute couture. But if you love the look and have the extra eight grand, you'll be happy with the CLS.
TONY QUIROGA The CLS feels like the spiritual descendant of the coach-built cars from the first half of the 20th century. Back then you'd buy a powertrain and frame, carefully select your coachbuilder, work with the designers, and months later your creation would roll forth into your life. A high price ensured exclusivity, and your taste dictated the styling. Here we have the 21st century mass-produced version of this process. The CLS sports a couture design that shares much of its internals with the handsome, conventional E-class-an ideal starting place. The details of the CLS are unique, often flamboyant, and make the owner feel special. It's this feeling that truly connects this modern car to its commissioned forebears.
2006 MERCEDES-BENZ CLS500 Vehicle type: front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, 4-passenger, 4-door sedan
Price as tested: $74,500
Price and option breakdown: base Mercedes-Benz CLS500 (includes $1300 gas-guzzler tax and $720 freight), $66,920; heated and ventilated front seats, $1270; Lighting package (includes headlamp washers, bixenon headlights, and cornering lights), $1220; Keyless Go, $1080; Entertainment package (includes Harman/Kardon stereo with in-dash 6-CD changer), $980; Trim package (wood-and-leather-covered steering wheel and shift knob), $890; massaging driver's seat, $590; massaging front-passenger's seat, $590; power trunklid, $510; power rear-window shade, $450
Major standard accessories: power windows, seats, locks, and sunroof; remote locking; A/C; cruise control; tilting and telescoping steering wheel; rear defroster
Sound system: Harman/Kardon AM-FM radio/CD changer, 10 speakers
ENGINE Type: V-8, aluminum block and heads Bore x stroke: 3.82 x 3.30 in, 97.0 x 84.0mm Displacement: 303 cu in, 4966cc Compression ratio: 10.0:1 Fuel-delivery system: port injection Valve gear: chain-driven single overhead cams, 3 valves per cylinder, hydraulic lifters Power (SAE net): 302 bhp @ 5600 rpm Torque (SAE net): 339 lb-ft @ 2700 rpm Redline: 6400 rpm
DRIVETRAIN Transmission: 7-speed automatic with manumatic shifting Final-drive ratio: 2.65:1 Gear - Ratio - Mph/1000 rpm - Max test speed I - 4.38 - 6.1 - 39 mph (6400 rpm) II - 2.86 - 9.3 - 60 mph (6400 rpm) III - 1.92 - 13.9 - 89 mph (6400 rpm) IV - 1.37 - 19.4 - 124 mph (6400 rpm) V - 1.00 - 26.6 - 130 mph (4900 rpm) VI - 0.82 - 32.4 - 130 mph (4000 rpm) VII - 0.73 - 36.4 - 130 mph (3550 rpm)
DIMENSIONS Wheelbase: 112.4 in Track, front/rear: 62.7/63.1 in Length/width/height: 193.3/73.7/55.2 in Ground clearance: 5.7 in Drag area, Cd (0.31) x frontal area (23.9 sq ft): 7.4 sq ft Curb weight: 4048 lb Weight distribution, F/R: 51.0/49.0% Curb weight per horsepower: 13.4 lb Fuel capacity: 21.1 gal
CHASSIS/BODY Type: unit construction with 2 rubber-isolated subframes Body material: welded steel stampings
INTERIOR SAE volume, front seat: 50 cu ft rear seat: 42 cu ft luggage: 16 cu ft Front-seat adjustments: fore-and-aft, seatback angle, front height, rear height, lumbar support, lower side bolsters Restraint systems, front: manual 3-point belts; driver and passenger front, side, and curtain airbags rear: manual 3-point belts, side and curtain airbags
SUSPENSION Front: ind; 1 control arm, 1 lateral link, and 1 diagonal link per side; self-leveling air springs; 3-position cockpit-adjustable, electronically controlled shock absorbers; anti-roll bar Rear: ind; 1 control arm, 1 lateral link, 2 diagonal links, and 1 toe-control link per side; self-leveling air springs; 3-position cockpit-adjustable, electronically controlled shock absorbers; anti-roll bar
STEERING Type: rack-and-pinion with variable hydraulic power assist Steering ratio: 14.7:1 Turns lock-to-lock: 2.8 Turning circle curb-to-curb: 36.8 ft
BRAKES Type: electrohydraulic with anti-lock control Front: 13.0 x 1.3-in vented disc Rear: 11.8 x 0.9-in vented disc
WHEELS AND TIRES Wheel size: F: 8.5 x 18 in, R: 9.5 x 18 in Wheel type: cast aluminum Tires: Continental SportContact 2; F: 245/40ZR-18 93Y, R: 275/35R-18 95Y Test inflation pressures, F/R: 32/36 psi Spare: high-pressure compact
0505_benzcls500_gauges_2.jpgC/D TEST RESULTS ACCELERATION: Seconds Zero to 30 mph: 1.9 40 mph: 2.8 50 mph: 4.0 60 mph: 5.5 70 mph: 7.1 80 mph: 9.1 90 mph: 11.3 100 mph: 14.0 110 mph: 17.3 120 mph: 21.3 130 mph: 26.4 Street start, 5-60 mph: 5.7 Top-gear acceleration, 30-50 mph: 3.1 50-70 mph: 3.8 Standing 1/4-mile: 14.0 sec @ 100 mph Top speed (governor limited): 130 mph
BRAKING 70-0 mph @ impending lockup: 162 ft
HANDLING Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.87 g Understeer: minimal moderate excessive
FUEL ECONOMY (MFR'S EST) EPA city driving: 16 mpg EPA highway driving: 22 mpg C/D-observed: 23 mpg
INTERIOR SOUND LEVEL Idle: 42 dBA Full-throttle acceleration: 72 dBA 70-mph cruising: 69 dBA
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