CLS55 review in the London Times

( Very positive CLS55 review in the London Times ),,12529-1531472,00.html
     Jeremy Clarkson
March 20, 2005
Mercedes-Benz CLS 55 AMG By Jeremy Clarkson, Motoring Writer of the Year One of the all-time greats...(but can I have a green steering wheel)
          When Mercedes-Benz announced five years ago that it was going to make a car for everyone, I thought that was a figure of speech. But it seems Mercedes really is endeavouring to provide a different model for every single one of the worldís 6.4 billion people.
If you are an African dictator with a fuel expenses account paid by Bono and the World Bank you can have a large S-class with a sumptuous and turbocharged V12 engine. If you are a taxi driver in Geneva you can have the same car, but with diesel power and wipe-down seats. Then thereís the Maybach, which so far as I can tell was made specifically for Simon Cowell.
At the other end of the scale we find the A-class. It was developed after Merc bosses received a letter from a Mr Grant Neville of Huddersfield who said he wanted a car with two floors and five seats. Fine. Mr Neville was very happy.
But then they got another letter from a Signor Olivio Pagnietta of Pisa who said he wanted a car exactly the same size as an A-class and with exactly the same number of seats. But only one floor. So they came up with the Vaneo.
We see a similar everyman policy with the E-class saloon. They made a version for some chap in Ottawa who wanted a top speed of 145mph. And then a businesswoman from Madrid said she liked the car very much but wanted a top speed of 143mph. So they did another model to oblige.
This opened the floodgates so now there is an E-class with every top speed you can think of. Thereís even an E-class with a big Chrysler body on it called the 300C. And if you want the same car but 250mm shorter, theyíll sell you a C-class, which comes with a range of engines more infinite than space. Does sir want 122bhp, or 143 or maybe 150? We can also do 162, 177, 192, 218, 229, 255 or 367. Basically, you can pick any number you like.
Now this policy of meeting all requirements, no matter how ludicrous, is extremely good news for you and me. But it is jolly expensive from Mercís point of view. You see, when someone wrote to say they lived in Paris and wanted a small, easy-to-repair plastic car that could be parked nose-on to the pavement, Mercedes set up the Smart division which last year lost a reported £250m.
Iím delighted to say, however, that this hasnít stopped them, a point that becomes blindingly obvious when you look at the range of coupťs. Thereís the C-class, the SLK, the SL, the CLK, the CLK convertible and the CL. All of which are available with a choice of 2m engines and 14,000 option packages.
But this wasnít good enough for Hans Beckenbaur, a flour merchant from Dortmund, who wanted a car that looked like a coupť but was in fact a four-door saloon.
Mercedes was horrified that heíd exposed a gap in its line-up and immediately set about filling it with the car you see here, the CLS.
It is a Marmite car, I know. You either love it or youíve put down your newspaper and run from the room retching. Iím in the love camp.
So far as Iím concerned this is certainly the most spectacular looking car Mercedes has made and possibly one of the all time greats from anywhere.
Those slim windows and pillarless doors put me in mind of the Batmobile, while the rear lights are similar to the Starship Enterpriseís exhaust vents. But the best thing is that the CLS looks more expensive than it is. Prices start at a little more than £40,000, which is roughly half what I was expecting them to be.
I almost didnít want to drive it. I feared that it would be a bit like actually meeting Uma Thurman. It might be a let-down. It might not be able to cash the cheques that its glorious styling was writing. So I started in the back, where youíd expect the sloping roofline to make the accommodation suitable only for Anne Boleyn. But no. There are only two seats rather than three, but there is enough room for non-amputees to stretch out and relax. Even I fitted and I have the body and legs of an ostrich.
The front, though, thatís where you want to be. Because although the CLS is based on the ordinary E-class, itís actually 40% stiffer. Which means itís 40% more sporty. And to make the recipe even better, the car I tested had a 5.5 litre supercharged AMG V8. The engine that sounds like a second world war fighter and goes like a modern day rocket.
Sadly, because it has such a rich seam of weapons-grade torque, Herr Beckenbaurís car has to make do with the old five-speed automatic gearbox. It would rip Mercís new seven-speeder to shreds. They say, as always, that the power of this engine is so brutish that the top speed of the car has to be electronically checked at 155mph. But I saw 175 on the speedo, and it was still climbing like a bat out of hell when I ran out of road and had to hit the brakes.
Aaaaargh. They were astonishing. Mash your foot onto the brake pedal and Iím not joking, it really does feel like your face is being torn off. The g forces are so immense it actually hurts.
This is because the CLS uses the same technology we first saw on the McLaren SLR. When itís wet, the pads pulse slightly to keep the discs dry, and if you lift your foot off the throttle in a big hurry the computer system notices and orders the braking system to tense so itís ready for some action.
And whatís more, itís the brakes that are also used to keep the car in check should you find yourself on a motorway exit road going little bit faster than is prudent.
Even if you have the traction control system turned off, Big Brother is still awake, and if he detects the onset of a slide, the offending wheel is individually reined in without you having to do a thing. It all sounds too brilliant for words. But after just 10 minutes of hard use, the Mercedes Achilles heel reared its ugly head.
The whole dashboard went bright red as the on-board Blair delivered the bad news. ďBrakes overheated. Drive carefully.Ē
Mercedes says itís cut its profits from £3 billion to £1 billion a year in a drive to improve quality. But I fear it may have to cut them still further.
Certainly, some of the trim pieces on the CLS are a bit low rent. The plastic on to which the seat massage button is mounted looks like itís come off a Hyundai.
But then, if Iím being honest this is nitpicking, and I really was brutal with the brakes. So letís give Herr Beckenbaurís car the benefit of the doubt. I certainly want to, because it was a gem; fast, handsome, well priced, comfortable and blessed with a handling balance thatís pretty close to perfect.
And hereís the thing. To hammer the point home about Mercís car-for-everyone policy, I was going to sign off by listing a number of stupid small changes that Iíd like to see on a CLS if I were to buy one. It was going to be stuff like a green steering wheel and a 5.6 litre engine instead of a 5.5.
But you know what. In truth, I canít think of a damn thing Iíd like changed. Iíd take it as it is.
Model Mercedes CLS 55 AMG Engine type V8, 5439cc Power 476bhp @ 6100rpm Torque 516 lb ft @ 4500rpm Fuel/CO2 21mpg (combined) / 326g/km Acceleration 0-62mph: 4.7sec Top speed 155mph Price £70,565 Verdict Almost flawless Rating 4/5

Nothing is the way it is because that is the way it has to be.

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