( Very positive CLS55 review in the London Times )
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
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
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
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
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
Verdict Almost flawless
Nothing is the way it is because that is the way it has to be.
1 HP = 745.69987158227022 Watts
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