Tech Review: 2007 Mercedes-Benz CL550
By Doug Newcomb of MSN Autos
It's easy to tell that the 2007 Mercedes-Benz CL550 is a breakthrough vehicle by its appearance alone. The absence of a B pillar instantly distinguishes the classy coupe. Its gaping front grille, flared fenders and raked roofline also make it stand out. The view from the driver's seat is equally impressive: yards of high-quality leather covering the doors, dash, seats and center console, and as much hand-polished burl-walnut as a small boardroom.
The CL550 we tested (with a sticker price of $111,675) is more than just easy on the eyes. While this preening machine is designed to pamper its lucky driver and passengers, it's also a neat flawless blend of high-tech performance, safety, comfort and convenience.
The CL550's 5.5-liter V8 is specified at 382 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 391 lb-ft of torque at 2800-4800 rpm. This power is channeled through a 7-speed automatic with driver-adaptive programming that supposedly "learns" the style of the driver and adjusts its shifting accordingly. Buttons on the back of the steering wheel allow manual up- and downshifting, although I found that there was close to a two-second delay in the response on upshifts, which caused the engine to approach redline before the tranny eased into the higher gear.
Surfeit of Safety
The Night View Assist system is the most noteworthy of the CL550's safety tech. Infrared beams projected from the CL550's front grille illuminate an area up to 500 feet out in front of the vehicle so that an IR camera in the rearview mirror can scope it out. The camera sends a grayscale image to a large multifunction display in the instrument cluster. Unlike BMW's night-vision system, which uses a screen mounted in the center of the dash, the CL550 screen puts night vision in the driver's line of sight. But to accomplish this there's a slight tradeoff.
The part of the multifunction display that shows the night-vision image otherwise serves as the speedometer (which is incorporated below the night-vision screen when the system is activated). Driving eastbound one day close to sunset, I glanced down at the speedometer and noticed that it had completely vanished. It wasn't until I made a turn that I discovered that the screen had simply washed out in the bright sunlight.
The Driving Dynamic feature also adjusts the front seats' side bolsters in relation to the car's movements. When making a left-hand turn, for example, the right-side backrest bolster fills with air to compensate for your torso's natural movement to the left. Plus, you can also select four separate backrest massage modes.
The COMAND controller makes it simple to accesses most of the CL550's tech gadgets. These include a GPS navigation system that uses a 20GB hard disc to store map data instead of DVDs for a faster response time, and a sweet-sounding Harman/Kardon audio system that includes 11 speakers powered by 600 watts. The system's 6-disc DVD/CD changer is hidden behind a trim panel at the bottom of the center stack, along with a PC Card slot that can be used to play MP3s files. The car doesn't have an aux-in for a portable media player, although an optional iPod-integration kit is available for an extra $425.
You'll also have to spend more if you want to access the COMAND controller's hand-free telephone functions (or use the separate telephone keypad just in front of the COMAND control) since it's only compatible with optional Mercedes phone cradles and Bluetooth accessories that cost $220 to $420. Maybe this is a minor quibble with a car that's so loaded with technology—and it may be chump change for someone dropping this amount of dough on a ride—but Bluetooth is becoming so prevalent that almost any car half the cost of the CL550 now features it.
Not Just Any Car
Doug Newcomb has been writing about car electronics since 1988, as editor of Car Audio and Electronics, Car Stereo Review, Mobile Entertainment, Road & Track Road Gear and as a freelance writer. His new book, Car Audio for Dummies, is available from Wiley Publications. He lives in Hood River, Oregon.