Mercedes-Benz CL500 (2001)



Mercedes-Benz CL500(2001)

Mercedes CL500

If you think $90,000 isn't too much to pay for a car, AND you don't have kids, Mercedes-Benz has an absolutely magnificent automobile for you: the CL500 coupe, an example of the kind of car you can build when money is no object and you don't need easy access to the back seat.

The CL500 has a target price of $87,500 -- and that's before you start adding on the $1,000 gas-guzzler tax and the $2,557 luxury tax. That makes this the second most expensive Mercedes-Benz you can buy. The only one more expensive? The CL600 -- the same vehicle but with a V12 engine. It's a mere $29,700 more -- about $7,500 for each additional cylinder.

Mercedes launched the CL500 late in 2000 as a 2001 model, proclaiming it their most sophisticated car ever. We'll give them the benefit of the doubt. This car has an impressive combination of power, comfort, handling, and style.

Driving Experience

In a word: absolutely magnificent. (OK, so it's two words.) Don't let the fact that this is a coupe fool you. The CL500 is a large car. Its wheelbase of 114 inches is within about an inch of those of the largest sedans from Audi, BMW, Infiniti, and Lexus.

But its size doesn't get in the way of its handling. The CL500 combines an amazingly smooth ride with rock-solid cornering, soaking up bumps without handling as if its shock absorbers were filled with Cool-Whip. How does it do this? We decided to have a look, and discovered that the suspension rests on thousands of compressed 100-euro notes. Well, okay, technically that's not true. It actually has a sophisticated, computer-controlled suspension system called Active Body Control.

This is also a powerful vehicle. The CL500 comes with a 302-horsepower, 5-liter V8 engine -- enough to make even a two-ton vehicle such as this plenty quick. The transmission is a five-speed automatic. If you like, however, you can shift manually by flicking the gearshift lever left to downshift and right to upshift.

The CL500 is rear-wheel drive. Mercedes has added traction control in an attempt to improve performance in poor conditions, but given our experience with Mercedes in the snow, we'd still wait for a nice thaw before heading to your Aspen getaway.

The four-wheel ABS disc brakes provide excellent braking. When you're driving around in this car, there's absolutely nothing to complain about. It's one of the finest combinations of ride and handling you'll find anywhere.


Our keisters should always have it this good. The CL500's seats offer not only heat but -- get this -- air cooling as well. They're adjustable every which way, and if the valet gets them all out of whack, there's a memory to put everything back the way it was. But, then again, these are the kinds of conveniences you expect for $90,000.

Getting into the back is easier than in most coupes. Thanks to a motor, the folded front seats crawl forward to let you into the back, and then move back into place once you're there. Same thing on the way out. Easy-to-reach handles on the top outside of each front seat set things in motion.

The windows, unfortunately, are a pain in the tuchus. Part of what your $90 thou pays for is a bunch of electronics that are supposed to do some of the thinking for you. In the case of the windows, they remain every so slightly cracked open when closing the door. This allows air to escape from the otherwise airtight CL500, and makes closing the doors that much less of an effort. As soon as the car senses that the door is fully closed, the windows seal shut.

When Tommy tried to close the windows, however, he had his own personal "2001: A Space Odyssey" moment. Every time he tried to roll the windows all the way up, they'd pop down an inch. Up Tommy'd put them, and down they'd come again. Tommy swears he heard HAL saying, "I'm sorry, Tommy, but I'm afraid I can't let you do that."

Finally he discovered that he could make the front windows go up all the way if he opened and closed the rear windows first, apparently because of the way the two windows fit together. So, is this a smart system? Just smart enough to be annoying, we'd say. If it were truly smart, it would have taken care of the back windows itself.

Another confounding design feature? The "automatic up" feature raises the window only halfway. To close the window all the way, you need to flip the switch a second time. A safety feature? Darned if we know.

The interior of the CL500 abounds in places to store things, including pockets in the doors and between the seats and a diminutive glove box. The cup holder in the CL500 is a clever little device that folds out about four different ways. But for $90,000 why doesn't it steam your latte for you? Maybe it does that in the CL600?

Visibility is decent, although the high rear end can make matters complicated when parking.

One nice touch we noticed: at night, a soft glow emanates from the bottom of the rearview mirror, gently illuminating the console. It's just enough light to reveal what's there without being distracting to the driver. We liked it.


Our hearts sank as we opened the door to the CL500...and found that this is yet another luxury car with a video screen in the dash. Imagine trying to get cash at an ATM machine while driving down the highway, and you'll get an idea of how distracting it is to operate one of these things. In the case of the CL500, at least, some of the radio controls are duplicated on the steering wheel.

On the other hand, the seat controls are the model of ergonomic excellence. They're shaped like the seat. Just push on the button the way you want the seat to go, and you're there.

The window switches are kind of hard to reach, located down and to the left on the driver's door, while the heating and cooling controls are pretty simple to use.


For a huge car, the CL500 looks, shall we say, sporting. All things considered, we found it to be good looking. It's large but very stylish.


Who cares if the CL500 is reliable? If it breaks, just drive one of your other cars. Perhaps the E class? Or the Silver Shadow.


The CL500 is going to be an expensive car to service. You'll have to take it to a Mercedes dealer -- any independent shop that wanted to work on a CL500 would probably require a special insurance policy from Lloyds of London.

If you're concerned about the high cost of servicing and maintaining a CL500, you ought not to be buying this car, in our humble opinion.

Overall comments

This is an amazingly competent car, a powerful vehicle that combines wonderful handling with a wonderful ride. You can have your cake and eat it, too -- provided, of course, that you have 90,000 bucks to spend on cake.

It's hard to find another production car that costs as much as the CL500. The biggest and fanciest BMW, the 750iL sedan, costs about the same and will be all new later this year. If you're in a more frugal frame of mind, you could save $20,000 and buy yourself an Audi A8 or a Jaguar XJ8.

If you have the wherewithal to plunk yourself down in the lap of luxury, and don't need the practicality of four doors, the CL500 is a pretty good way to do it, in our humble opinion. Then again, if you can afford a car like this, why would you listen to a couple of bums like us anyway?


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