Mercedes CL500

All the gadgets under the sun and relentlessly fast. But is that enough?

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

The all-new CL coupe is a technological tour de force, and with the same chassis as the S-Class, it drives well, too. Powerful engines ensure continent-shrinking performance, but despite a raft of clever features, the big coupé is still no sports car. That won't worry many buyers - although the hefty list price puts it within range of rivals which provide the emotional appeal that the big Mercedes lacks.

When Mercedes launches a brand new flagship, you know you can expect plenty of fireworks - and the fresh-faced CL is promising not to let the side down.

It boasts an array of clever features and advanced electronics, but does it go off with a bang or is it a fizzling disappointment? We got our hands on the new CL500 in search of the answer.

From the outside, Mercedes' designers have subtly enhanced the original, bubble-canopied machine to create a much meaner looking super-sized coupé. The CL is bigger all around than its predecessor, but the overall shape is actually very elegant.

Sweeping curves and the distinctive crease in the flanks, borrowed from the four-door CLS, are key to the new look. Trademark styling cues such as the pillarless doors and prominent grille have been retained, though, so the CL appears every inch the sports car its powerful engine suggests it is.

Step inside, and there's little to change that impression, with swathes of leather and wood dominating the high-quality cabin. However, the over-sized instrument binnacle, which uses a large colour screen to control all major functions, looks clumsy, and the dials are rather plain for a car costing the best part of £80,000.

Press the starter button, and the 5.5-litre V8 spins silently into life. At high motorway speeds, the hushed unit is very impressive and wind noise is the only distraction, albeit a minor one. With 580Nm of torque, performance is strong, and the imperceptible changes of the slick 7G-Tronic automatic gearbox mean you have to pay attention to the speedo, as the CL is deceptively quick. Buttons mounted on the back of the steering wheel allow manual control of the gearbox for sporty drivers, but the steering is disappointing as it lacks feedback and feels lifeless.

Combined with the super-smooth ride provided by the second-generation Active Body Control system, it makes for a detached driving experience. It's almost as if you're at the wheel of a computer game - and with so many hi-tech electronics on board, that's hardly a surprise.

Not only is there ABS and ESP stability control, but DISTRONIC PLUS is available as an option. This latest evolution of the brand's radar-based cruise control also manages Brake Assist PLUS and the new PRE-SAFE Brake system.

The former warns the driver of an impending collision and helps to apply the required stopping power, while the latter triggers the brakes automatically when an accident is unavoidable to reduce the impact. As if that wasn't enough, buyers can opt for Advanced Parking Guidance, which measures the length of a space to ensure the car fits, and then directs the driver into it.

We also tried the more powerful CL600 on the car's European launch. Its reworked 517bhp V12 twin-turbo packs an awesome 830Nm of torque and means the car can demolish the 0-60mph sprint in a startling 4.6 seconds. It's noticeably quicker than the CL500, despite its five-speed auto, but the relentless acceleration isn't the only improvement. Communicative steering and stronger brakes, which offer a fiercer initial bite, make the V12 version a better choice for driving enthusiasts. Whether it warrants a £106,995 list price - a hefty £27,445 premium over the V8-engined machine - is a problem only a lucky few will have to ponder.

Overall, the new CL is an impressive luxury tourer that offers a truly refined driving experience. However, the vague controls distance you so far from the action, you can't help but feel slightly underwhelmed.

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