- The Washington Times - Friday, March 16, 2001

MODEL: Mercedes-Benz CL600

VEHICLE TYPE: Two-door coupe

BASE PRICE: $117,845

MILEAGE: 15 city, 23 highway

Mercedes-Benz officials describe their new CL600 as sophisticated, good-looking, intelligent and powerful. They could as easily be describing how people feel when they're at the wheel.

This new combination of powerhouse and luxury coupe exudes such confidence at every maneuver, minor or aggressive, that ego boosting seems altogether natural.

Not that customers for this limited-production, fully loaded CL600 would need it.

According to Mercedes officials, buyers of this two-door model have the highest demographic of any of the automaker's customers.

With a median age of 50, they are industry leaders, sports stars and "Wall Street types," according to Bernhard Glaser, product manager for coupes and convertibles at Mercedes.

Price, of course, is likely a secondary consideration for such buyers. But for the record, the CL600 has a starting manufacturer's suggested retail price plus destination charge of $117,845.

That's the highest price in the CL-Class.

A base CL500, if you can call it that, has a starting price of $88,145 and is powered by a 302-horsepower, 5-liter V-8.

The CL55 AMG, another new model for 2001, has a 354-horsepower, 5.5-liter V-8 and carries a starting price tag of $100,145.

But the high-tech, 362-horsepower V-12 in the CL600 and all the pampering goodies that are included really represent the top of the line.

Impressive by its sheer size under the hood as well as in its oh-so-smooth performance, the 5.8-liter V-12 is an amazingly masterful power plant.

Mated to a five-speed, electronically controlled automatic transmission, the engine in the test car acted as if it had eternal power. On long straightaways, I hit 60 mph in less than six seconds and the car just kept on accelerating.

It doesn't have eternal power, of course. Maximum horsepower is 362 at 5,500 rpm, and the top speed is electronically capped in the United States at 155 mph for all CL models.

Happily, the CL600 isn't awkward to drive in the city, either. The engine is amazingly attuned to note small inputs on the accelerator pedal.

Another way to manage the power is by using the Touch Shift manual control on the transmission, which lets a driver shift gears manually smoothly, by the way without using a clutch pedal.

The CL600's awesome torque of 391 foot-pounds at 4,100 rpm is so capably managed that you'd have a hard time believing it without trying it out for yourself.

A perfect example came when a cell-phone-toting, pickup truck driver in front of me suddenly slammed on his brakes while traveling at 55 mph on a two-lane road.

I used the CL600's massive brakes to quickly slow, and I found myself slowing even more quickly than the guy in front could.

So, I got back on the gas, dodged around him and got well down the road, all while he was still slowing down. Talk about an easy emergency maneuver.

During my drives, I tried to hear or otherwise detect the new Active Cylinder Control in the fuel-injected V-12 engine to no avail.

To help the CL600's fuel economy, this system automatically deactivates the valves and fuel injectors on the driver's side of the V-12 when a driver doesn't need maximum power.

This improves the engine's efficiency at part-throttle, and it's all done without any noise or noticeable change in engine behavior.

Still, the CL600 does incur the federal government's gas-guzzler tax to the tune of $1,300, which must be paid at the time of purchase.

Despite all its power, the CL600 is subtly styled.

"The V-12 buyer wants performance, but he doesn't want to show it to everybody," Mr. Glaser said.

The CL600 is quite a large coupe, with a longer body than that of a Toyota Avalon full-size sedan. So the CL600's two-person back seat can handle some passengers.

The CL600 feels substantial and solid as you drive. With that V-12, this coupe weighs more than 4,300 pounds and is heavier than an Avalon.

A high-tech Active Body Control system is standard, and it works to manage and restrain body roll and lean by 68 percent or 95 percent, depending on driver preference.

I appreciated the good-sized and well-positioned dead pedal that helps the driver stay properly braced in the seat in aggressive driving. But the well-reinforced window pillars, front and rear, are sizable and can block the view.

The 12.3-cubic-foot trunk has such plush padding and carpeting that I hesitated to put plants inside. Note that you must get into the trunk to change the 12 CDs, too.

The CL600 has only four options because just about everything, including an emergency dispatch service, navigation system and integrated Motorola Timeport phone, is standard.

Only 2,500 CL-class cars are due in the United States for the model year, and only about 20 percent, or 500 of them, will have the V-12.

Mercedes officials said the CL600 has few competitors, but one is the supercharged V-8 Jaguar XKR, which has a starting price plus destination charge of $80,750.

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