- The Washington Times - Friday, July 3, 2009

The Mercedes-Benz CL coupe is like the Neiman Marcus - it’s not just high-end retail, it’s the uber center of class and exclusivity.

If there is a coupe ville of the haves and the have-nots, the Mercedes CL resides in a guardhouse-protected gated community in a land high above all others, where a class of three are nestled: the CL550, the CL600 and the CL63 AMG.

I was permitted access to the 2009 CL550, the entry model to the opulent class with a base price of $105,100. But entry is just window-dressing; the real outfit I slipped into was wearing baubles, beads and bangles that would make a serious dent in paying down the 30-year mortgage on my working-class home.

The as-tested price on the CL550 was $120,110, but who looks at price tags anyway? If you find yourself in this section of the showroom, it’s impolite to ask how much it costs; you simply can afford it.

The big news from Mercedes-Benz for 2009 regarding its CL is that the CL550 is now standard equipped with an all-wheel drive system called 4Matic, which means the coupe is now a full-time four-season outfit. Mercedes-Benz recognizes that all-wheel drive is becoming more popular in the ultra-luxury car market. That’s because AWD systems have universally become more refined in ride and handling, with less trade-off in fuel efficiency, plus the year-round, all-season traction control is constantly in place, enhancing the peace-of-mind these security-oriented buyers desire.

Mercedes-Benz’ newest version of its 4Matic AWD system is integrated into the seven-speed automatic transmission. The automaker says the center differential on the AWD system can vary the front-to-rear torque distribution for optimal traction, while also allowing the great driving and handling dynamics that skilled, discretionary drivers demand in this segment.

The fuel consumption on the AWD compact coupe is rated at 14 miles per gallon city and 21 mpg highway.

Among the high-end technological advancements on my tester was the Infra-Red Night View Assist, a high-resolution display screen mounted directly in front of the driver in the instrumentation pod. This was a surprise-and-delight toy I couldn’t take my eyes off of. Looking at it was like watching a TV episode of “Cops” in black-and-white. It’s like I was riding along in the car as the camera-mounted passenger, watching the car accelerate through the streets at night. More to the point, the device is intended to assist the driver in extending his or her ability to see farther down the road by as much as 500 feet.

My tester also featured the optional $2,880 Distronic Plus package, which integrates a perfect safety feature all coupe drivers need - Blind Spot Assist. The BSA is an alert system that monitors the sides of the car.

The tester CL550 is outfitted with a 5.5-liter V-8 that despite all its elegant pedigree can tango with the Hemi. The 32-valve V8 generates a truck full of torque with ratings of 391 lb.-ft. at 2,800 through 4,800 rpm. The horsepower production is 382 at 6,000 rpm. This is a whole lot of power coming from a four-passenger compact coupe.

If this is not enough performance for the demanding buyer, then Mercedes-Benz can direct you to something else, such as its CL600 12-cylinder twin-turbocharged coupe with 510 horsepower and 612 lb.-ft. of torque. Base price: $152,775. There’s also the CL63 AMG, an eight-cylinder model with 465 lb.-ft. of torque, 518 horsepower, priced at $143,000.

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