Now in its fourteenth year, Mercedes-Benz refreshed the CL-Class at the beginning of 2011, not just changing the aesthetics ever-so-slightly (a good thing), but adding a selection of new and, in some cases, improved engine choices. My test model, the CL500, is the entry-level of the refreshed range, but don’t let that label fool you – there is absolutely nothing “entry-level” about this car either in finishing, performance, positioning or appearance. In fact, I’d venture as much as to say that the CL was built for a completely different driver and purpose, which is perhaps why we see so few of them on our roads.
Starting with the exterior, the new CL500 doesn’t look radically different from its predecessor, which is a good thing – the design itself was elegant and exclusive from the get-go. To me, the CL captures the essence of what a coupe should be – long, sleek, classy and bulging with intent in the right places. Exterior enhancements subsequently include redesigned headlamp clusters, LED running lights in the front grille, new bumper covers and modernised taillights – nothing too dramatic, but effective enough in separating the previous model from this one.
I’d like to say that the CL500’s interior is just like any other Merc’s, but while it looks and feels similar to most of its siblings, it still manages to feel more luxurious and exclusive. My test car was fitted with black cross-stitched leather with onyx marble-look inlays, complemented by high quality chrome finishes. The 4-portion electric seats with memory function, automatic bolstering through corners and various heating, cooling and massage settings offer plenty of options for driving positions and comfort. Space is abundant throughout, but taller rear passengers, while not cramped, may suffer slightly in the legroom department.
The instrument cluster is Mercedes-Benz’s new digital screen display hooked up to the various infotainment accessories and multifunction steering wheel, which allows for a multitude of messages and information to be shown without looking over to the centre console. All functions are relayed to the large, easily legible COMAND LCD screen, which is easily navigated with the iDrive-style stalk. However, Mercedes-Benz have included a nifty, but awkward, mobile phone unit in the car, mounted just in front of and above the armrest that hovers above and subsequently obscures the COMAND stalk a little bit. Considering the car comes with Bluetooth as standard, I’d choose to omit this option entirely, as even matched to the car’s interior trim, it still looks a bit “bolted on” and gets in the way sometimes.
While the CL600 – and even the two AMG versions – are even more exclusive, I was really impressed with the “entry level” CL500. In fact, unless you have a tax problem and have millions to spend (legally) to resolve it, I don’t see why you’d go for anything other than the CL500. The engine is more than powerful enough for the car yet strikes a great balance with its efficiency, while it’s a pleasure to drive as well. Then add in all the luxuries already fitted as standard, and you’ll really only need to (okay, want to) add a few more options to it. It really is the thinking, logical rich man’s choice.
But, Mr. Can’t-drive-an-S-Class-anymore-because-all-my-friends-have-one-too, what you’ll ultimately be getting in a CL500 is exclusivity and a generous helping of style. Your Audi-driving friends don’t have anything that can stand up to your CL500 (the A7 is the closest, and R8’s are a dime a dozen – okay, maybe not), while your BMW-driving friends will have to wait a while to get a 6-Series Gran Coupe. At R1 693 900, you’ll not only be the man with the most money, but also the man with the most style.