Mercedes' luxury coupé has the power to stop accidents

Mercedes' luxury coupé is a plush place to park ample bottoms but, says Sean O'Grady, smart safety features give this big baby real wow factor

Price: From about £80,000 (CL500) to £106,000 (CL600)
Engines: 5,461cc V8, 32 valves, developing 388bhp at 6,000 rpm; 5,513cc V12, 36 valves, developing 517bhp at 5,000 rpm.
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic on the V8; five-speed auto on the V12.
Performance: Maximum speed limited to 155mph; 0 to 60mph in 5.4 secs (V8) and 4.6 secs (V12). About 20mpg for both versions.
CO2: n/a

It's nice to see a manufacturer happy with its customers. Nowadays, in sorts of industries, managements fret about their ageing clienteles. They are terrified of their buyers dying off. They yearn for the young, for the female and for the metrosexual.

Mercedes-Benz isn't immune to this. It has long had a difficulty with being perceived as an "old man's car", a peculiar and potentially fatal image problem. Mercedes decided to combat it with its "a Mercedes for everyone" strategy, with myriad new and sometimes confusingly overlapping model ranges, from three-door hatchbacks (A-Class and C-Class coupé) to the R-Class, a gigantic, mutant people carrier.

When it comes to its traditional, big prestige models though, the company doesn't seem to be that bothered about attracting many new recruits to the three-pointed star. So its new CL luxury coupé looks very much like the old CL. Its buyers know what they like.

Even so, it might have been an opportunity to move the styling along a little bit more. The front looks bland, and the profile, while unmistakably a classic pillarless Merc coupé, doesn't exactly excite. The "bubble" of the rear window, a Mercedes big coupé trademark for decades, has been retained, and the boot has a rather more pronounced slope.

Overall there's maybe a hint of the "banana-shaped" sexy new CLS in the CL's lines, but only a smidgen. Most of the design effort seems to have been expended on creating a new range of über-bling alloy wheels. Mercedes doesn't offer those "spinners" you sometimes spot that make the wheels look as if they're moving even when the car is stationary, but it may only be a matter of time before they too appear on the options list.

Inside, the mission was to create the ultimate in "feelgood factor", and the Mercedes CL-Class customer base of old blokes with plenty of dosh won't be disappointed when they slide their well nourished bottoms on to its beautifully finished seats. It's pretty much standard S-Class in there, which means its all very opulent but tastefully executed.

Most of the different combinations of interior trim are what you'd expect, but one combination in particular pleases the eye - where the seats and doors are finished in a very slightly off-white leather and the woodwork has been given that lustrous black piano-style lacquered finish, topped off with a dark grey Alcantara (suede-like) roof lining. Like sitting in a plush motorised chess board. There's room in the back, too.

One the move, the CL is, again, no big surprise. In either V8 or V12 guises it makes pressing on a pleasure. It really does feel as though it could eat a continent. The 5.5-litre twin turbo V12 engine is more or less carried over from the previous generation CL600, with some tweaks. It's power output is up by 17bhp to 517bhp (at 5,000 rpm), its torque is also slightly improved, and these changes shave 0.2 seconds off the zero to 60mph sprint. The CL500, however, gets the all-new Mercedes V8, a magnificently fast-revving unit that adds 82bhp to the old model's output.

So now the "lesser" CL is almost a second faster on the 0 to 60 run, the performance differential between the two cars is much narrower than before. Is that margin worth £25,000 or so?

The V12 still has an edge in terms of muscle, but in most real-world conditions, that new V8 will be more than adequate. The seven-speed gearbox is a similar tour de force. Just wait until the AMG-tuned versions come out.

None of this, though, should persuade anyone to buy a CL, impeccably turned out as it is. It isn't style or pace or even image that should persuade you to put your name down on the waiting list, because you can get all of that (or more) with the competing products from Bentley, Maserati and Aston Martin. Indeed, you can get most of it from the Jaguar XK and BMW 6 Series coupés (especially in their hotter versions).

No, the real reason you ought to go for one of these new CLs is that most unglamorous of things, safety. For this is a car that can brake itself. It has the usual adaptive cruise control that will brake and accelerate in fast A-road/motorway conditions. What takes the safety story on is the "pre-Safe" system. This works independently of the cruise control.

Now if your CL senses that you're going to run into something or someone at whatever speed, it will bleep at you, bleep some more and eventually, if you're unconscious, cut your speed so much that even if you don't react, the resulting collision will be relatively gentle.

The "Active Body Control" system is also improved. This "mitigation" of accident damage will save lives. It is greatly to the credit of the Mercedes' engineers that, unlike some other well known makes, they've resisted the temptation to design a car around the NCAP crash criteria and got on, instead, with the job of helping drivers to avoid trouble in the first place.

For the average self-made man or woman, that life-preserving ability should be reason enough to stay loyal to Mercedes and order another CL. It's nice to see a customer happy with their manufacturer.

The rivals

Bentley Continental GT: £117,500

A favourite among premiership footballers, but somehow the Bentley has retained its cachet. Not as clever as the CL but much sexier. Top speed of 195mph.

Aston Martin DB9: £109,750

Again, not half as advanced as the Mercedes-Benz but infinitely more image and snob appeal. Gorgeous curves, dramatic cockpit and will reach 186mph.

Mercedes-Benz CLS 63 AMG: £72,995

Well, why not? Performance-wise it's a match for its bigger two-door coupé sibling, it's much better looking and it has four proper seats and four proper doors.

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