Driving, Part One

This might be the time when you'll wonder if you are getting your money's worth, especially if you're a performance junkie. The CL550 we tested is the base model of the CL range. All other versions Ч CL600, CL63 AMG and CL65 AMG Ч offer more power.

The V-8 in the CL550 is new for 2011 and offers more power than the previous engine (429 horsepower and 516 pounds-feet of torque, up from 382 hp and 391 pounds-feet in 2010).

Mercedes-Benz CL-Class
CL550 429-hp, twin-turbocharged 4.6-liter V-8
CL600 510-hp, twin-turbocharged 5.5-liter V-12
CL63 AMG 536-hp, twin-turbocharged 5.5-liter V-8*
CL65 AMG 621-hp, twin-turbocharged, 6.0-liter V-12
*An optional performance package bumps power to 563 hp.

The engine defaults to an Economy setting that moves you from a standstill in 2nd gear, and that's OK. The problem is that when you press slightly harder to get a bit more power, you got a lot more power. It snapped my head back on many occasions, and I never adjusted to the Economy mode in all the time I spent driving the CL550.

Don't get me wrong: I don't mind the power, but I do mind its surprising, sudden application. When I was able to just cruise along the road, Economy mode was fine Ч but heaven help you if you need to accelerate suddenly. Other editors noticed a lag going from a stop or from slow speeds.

You can also choose a Sport setting that shifts the transmission at higher engine speeds and is more sensitive to accelerator inputs. I preferred this mode simply because it was more predictable. (It also seemed to allow the engine to make more of a snarling sound than the Economy mode Ч a good, slightly menacing sound.)

In either mode, the transmission Ч a seven-speed automatic Ч kicked down to lower gears quickly for passing, and it felt all but seamless when moving between gears.

I was less fond of the steering. The CL550 has Mercedes' Direct Steering system, which has a variable-ratio steering rack for better response in tight corners. It's certainly quick to respond, but it felt numb. Also, the steering is very light and felt lighter the faster I went Ч not reassuring at highway speeds. At times, I felt like I was steering a video game rather than handling a car. I would've liked more feedback.

    See also:

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