"Well, I certainly wouldn't feel comfortable doing that in too many other cars," I said as I rounded a hairpin curve in the newly released Mercedes CL 500 coupe. Called "the most technologically advanced vehicle in the world" by its creators at DaimlerChrysler, it carries an active body-control system that adjusts handling qualities on the fly. ABC essentially eliminates squat during acceleration, dive during severe braking, and body roll during severe turns, letting the car navigate through corners at speeds few other production vehicles can match.
I was one of the lucky automotive journalists to get a turn behind the wheel for a test ride in the hills surrounding Santa Monica. A series of decreasing radius turns, winding uphill and downhill roads, hairpins, and narrow switchbacks through the California hills were just what was needed to highlight the performance of the CL's suspension.
Mercedes developed the new ABC system in-house. Its components include a variety of sensors that measure lateral roll, acceleration and deceleration, and a computer that uses all this information to adjust specially developed struts at each front wheel. Outwardly resembling MacPherson units, the ABC struts have servocontrolled hydraulics sitting on top of them to compress or lengthen each front spring. This compensates dynamically for any tendency to dive, squat, or roll during hard maneuvers. Even the headlights are connected to the ABC so that they stay focused on the road.
It's not as though squatting or diving tendencies were a problem in the previous incarnation of the CL, however. I got to compare both models during a slalom run, and the consensus among drivers was that the older CL felt a little heavier than its replacement -- which it is -- and only slightly less agile through sharp corners and fast turns.
The new CL does indeed weigh in at 600 lb lighter than last year's model. The difference arises from more widespread use of aluminum, magnesium, and thermoplastic.
Powering the limited-production CL is a 302-hp 5.0-liter V8 that generates 339 lb-ft of torque from 2,700 to 4,250 rpm, thanks partly to a two-stage intake manifold. A five-speed automatic transmission has a touch-shift feature that lets drivers manually select each gear, handy for controlling the car around tight curves on hills. The big V8 has plenty of pep, going from 0-to-60 mph in about 6 sec. Nevertheless, DaimlerChrysler expects to offer a V12 option this fall.
Other high-tech features include low-beam headlights that use high-intensity gas discharge xenon lighting, heated windshield-washer nozzles, and driver-programmable lighting modes for features such as auto-on headlights or security lighting via exterior lamps that temporarily light a path after parking.
As is the case with most new high-end vehicles, the CL carries an emergency GPS-based response system plus other client services. The satellite navigation system is controlled through a flat-panel console on the dash that also manages the Bose ten-speaker audio system.
Final pricing for this high-class coupe has not been set as of this writing, but Mercedes expects it to be in the same ballpark as the sticker for the previous model, a mere $87,500. If you ever decide to write a check for one of these, expect some special treatment. CL 500 product manager Bernhard Glaser says he periodically calls each owner for a chat.
-- Leland Teschler