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A NEW TWIST

This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Thu, Aug 11, 2005

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

A NEW TWIST

By JOHN GRAFMAN, ZORAN SEGINA, and KURT FUHRMANN

This is how the first day went. We first head from Newport Beach to Torrance in order to pick-up the sleek, new Mercedes Benz CLS 500, after which I dart up to Santa Monica to take care of a little business. Being at the coast already, I push northward to Malibu, home of Pepperdine University and our intern, Scott. After a brief meeting, I shoot through Las Virgines Canyon and Mulholland and into the Valley. After a quick pit-stop there, I coordinate with the CLS 500's evil twin.

Our photo-shoot with the two Benzes in Woodland Hills is smoking hot, as the temperature is living up to the Southern California reputation for heat. As we trek back towards the beach through Topanga Canyon, we stop for a few more shots with the canyon in the background. Late in the afternoon, I push southward to the 10 Freeway and then connect to the 405 back to OC.

In the course of one day, I cover plenty of turf in between errands, meetings and photo shoots. Typically, I get a little saddle sore by day's end, but the CLS is a smooth operator. In fact, the CLS is more than just a pretty face. This son-of-the-E Class is one work of art. Mercedes takes the inherently good behavior of the E and drapes it with trend-setting bodywork, a strong and well-balanced motor, and a suspension that works on the highways and canyons.

I didn't get too far from Torrance before the lavish interior starts to make me feel like a demi-god. Nearly every surface is covered in one material or another that helps to justify the price tag. Even the interiors of the door pockets are finished better than some interior surfaces on lesser vehicles. The proliferation of leather is keenly obvious - not just to the eyes, but to the nose as well.

How many cars are a feast for all senses? The perforated leather seats are welcoming both in feel and function. The seating comes equipped with power lumbar with adjustability both fore and aft as well as up and down the seat back. It doesn't stop there. No, no, no. Try power adjustable side bolsters and three levels of heating and cooling.

The seating is limited to four as the back seat is split with a console allowing two only. No romancing will be happening in the back seat of this sexy car, not without some trying anyway.

Practically the only elements not covered by some fabric or upholstery are the release to the glove box, the cup holder, the cap parts to the seat and the access panel where the dash meets the door. Make no mistake; this is a luxury machine in every sense of the word. One of the few questionable elements is the wood panel that runs across the dash. The wood doesn't come across convincingly. Maybe we have seen that grain in a Ford LTD somewhere in our past. Or maybe it's the flat finish. Either way, it seems to be just a bit underwhelming as compared to the rest of the interior.

A few of the many features that Mercedes builds into this model include a cup holder that recesses into the center console when unneeded and cleanly embraces cups and tumblers effectively. While this isn't typically a big deal, try navigating Topanga without a decent grip on things. The overhead lighting also provides low-level ambient light at night allowing visibility in the passenger compartment without glare.

The instrument layout is neatly packaged, and those familiar with some of the brand's other cars will be right at home. As I advance northward, I'm able to operate the audio and global positioning system without digging into the owner's manual. The operations of either the audio or GPS appear on the center-mounted screen and controlled via buttons that straddle the monitor and by a button that can toggle up, down and side-to-side.

In addition to the normal options that can be scrolled through by a touch of the steering wheel-mounted toggle, there resides an extra helpful dose of info at hand. What appears in the gauges besides discrete audio channels, CD options, fuel usage and so forth lies one of the most useful of all options: The name of the street being traveled on and the direction headed are right in front of the driver. This makes it all but impossible to foul up directions. At night, when street signs are often poorly illuminated if at all, the information has the effect of giving eyesight to the blind.

One of the best parts of this CLS is inside the cabin and all but out of site. On the backside of the steering wheel are two small toggles. These toggles control the shifting of an amazing seven -speed transmission. Each toggle can row the gears either up or down. For those who might prefer, the center-mounted stick can also be used to manual select the gears. I like the optional paddle shifters, but I'm more accustomed to using the stick for plying my way through the coastal canyons. I can find just the right gear for holding in while descending deep into the lush hills that have become overgrown from the past winter's record rainfall.

The CLS has a few more aces up its sleeve. Besides the usual Mercedes transmission adjustment that switches between comfort and sport, the suspension has three variable levels that will suit a multitude of driving needs. The pneumatic suspension can also be raised or lowered as the driver might require to clear such nuisances like parking blocks.

Complementing the suspension is an optional AMG wheel and tire package that this car can be equipped with. Balancing between comfortable ride and good handling is always the challenge thrown down at the engineers. The AMG package succeeds at both ends of the spectrum. I can push this hard and it still bites the pavement with sharp claws and then provides fair isolation when the ground is torn up.

The steering does provide useful feedback. However, I much prefer a firmer steering effort. Not difficult, mind you, just firmer - especially as the speed starts to climb. When it comes to cars with a sporting nature I would think a little more effort would be par for the course.

All of the aforementioned is useless if the engine can't make good on the promise set by the transmission and suspension. Mercedes is no fool; they know what this machine needs. Cradled smartly between the two front fenders is the 5-liter V8 that has become a fixture in many of the Mercedes-Benz products. The motor stock layout by today's standards might not offer the utter most in power output, however I'm lying if I said this wasn't a fantastic power plant with superior smoothness and a perfect pitch as well. Nowhere is this as evident as in twists and turns, and elevation changes that a canyon provides, and the hills of Malibu which provides some of the best local opportunities to prove or disprove an advertising campaign's assertions.

In a brief burst of enthusiasm, I hammer the gas pedal from a stand still. If I was already rolling, the car would more than likely already be in second as first gear is rather low. From a dead stop, the transmission will drop to first. Punching it will light up the rear tires with almost as much determination as a typical muscle car.

With 300 horsepower and 310 pounds of torque, the CLS takes little effort in conquering hills or passing. Power to the people is a good thing, but that in itself is only a part of the puzzle. What Mercedes does so well with the CLS 500 is marry all the performance aspects together so well. This is one automobile that lives up to its image, and even surpasses it.

Along with gizmos, the basics are not forgotten. In spite of the slippery shape, this car has plenty of room giving up a little practicality, but not too much. The only concession to the styling is picking up the roof in my peripheral vision, which is a little unusual - especially with the car not being particularly tall. The trunk space is sizeable and useful, especially considering how the tail pulls in and down. As expected, the finish is far beyond what is necessary for a cargo hold. It's nice to know any package will be treated, as fairly be it in the cabin or in the trunk.

Of course, the downside to a powerful motor and generous size accommodations means a penalty at the pump. I don't think too many who can afford this will complain about the cost of filling up a tank.

All the miles covered in the first day were effortless. All that the CLS provides is a complete package for spirited drivers who don't want to forgo a sedan of size. As for myself, I have no problem putting on that many miles day in and day out, provided of course it's in the CLS 500.

- John Grafman

For more information please go to www.mbusa.com

SIDEBAR COMMENT: LORINSER

The first thing you fall in love with is the sound of the exhaust: Deep, throaty and husky. Each one of its four tubes (beautifully incorporated in the rear) extends to you an invitation for an exciting outing - with a hint of danger just for a good measure. If this exhaust system were to be featured in animation, it would be played by Kathleen Turner, or perhaps Lauren Bacall. ("You know how to whistle, don't you Steve? Just round your lips and blow.") Few Mercedes ever sounded quite like this. Hell, nothing coming from the other side of the Atlantic ever sounded like this. To reach an exhaust sound this deep calls for the capacity of your engine to be expressed in cubic inches - and the manifold tightened with screws that are fractioned in inches, not millimeters. And the whole thing better be made in Detroit. Or somewhere around there. Every time you press the pedal you are mesmerized again. How did they do it?

Sharif Yasa, general manager of the CEC Wheels ( Claus Ettensberger Corporation) , smiles. This cannot be Lorinser; this sounds locally made. The factory resonator behind the catalytic converter is removed, giving the car this glorious sound. The Europeans may not understand. The Yanks won't accept anything less.

The exhaust system is said to add approximately twenty horses to the three hundred already under the hood. Even though this may not seem a big difference on a 1.7-ton automobile, the overall sensation of speed is noticeable and remarkable. Without a doubt, you can move fast in this car. A slight touch on the pedal immediately propels you to forty miles an hour. On the freeway at, say fifty or sixty, another slight touch on the pedal to change lanes will bring you way into a speed zone that can be characterized as reckless driving. The twenty-inch Michelins provide reassuringly firm footing. It seems nearly impossible to make the Lorinser slide. Even with the ESP (Electronic Stability Program) turned off, handling is very predictable.

Despite the low profile rubber, the car is high enough that coming in and out of driveways will not cause it to scrape the curbs (which could otherwise require a thousand dollars in a front fender paint job).

The interior touches involve beautiful white carbon fiber on the dashboard and on the black leather steering wheel, which makes it a striking two tone. The white carbon fiber motif extends to the center console between the rear seats. A button on the steering wheel allows the driver to change computer settings, receive messages and also brings up the trip computer, odometer, travel direction, navigation aid, and outside temperature. Disturbingly, one of the features shows the average fuel consumption in this car. If you are not careful, that number (and there is no reason to suspect German-made gauges to be inaccurate) may stay in the single digits, or drop to them quite easily. To utilize all that Lorinser can offer, one is tempted to call upon all the pretty horses - all three hundred and twenty of them. And they can get thirsty.

With the added horsepower, one of the potentially problematic characteristics of the Mercedes transmission management comes more sharply into focus. The gearshift has a manual/electronic option, which allows the driver to shift the gears at will. When going downhill one can shift to a lower gear to slow the car without using the brakes, as it were equipped with the true manual shifter. When the engine is pushed to the red line, however, it will automatically up-shift. The Lorinser begs to be taken at the edge of performance - and this feature could be problematic in that, in a curve, the car is likely to accelerate if pressed to the limit.

It is even more incredible how quickly you can stop. Behind the luxury rims lurk four flaming red Brembo caliper jaws ready to grip. And grip they will. The first firm press on the pedal generally leaves you with an incredulous look on your face, and a fierce internal debate on some basic laws of physics. You know that nothing this big can come to a halt that fast from the speed at which you were just a second ago. The look of incredulity then stretches into a grin as you realize that this little game of defiance of Sir Isaac Newton's first postulate can be played over and over again. The brakes obey unconditionally, without fade or hesitation. In fact, your biggest concern is not what is in front, but what is in rear because you are always in danger of being rear-ended. Very few things on the road can match the Lorinser on the breaking power so you have to watch your six.

The fun comes with a price tag, of course. The package on the Lorinser I was in adds approximately thirty thousand dollars to the regular Mercedes. Is it worth it? Let me put it this way: Coming to work one morning, I saw a green light on Alameda one block away from the garage, and stepped on the pedal to catch it. The steady rumble of the V8 deepened into a roar and Lorinser and I safely traveled around the bend on twenty-inch Michelins, albeit at a higher speed. A light touch on the brakes was all it took to slow the car enough to turn right into the security gate area. The stare of the guards made me momentarily uneasy, but then both of them smiled. "What's under that hood" one of them asked, "We could hear you all the way in from that corner." To which the husky alto of Ms. Turner was ready to respond: "I'm not bad, I'm just drawn that way."

Yeah, it's worth it.

- Zoran Segina

For more information please go to www.cecwheels.com

SIDEBAR COMMENT: IWC

The Mercedes AMGs are, arguably, the most recognized race-modified production automobiles. These machines incorporate both impressive horsepower and awe-inspiring torque. The exotic engines in the AMG models are hand built and even signed by the highly trained clinicians.

All AMG vehicles represent comfort, safety and race-inspired agility. So, with such a successful lineage, one may wonder what brought AMG to link the CLS 55 four-door coupe with the legendary IWC Ingenieur watch. More importantly, what exactly are the results of this unique combination?

Although both IWC and AMG exude precision in their mechanics, no notable changes were made to the CLS 55 engine. This is minor sin; after all, these Mercedes motors are already as close to perfection as possible.

The 50 th anniversary of the IWC Ingenieur brings back the timepiece that embodies IWC's passion for innovative engineering and elegant design. The CLS 55AMG IWC Ingenieur incorporates the perfections of both companies largely within the interior. More precisely, the harmony of these two industry legends can be seen at the instrument panel. The beauty of the IWC numerics and the black Mercedes leather is a combination unrivaled by some of the most exotic automobiles.

Unfortunately, only 55 of these beautiful AMGs will be produced. On the other hand, 20 of those 55 will be delivered to sunny Southern California. Will this quench the thirst for this rare combo? Only time will tell!

- Kurt Furhmann

For more information please go to www.iwc.ch

SUMMARY JUDGMENT

A fantastic car with outstanding performance, and design. Not meant for frugal minded shoppers.

SPECIFICATIONS

Price:Base $64,900, as tested $76,740

Engine type:5-litre 90-degree eight-cylinder, chain-driven single overhead camshaft per cylinder bank, two intake valves and one exhaust valve per cylinder, aluminum block and head

Horsepower:302 @ 5,600 rpm

Torque:339 @ 2,700 - 4,250

Drive configuration:Front engine / rear-wheel drive

Transmission type:

Seven-speed electronically controlled automatic with Touch Shift and driver-adaptive shift logic, five-speed auto with 4MATIC

Suspension:Front: Four-wheel independent with AIRmatic DC air suspension Four-link independent, coil springs, gas-charged twin-tube shock absorbers, stabilizer bar, computer-controlled air springs and four-stage variable damping Rear: Four-wheel independent with AIRmatic DC air suspension, Five-link, coil springs, gas-charged shock absorbers, stabilizer bar, computer-controlled air springs and four-stage variable damping

Wheels and tires:Front: 8.5 x 18-inch, 245/40 ZR 18 Rear: 9.5 x 18-inch, 275/35 ZR 18

Brakes:Front: Vented, with four-piston fixed calipers 13.0 X 1.3 inches diameter Rear: Vented, with single-piston floating caliper 11.8 X .9 inches diameter

Electronic, power-assisted 4-wheel vented discs with 4-channel ABS anti-lock, Brake Assist and electronic brake proportioning

Overall length: 193.3" Overall width: 73.7" Overall height: 55.2" Curb weight (lbs.): 3,812

EPA mileage estimates City/ Highway:16/22

Top Speed, mph:155 (electronically limited)

0-60 mph:5.9

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