Here's where you start fuming that the Benz's stat sheet alone should have put it in first place—easily. It's just about as quick as the Ferrari 612 Scaglietti F1, has a roomier interior and tons more features, and is half the price.
The Benz surprised and impressed all of us. Although we initially complained about the unavailability of the CL65 and its 738 pound-feet of torque, the second-stringer in the CL lineup is no feeble little brother. The CL600's 590 pound-feet of torque is a stunning 111 more than the Bentley Continental GT’s, and the Benz's 493 horsepower is just 58 behind the Bentley's.
Moreover, despite the twin turbos forcing air into the 12 cylinders, we defy anyone to say it feels like a turbocharged car. It emits almost no turbo sound, and throttle response is simply superb. The five-speed automatic transmission may not have the bragging rights of a sixth gear, but five is all it needs. The Ferrari has a 16-percent-better power-to-weight ratio, yet the Benz equaled the Ferraris 4.3-second 0-to-60-mph sprint. The CL's 2.4-second lunge from 30 to 50 mph is 0.1 second slower than the Ferrari's, and its 50-to-70 time is a half-second better. Punch the gas in this one and you're gone.
Then there's the semi active hydraulic suspension. It's a system of sensors and computer-controlled hydraulic rams and shocks at all four corners. It can instantly adjust from cushy soft for soaking up bumps to sports-car stiff to reduce body lean in corners. It's not perfect—some abrupt freeway impacts send jitters through the body—but in general, it works fantastically. The CL digs into corners with a surprising amount of bite and enthusiasm. One tester wrote, "Wow, very impressive in the turns, feels almost as agile and frisky as the Ferrari." The Benz also has a wonderful talent for inhaling large dips and wallops and exhaling mere nudges to the occupants.
Although the steering is a tad numb, it has good on-center feel. All these cars are secure and comfy on the highway, but somehow the Benz is a tick better. Get it on the freeway, and it practically locks itself into its lane.
We also thought the Mercedes had the best back seat, and the Benz alone had such features as cooled front seats, radar-controlled cruise control, a sunroof, and power trunk and door closers. In the value game, even some six-figure cars are better than others.
The brakes still need work, however. Although they were effective—the 165-foot stop from 70 mph was second best—their feel and modulation were unnatural and inconsistent. We found during hard driving that the pedal travel and stiffness seemed to vary from one press to the next. They cost the Mercedes three points to the Ferrari, which won by only four.
In purely objective terms, the Benz was the winner. But when it came time to hand out points for the subjective must-have-it and fun-to-drive categories—worth 50 points combined—the Benz garnered 34 and the Ferrari a best-in-test 45.
Of course, the Ferrari costs about double and its straight-line performance was not demonstrably better. The Mercedes CL600, however, simply didn't have the emotional tug that's an integral part of the other cars here, and this has to be considered with any car that costs more than 100 grand. The why is hard to pinpoint, but certainly, the CL600 is styled too closely to "mainstream" Benz sedans. It's handsome enough, but it almost disappears when it's next to the three others, especially that gorgeous Aston Martin DB 9.
Mercedes-Benz CL-Class CL600
5.5 Liter 12 Cylinder Bi-Turbo
Technical Data: 2005 Mercedes-Benz CL600