Car of the Year 2006: Mercedes-Benz CLS55 AMG

What a difference $22,000, a supercharger, some transmission reprogramming, bigger wheels, beefier brakes, tighter suspension, classier trim, and a couple of discreet AMG badges will make. They transform a CLS500—ostensibly a Mercedes E-Class with bold architecture that makes the four-door look like a two-door—into the CLS55 AMG, from the performance division of Mercedes-Benz that routinely converts the pedestrian into pacemakers.

The beauty of each car is the low, slinky, smoothly sloping dorsal line, which helps it lose the much chunkier silhouette of a sedan and morph into a svelte and more sensual coupe. Naturally, some of the rear-seat headroom and knee room is lost in the transformation. But who really cares when this buffed shape is married to a 5.5-liter V-8 that has been supercharged to produce 469 hp and a monstrous 516 ft lbs of torque? A top speed of 155 mph does not reveal the car’s true capabilities, because that velocity is governed. More indicative is the zero-to-60 time of 4.5 seconds, which makes the CLS55 quicker than the Aston Martin Vanquish, the Dodge Viper, or any modified Audis, Jaguars, or BMWs.

The 5-speed automatic/manual transmission, with a stick shifter or paddles, allows for gear changes that are slicker than gun oil. The CLS55 also is equipped with 19-inch alloys shod with performance rubber, a quad-tipped exhaust built to burble, and an air suspension tuned to the firm side of sublime. The interior is nouveau clubby, with napa leather, real, rich woods, and none of the dashboard linings that appear as though they belong in a gun rack stuffed with AR-15s.

 
Not surprisingly, the CLS55 earned full applause from our judges and finished with the Aston Martin Vantage V8 in a tie for the third spot. “This car is complete and total class,” said Ron Rosenbrand. “It has luxury everywhere you look and touch,” added William Weidner. “Mercedes-Benz has done a fantastic job, taking chances in designing a brand-new class of sedan that drives like a two-door,” concluded Paul Bloch.

He might have added that this luxury sport coupe/sedan has earned a prominent place on that small podium reserved for only the world’s best, regardless of how many doors they have.

 

SPECIFICATIONS

ENGINE 5.5-liter, supercharged V-8
POWER 469 hp at 6,100 rpm
TORQUE 516 ft lbs
ZERO-TO-60 4.5 seconds
TOP SPEED 155 mph (governed)
TRANSMISSION 5-speed automatic/manual
WHEELBASE 112.4 inches
CURB WEIGHT 4,322 pounds
BASE PRICE $87,500 

Photo by Oli Tennent
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