At the Geneva Motor Show in March 1999, the Mercedes-Benz C 215 series – beginning with the CL 500 – celebrated its world premiere. Sales in Europe and Japan started in the fall of 1999. In early 2000, the CL 600 with twelve-cylinder engine joined the line-up.
“When you are back on the ground after a trip in the CL Coupé, it’s as if you were awakened from a beautiful dream. Make sure you find a fixed point of orientation – you’ll need it. Because you just returned from a different world. From the world of the CL Coupés.” That’s how the CL brochure from 1999 summed up the essence of the large Coupés.
The C 215 series saw the world through four eyes. The brand’s typical, formally re-interpreted headlamp face, the elongated silhouette and the arched roof line enhanced the dynamism of the two-door model and gave it an out-of-the-ordinary and solitary character.
Extensive safety equipment
The standard equipment of the new large Coupés included, among other things, an extensive safety package with front and side airbags on the front seats, window bags, the Electronic Stability Program ESP®, acceleration skid control (ASR), anti-lock braking system (ABS), Brake Assist (BAS), novel bi-xenon headlamps with wash/wipe system and the PARKTRONIC system. The top-of-the-range position of this Coupé was confirmed by equipment such as the multi-function steering wheel, adjustable steering column, five-speed automatic with one-touch gearshifting, TEMPOMAT cruise control with variable speed control SPEEDTRONIC, automatic climate control with activated charcoal filter, electrically adjustable leather-covered seats with memory function, Mercedes-Benz Audio 30 radio, leather trim on dashboard and doors and fine wood trim.
The list of options included an electronic tire pressure control system, the dynamic navigation system DynAPS, the chip-card-controlled Keyless-Go driver authorization system and active seat ventilation. On the top model, the CL 600, the operating and control system COMAND, a car phone, a Bose sound system, upholstery covered with exclusive nappa leather and a roof lining made of soft Ultrasuede underlined the special class of this car.
At the time of its launch, the new large Mercedes-Benz Coupé featured a world first: the novel Active Body Control (ABC) suspension system which afforded an unprecedented optimum of sporty dynamism and comfort. On the basis of sensor signals and using special hydraulic cylinders on the axles, ABC almost completely compensates for roll and pitch motions of the bodywork when starting off, cornering or braking. “At the wheel of the CL, it’s like driving two different cars both at the same time: a sports car and a luxury limousine,” the CL brochure from 1999 summarized the system’s advantages.
Power and comfort in abundance: new twelve-cylinder engine
The powerful appearance of the CL was matched by the engines which were offered by Mercedes-Benz for the Coupé. The top model, the CL 600, boasted a newly developed, smooth-running twelve-cylinder engine which generated 270 kW and a torque of 530 Newton metres. Lightweight design, three-valve technology, double ignition with AC voltage ignition system and ionic-current diagnosis, automatic cylinder shut-off (which reduces fuel consumption under part-load), six catalytic converters and eight oxygen sensors – these are just a few examples of the sophisticated technical equipment of this ultra-modern unit. The CL 500 was powered by a V8 engine with 225 kW and optionally available with automatic cylinder shut-off.
Exemplary aerodynamic efficiency (Cd value of 0.28), systematic lightweight design and a new dimensional concept were additional hallmarks of the Mercedes-Benz CL. A modern hybrid concept, permitting the use of different lightweight materials such as aluminium, magnesium, steel and plastic, went a long way towards reducing the weight by up to 340 kilograms as compared to the predecessor.
A very special model was the CL 55 AMG F1 Limited Edition, available from the fall of 2000 in a limited edition of 55 units and fitted with decidedly exclusive appointments. It carried a proud price tag of 330,000 Deutschmarks (approx. 168,500 euros), and it was modelled on the CL 55 AMG Safety Car used in Formula One. The latter’s small-series counterpart was the world’s first road-going car with a particularly powerful brake system with internally ventilated brake discs made of fibre-reinforced ceramics. These brakes stand out for a highly sensitive response, extreme thermal stability, continuous-load capability and a longer service life. In an emergency braking manoeuvre from top speed, a braking power of approx. 1475 kW is generated.
The CL 55 AMG “F1 Limited Edition” was powered by a 5.5-litre V8 engine with 265 kW. Among other things, the interior featured distinctively sporty front seats with optimized lateral support, an AMG sports steering wheel with perforated leather cover, carbon-fibre trim – and an “F1 Limited Edition” logo with consecutive numbering on the centre console.
The CL 63 AMG was the new top model of the series from the Frankfurt International Motor Show in 2001. The figure 63 reminded connoisseurs of the brand of the legendary Mercedes-Benz 300 SEL 6.3. The advanced engine of the CL 63 AMG developed 326 kW.
Exclusive world first: natural-stone trim
From the spring of 2001, buyers of the CL from the C 215 series were the first to be able to order natural-stone trim for the interior. In a special patented process, wafer-thin granite panels (0.6 – 0.8 millimetres thick) were produced before being specially formed and applied to centre console, interior door cladding, steering wheel rim and selector lever. This exclusive trim was made available by the individualized designo program.
In 2002, the large Coupés were refined and given a modified front end with a modern clear-lens design and a revised front bumper. The exterior-mirror housings were fitted with surround lighting which illuminates the ground next to the car and is switched on automatically when the doors are opened or when the central locking system is actuated by remote control. The rear end was equally discreetly revised.
V12 engine with biturbo charging
In 2002, biturbo charging was added to the V12 engine of the CL 600, and supporting measures were taken to boost output to 368 kW and the maximum torque to 800 Newton metres upwards of 1800/min at a charge pressure of one bar – amounting to 36 percent higher output and as much as 51 percent higher torque than on the previous twelve-cylinder unit. The car accelerated from standstill to 100 km/h in 4.8 seconds; top speed was electronically limited to 250 km/h. Despite this impressive performance, the engine complied with the European EURO IV norm which did not come into force before 2005.
In the fall of 2002, a supercharged V8 engine with a displacement of 5.5 litres and developed by Mercedes-AMG set out to work in the CL 55 AMG. Like the twelve-cylinder unit, it developed 368 kW but was clearly sportier in its character. A five-speed automatic transmission with gearshift on the steering wheel went a long way towards ensuring a dynamic motoring experience.
Apart from a certain amount of retouching, the CL 500 remained within the range without any modifications. The Active Body Control (ABC) was revised for all variants: in the updated version, the car’s total weight at any point in time was additionally recorded and included in the computations of the active suspension control system. As a result, handling and ride became largely independent of the load.
Within the framework of model refinement, the safety package became even more sophisticated, among other things by the addition of so-called up-front sensors in the front end of the bodywork, which, in the event of a crash, recognize the severity of the impact at an early stage and trigger the front-passenger airbag in two stages, according to the situation. What’s more, the belt tensioners are activated even earlier thanks to these sensors. Another new feature was the automatic two-stage classification of the front passenger’s weight by means of special sheeting in the seat upholstery. As a result, the front-passenger airbag is triggered in two stages – in accordance not only with the accident severity but also with the occupant’s weight.
Performance was raised once again in 2003 – with the CL 65 AMG which generated 450 kW and made torque of 1000 Newton metres available at engine speeds between 2000/min and 4000/min.
All this sounds like the perfect car – and it is certainly true that the C 215 series came close to the ideal. There is always room for improvement, however, as demonstrated by the completely newly developed C 216 series launched in June 2006. Of the C 215 series, 47,984 Coupés had been sold by 2006.
The 215 series as seen by the press
Auto, Motor und Sport, Germany, issue no. 23/1999, on the Mercedes-Benz
CL 600: “The special fascination of the CL 600 lies in the unique effortlessness of driving, and the new 5.8-litre V12 engine is a perfect match in this respect. The composure with which its 367 hp produce virtually every desired speed instantly but highly discreetly is awfully impressive, and, besides, also answers the question as to such an engine’s right to exist. The five-speed automatic, which interacts with the V12 in rarely encountered perfection, also deserves praise.”
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Germany, 5 October 1999, on the Mercedes-Benz
CL 600: “The new CL, an impressive four-seater, is without doubt a highpoint in the brand’s design history – with its four-eyed front, bonnet remodelled around the headlamps, side lines rising steeply towards the rear and spoiler-like bootlid edge protruding over the triangular tail lights. It not only looks lighter and more dynamic than its predecessor, it really is.”
Road & Track, USA, November 2000, on the Mercedes-Benz CL 55 AMG: “The CL 55’s progress proved effortless and serene, even at Autobahn pace (where one is obliged, after all, to keep to the fast lane and set a good AMG example.”
Source: Daimler AG