First Look

First Look: 2011 Mercedes-Benz CL-Class

Fact: automakers routinely give their models a mid-cycle refresh. Whether it's minor cosmetic changes or a complete technical overhaul (such as the Ford Fusion and Edge), the refresh provides an opportunity for the automaker to correct past mistakes and update the styling. In the case of the Mercedes-Benz CL-Class, it's all about power, technology, and just a touch of style for 2011. Already a fantastic car, Mercedes was well aware that it was never known for being particularly stylish.

Still, it's popular amongst the Mercedes coupe faithful and going over-the-top with the styling wouldn't be smart. With that, there's some new headlights with a thick strip of LEDs along the bottom, as well as another line of lighting around the outer openings of the new front fascia. There's also a new front grille that sits more upright in accordance with the current design language. The rear of the car is also quite modest. There are new taillights, updated trunk lid, and rectangular exhaust outlets - an overall conservative look.

So yeah, try not to get too excited about the cosmetic updates. What's relevant is that it now has a smaller, more fuel efficient, and more powerful V8 engine. The new base engine is a turbocharged 4.6-liter 429 hp V8 producing 516 lb-ft of torque. Previously, the base V8 was a 5.5-liter with 382 hp and 391 lb-ft of torque that used 10-15 percent more fuel. On top of all of this, the new engine produces 23 percent fewer emissions. To be called the CL550, Mercedes is not renaming it, say, the CL460 due to a concern that name recognition would become a problem if they kept changing model names to reflect a new engine.

The optional engine will be a beefy 5.5-liter V12 with 510 horsepower and 612 lb-ft of torque. Designated as the CL600, the engine is literally a carryover from last year's model. On top of the excellent engine choices, Mercedes wouldn't let potential buyers miss out on their share of technical goodies, would they? Of course not and the 2011 CL-Class is anything but a letdown in the technology department. A fantastic new feature is the automaker's all-new Active Lane Keeping Assist system, which can actually take control of the car if the driver begins to doze off.

The first thing it'll do is vibrate the steering wheel. If that doesn't work, then it will apply the brakes to a safer speed. Even the blind-spot warning system, if the driver fails to recognize either of the two warning stages, the brakes again will come alive at your feet to prevent a collision between you and the formerly invisible other driver. Inside, the updated interior is full of the latest in audio technology. Along with a refreshed Mercedes-Benz COMAND user interface with an optional split-view screen that accepts Bluetooth, USB, and SD card inputs, there's a mammoth amount of music storage space.

Get this: there's a 7.2 GB hard drive for music storage alone. There's even a separate 40 GB hard drive for the nav system with 3D views and Sirius real-time traffic updates. Other changes include a new steering wheel and four choices of wood, which supposedly come from only renewable forestry sources. On sale now, the base price will remain similar to last year - about $110,000. Mercedes-Benz will always have conservative designs, so if you're looking for something exciting, you'll have to check inside and under the hood.

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