Man, we feel like we're in junior high again. No, not because of our patchy, stalker-esque facial hair or the fact that we keep outgrowing our clothes. (Although nowadays it seems we're outgrowing them outward instead of up.) We feel all of 13 because we just got finished driving the Mercedes-Benz CLS550, and it just sort of does that to you. Jittery nerves, sweaty palms, dry mouth—we're in love with that sultry sheetmetal, those curvy flanks, that rakish rear end. Smitten, we tell you.
So we're happy to report that those looks didn't change when Mercedes-Benz decided to morph the CLS500 into the CLS550 for 2007. What did change—that new badge is a pretty big clue—is the luscious V-8 planted beneath those equally luscious curves. The Benz's engine has jumped from 5.0 liters to 5.5 for 2007, and power's up a whopping 80 horsepower to 382. (Torque jumps by 52 pound-feet, to 391. Yowza.)
If the 5.0-liter V-8 was a sweetheart, this 5.5 is full-fledged bombshell sent from heaven on a pillow made of pure awesome. With max torque on tap from 2800 rpm, there's ample thrust whenever you want it, so giddy right-foot stomps make your head snap back like a jab to the face. The numbers back up the whiplash: The CLS550 we tested boogied to 60 mph in just 4.7 seconds and hit 100 mph in 11.6, figures 0.8 and 2.4 seconds quicker than the CLS500. (It's a shame that folks who ponied up for the CLS500 are out the 80 horsepower, but at least they still have that hot, hot sheetmetal to keep them warm at night.)
At idle, the engine's note isn't particularly notable—it's quiet, composed, and civilized—so it isn't until you're in motion that the Benz gets busy with the business of sounding fantastic. And fantastic it is, although even at wide-open throttle, your ears aren't exactly pummeled by sound. The V-8's labors produce enough volume to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand at attention, but the sound remains refined by staying at some remove.
As before, the V-8 hooks to a seven-speed automatic that's as heartwarmingly capable as the engine itself. Gearchanges are smooth and fast. With seven gears, however, downshifting just one ratio often isn't enough to adequately perform the task at hand, whether it be passing, tackling a grade, or simply accelerating. This makes using the well-located steering-wheel paddles a frequent occurrence if you opt to shift for yourself, so we generally let the box do its own thing.
The CLS's E-class-based chassis is capable, and loads of grip are available from the fat tires. The CLS550 is more than happy to wag its tail, but dialing in some opposite lock using the precise steering and adding a touch of gas will bring the car back under control easily. The standard Airmatic suspension offers three settings, all of which deliver a comfortable ride. In fact, the most-hard-core mode, Sport 2, was comfy enough that we'd avoid using the other two for anything this side of rural Afghanistan.
The price for the hot exterior is paid on the inside. Getting into the back seat of the CLS is an exercise in neck contortion, and even front-seaters make do without a ton of room, with elbows finding a surface on either side pretty quickly. The high beltline doesn't help; its height makes looking out of the car and around the various pillars like poking your head out of a trash can that's sitting in a jail cell.