Here at MotorWeek, we have a pretty good cross section of automotive enthusiasts. So whenever we get the word that a new Mercedes-Benz is coming out, our interests are piqued in different ways. Some like the solid construction and great ride and handling. Others, the timeless styling. Wrench turners and gadget freaks on the staff appreciate a Benz’ engineering accomplishments. And in that department, Mercedes has taken this all new CL coupe over the top, with a nifty little addition called ABC. So, let’s spell it out.
We’re all familiar with the phrase, “It’s as simple as ABC.” And what the new Active Body Control does on the all new 2000 Mercedes-Benz CL500 sounds simple. It actively controls the suspension to counteract dynamic forces by moving wheels up and down using hydraulic pressure. The result is flatter cornering for superior ride and handling.
How ABC does this is an entirely different can of alphabet soup. So, to brush up on this not so remedial set of ABCs, we accepted an invitation from Mercedes to come to a test facility in the Southwest for a little tutoring in “mechatronics,” the control of mechanical devices by means of electronic components.
Brain power for this “mechatronic” ABC system comes from two on-board 20 megahertz microprocessors. Feeding information to these mini computers is a longitudinal acceleration sensor that measures the acceleration or deceleration of the car and a lateral acceleration sensor that measures transverse forces.
Three additional vertical acceleration sensors monitor lift, pitch, and roll, and a level sensor on each wheel oversees the current vehicle level. Feedback from these sensors is sampled at a rate of 100 times per second and relayed as quickly to hydraulically controlled suspension struts at each corner where, operating independently of one another, split-second adjustments are made.
Each strut is a traditional coil spring and parallel gas shock. They’re surrounded by a hydraulically controlled servo cylinder that applies and releases pressure to the top of the spring in reaction to information received from the microcomputers.
The position of each servo cylinder is also monitored by a travel sensor, and the system’s instantaneous response is aided by its 2900 psi of hydraulic pressure. In other words, as the car tilts, hydraulic pressure is applied to the tops of the extended springs. The springs load up, and the car moves back towards level. Got it? If not, don’t worry. Because a real understanding of ABC will come, not from your head, but from the seat of your pants once you slide behind the wheel.
There, you’ll have a choice of suspension modes. Choose comfort, the default setting, and large low frequency body movements of 5 hertz or less, like dips and rolling turns, are actively flattened to minimal levels. On the firmer sport setting, those same movements are history, and the steering becomes more direct.
Harsher irregularities measuring over 5 hertz, like potholes, are handled in competent fashion by the coil springs, gas shocks, and the rest of the standard four link front, multi-link rear suspension. With ABC, anti-roll bars are unnecessary.
In addition to delivering performance-style handling characteristics, ABC also offers more security to the driver in normal, everyday driving conditions. When combined with the standard Electronic Stability Program, recovery from sudden, emergency lane changes is quicker and more controlled. We loved learning these ABC’s.
With nose dive gone, you may not know when the driver is slamming on the brakes. The system includes massive 13.1 inch, cross-drilled discs at the front, 11.8 inch at the rear, both ventilated, with four channel ABS, Brake Assist, and Electronic Brake Proportioning. Together they stop this CL500 in a stable and very controlled 140 foot average.
Taking you to 60 in 6.1 seconds and on through the quarter mile in 14 seconds at 100 mph is Mercedes’ smooth 5.0 liter, single overhead cam, twin-spark, V-8. This aluminum power plant, shared with the S500 Sedan, punches out 302 horsepower and 339 pound-feet of torque, and feeds through a 5-speed electronic, adaptive transmission that allows manual shifting with a “Touchshift” mode. A V-12 engine will come at a later date.
Now, there’s no question that smooth power trains and responsive handling have been Mercedes hallmarks for as long as we can remember. But so are unique styling and opulent interiors, especially in the high end cars like the CL.
To get inside, a newly developed multi-link hinge on the large doors makes opening and closing them a breeze, and also provides improved entrance and egress in tight spaces. The superb front seats feature perforated leather upholstery with optional built in fans to cool you when it’s hot and heat to warm you when it’s not. The seats have excellent support, and with 14-way power adjustments, more positions than a sideshow contortionist.
The leather and wood steering wheel adjusts electrically for rake and reach, and also houses controls for the stereo, message center, and optional hands free, voice activated phone. Excellent backlighting makes the gauges clear and legible, and to the right, at the top of the center stack, is an array of switches for the various driver controlled functions on the car. Including one that allows the driver to manually raise the level of the car in two stages should more ground clearance be desired.
The LCD screen just below serves both the AM/FM/Cassette stereo, with its trunk mounted CD changer, and the navigation system. With all this gadgetry, novice and veteran Mercedes buyers alike should insist on a thorough walk around from their retailer and plan to spend some quality time with their operating manual.
After you’ve done all that, you’ll be glad to know the dual zone climate controls have an auto setting. Just select the temperature, and let it do the rest. Aft of the shifter, under the armrest, is the available telephone with a small, cooled, storage bin underneath. And while front seat passengers enjoy nearly the same room as that of the S Class sedan, the rear quarters in the CL are coupe tight, but still comfortable. And access is fairly easy thanks to the “Easy Entry” seats that automatically travel fore when the seatback is tilted forward. Around back, the trunk has a rather high lift over but enough capacity for extended weekend getaways.
Like the S Class, the CL500 has been trimmed down considerably, through the copious use of lightweight, high strength materials. Its overall body dimensions are more compact, giving the car a graceful and athletic stance its predecessor could only dream about.
Safety is another Mercedes hallmark, and the new CL’s body structure is 37 percent stronger than the previous model’s. Construction of our European-spec prototype was tight and nearly flawless. And we see no reason why the production vehicles will be any different.
Pricing shouldn’t be much different either. Although monetary numbers are not yet available, with Mercedes’ recent aggressive pricing policies, we expect the 2000 CL500’s price tag to be in the same $91,000 neighborhood as last year’s model.
With its revolutionary ABC active-suspension, one quickly runs out of superlatives when describing the CL500 driving experience. Perhaps Michael Rapp, team manager of the passenger car testing department in Stuggart, Germany, puts it best. “This system is a great innovation, and a great driving experience, I promise.”
As simple to understand as your ABC’s? Hardly. But the results are extraordinarily simple to appreciate. And, while the Mercedes-Benz CL500 is clearly a technological tour-de-force, it’s still a car to stir the driven soul.
Engine: 5.0 Liter Sohc Twin-spark V-8
Torque: 339 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 6.1 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 14 Seconds @ 100 MPH
60-0 MPH: 140 Feet