What's New for 1998
In keeping with Mercedes' somewhat odd habit of changing its cars' names just as people are getting the hang of them, the former S-Class coupes are now dubbed the CL-Class. Other than that confusing switch, the only changes to these big coupes are the addition of BabySmart airbag technology and BrakeAssist to the standard equipment lists.
Big Mercedes coupes have always been the ultimate automobiles. They scream success, are engineered to be driven hard, and keep the general public at bay. The CL-Class projects confidence, prestige and a certain amount of cold indifference.
Despite its new name, the CL-Class of cars are basically two-door versions of their S-Class brethren. As such, they share the same pluses and minuses. This means that the switchgear feels relatively chintzy, the flimsy dash panel above the central vents is totally unacceptable in a car of this caliber and the cheesy terry cloth fabric covering the lower dash feels and looks low rent.
Ergonomics are slightly marred by a plethora of confusing pictographs. Otherwise, the dash layout is perfect, as is the seating position. Step out and close the door; the thunk as it shuts exudes quality craftsmanship. The exterior styling is slab-sided and massive, making the car look fat. Aside from the traditional grille, the CL-Class is devoid of exterior character, more so than the pedestrian Lexus SC400, and in startling contrast to the beautiful Jaguar XK8.
For 1998, Mercedes has limited changes to whatever could be pulled out of the parts bin. This means BabySmart airbag technology and Brake Assist. Brake Assist is designed to give drivers maximum braking power in a panic situation by detecting a panic application of the brake pedal and increasing braking power to its highest limit. We've not tried this new system yet, but we are somewhat hesitant of a car that thinks it knows more about our impending doom than we do. The BabySmart airbag system works in conjunction with a special Mercedes car seat, allowing moms and dads the option of putting little Suzie in the front passenger's seat without having to worry about the front airbag deploying in her face.
The CL-Class cars cost more than just about anything printed in this book, and although the car is nice, we don't think it is quite that nice. If you've got this much money to spend, take a look at the Jaguar XK8; it might just make you happier.