Grand Canyon Road Trip - 2005 Mercedes-Benz CL65 AMG Long-Term Road Test

2005 Mercedes-Benz CL65 AMG Long-Term Road Test

  • Full Review
  • Pricing & Specs
  • Road Tests
  • Comparison
  • Long-Term (11)

2005 Mercedes-Benz CL65 AMG: Grand Canyon Road Trip

January 8, 2014

2005 Mercedes-Benz CL65 AMG

It's become an annual tradition that my wife and I take a post-Christmas road trip. Two years ago it was the long-term Mustang GT to Atascadero, Calif., and last year it was the long-term VW Beetle Turbo to Hearst Castle. This year we went way bigger on all fronts: Grand Canyon via Las Vegas in our new/old 2005 Mercedes-Benz CL65 AMG.

Frankly, we could've been going to the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository via Pahrump and I still would've relished the thought of driving the CL65. As Mike Magrath wrote, it's a car we've been wanting for a long time and now finally have. Unlike most of our past used classic long-termers, the CL is intended to be driven long distances. I very much wanted it to be as good as I had hoped, and oh how it is.

The best thing about the CL65 is how effortlessly it goes about driving very fast for a very long time. It really does recalibrate your sense of speed. 55 suddenly feels like you're puttering along behind a marching band in the Rose Bowl Parade.

2005 Mercedes-Benz CL65 AMG

And it's not just because of the bi-turbo V12 under the hood. That helps, that really really helps. Good grief, is it monstrously fast. Want to pass someone? Just tap the throttle and you're gone, like Captain Picard ordering whatever chap's sitting at the conn to engage warp. I actually started doing the two-finger-forward "engage" gesture when passing.

Where was I? Oh yes, it's not just the engine. It's how utterly quiet the cabin is, with seemingly tons of sound deadening materials and double-pane side glass. It's the incredible Active Body Control air suspension that glides down the road as if levitating above it yet also feeling perfectly in control. It's the steering, which has the usual Autobahn-bred, numb-on-center effort, which prevents driver fatigue and over-correction at speed (but can feel a tad disconnected elsewhere).

My wife got tired of me saying things like, "This thing is incredible. I'm telling you, it's easy to take it for granted. It's better than a majority of the cars on the road and it's eight years old. It's 14 if you go by generation."

2005 Mercedes-Benz CL65 AMG

Of course, it does show its age in some areas. The most obvious is the lack of any iPhone connection, which was enough for Mark Takahashi to stick with the Dodge Dart on the drive back from Reno. Though I'm working on getting the CL retrofitted with an AUX jack (and reactivating its satellite radio), in the meantime, I had a thick book of CDs at my disposal. We didn't bother with the trunk-mounted changer and instead only went with the in-dash single player, though I recall that reviews from this era praised this type of set-up.

The rest of the cabin proved superb. There's obviously enough space for two people and their stuff, while the seats offer a multitude of adjustments (including thigh extension and side bolsters). I used seat ventilation almost constantly, while my wife got to enjoy what must be the first application of her favorite car feature: massaging seats.

As for the trip itself, the Grand Canyon is indeed spectacular. Overwhelmingly so to the point where it's almost underwhelming. It's hard to truly appreciate just how grand it is. I have similar feelings about the CL65.

2005 Mercedes-Benz CL65 AMG

The CL's trunk is quite large, with an old-school full-deck opening. Three bags and our winter coats (not pictured) fit with ease, as you'd hope from a car this big.

2005 Mercedes-Benz CL65 AMG

Garbage traffic on Interstate 15 to Las Vegas allowed us to find a nice detour through the Mojave National Preserve. You drive through beautiful desert vistas and past groves of Joshua trees. I chose to shoot the CL next to this run-down shack.

2005 Mercedes-Benz CL65 AMG

Future classic German coupe meeting current classic American coupes.

2005 Mercedes-Benz CL65 AMG

The CL65 AMG and a train. There are similarities.

2005 Mercedes-Benz CL65 AMG

Keen eyes will spot a rather famous national landmark.

2005 Mercedes-Benz CL65 AMG

We stayed overnight in Williams, Ariz., which is about 50 miles south of the Grand Canyon. The CL's temperature gauge read 28 degrees F. when we took off. The snow was old, thankfully, and the roads were clear.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 58,693 miles


  • "I actually started doing the two-finger-forward "engage" gesture when passing." Hahaha! :D Nice prose, Sir Riswick!

  • benson2175 benson2175 Posts:

    These are awesome cars that get under your skin. A few years ago I bought a rundown E class for $1500 as a winter car for my Miata. I fell deeply in love with that E class and when winter was over I continued driving it. Finally after five years of trouble free daily driving unexpected from a $1500 beater it was time to upgrade. I went for a late edition W140 S class and I can't imagine a car being much better. Nothing against buying a new Huyundai or Accord or whatever but seriously for the downpayment on one of those cars you could have a car that was made for kings and queens. It makes no sense to me to drive anything else. And when I do I'm shocked how cheap and full of cut corners everything out there is.

  • mercedesfan mercedesfan Posts:

    This write up could be used to describe every big Mercedes (coupe and sedan) since the W126. There really is nothing else like them when it comes to open-road cruising. Even my old S550 with a "mere" 5.5-liter, V8 delivered pretty much the same experience. I miss it every time I take my Model S out on the open road. The Tesla is a great car, but it isn't half the highway cruiser the S-Class was.

  • fordson1 fordson1 Posts:

    Interesting that the first take on this car, from the staff and from commenters, was about how soon things would break and how expensive that would be. Now, one of the staff has taken it on a road trip and is trying to pick his jaw up off the ground. $34k - like a loaded Hyundai Sonata, maybe - ? This car has been taken care of very, very well by the previous owner, it's loaded, and it's awesome. I predict this will be the all-time great Edmunds new/old car. A real sleeper. Next post? They do a track test and find that at 1300 extra pounds...and with 150 extra hp, it will roll wheel-to-wheel with the 2014 Stingray. Published tests of both cars indicate exactly that.

  • quadricycle quadricycle Posts:

    I'm not surprised to see such infatuation with the car after a trip, when this kind of car has been likened to a private jet on wheels for its ability to eat the miles. You know, I actually rolled my eyes when I saw the introduction, but I was completely wrong: this will be a great exercise. It just seems that when all is said and done, the "was/wasn't worth it" decision is going to be dimensionally greater and more involved than your average car. There's a quality about the car, but there's also a lot of complexity. You've got a lot of features that are still in the process of trickling down nearly ten years later, but that means there was a lot less research done on them back then. The car seems to be in great shape, and may not prove to be that unreliable; but on the other hand, just one big ticket item goes and so does the budget. If you do have to take it to the dealer, I bet that a wrong choice of dealer will have significant repercussions. I'm actually spending time trying to figure out what would go wrong... Air suspension, and some random sensor going off somewhere and throwing a code are my top two for the moment. Finally, is the fact that this is an awesome car, even if something does go wrong. Driving the car literally seems to be an experience we all need to try at least once. This will make it a lot more interesting to see who draws lines where to declare this experiment a success or failure. Good choice Edmunds.

  • mercedesfan mercedesfan Posts:

    @quadricycle, Absolutely the air suspension. I don't know of a single MB from this generation that didn't have chronic issues with its air suspension. It seems that things were figured out in the generations that followed this car, but this CL is right sm

  • stovt001_ stovt001_ Posts:

    Agreed with Mercedesfan, that was my exact thought when I read quadri's comment. I'll be shocked in the air suspension isn't the first major failure.

  • If / when the air suspension fails, how long is that $5k fix going to last? It may still be really worth it, seeing this car cost $15k less than the 4 cylinder plastic seats BMW 428i

  • Great article. This generation of CL has such an understated beauty to it. I particularly gush over the rear end, and I don't even know why! IT'S SO SUBTLE! But it is so, so right.

  • kevm14 kevm14 Posts:

    Yes I really like this car, as well. I did a little digging and it looks like you could get massaging seats in some Cadillacs starting in the late 90s. I don't know how the Mercedes' system works though. I think the Cadillac system (at least the 1st gen) was just lumbar-inflation based. I assume the Mercedes' system is better. And it ought to be...

Leave a Comment

Past Long-Term Road Tests

Have a question? We're here to help!
Chat online with us
Email us at
*Available daily 8AM-5PM Pacific
Call us at 855-782-4711
Text us at ED411