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High-Velocity Bliss, Come Hell or High Water

A low-speed (alas!) appreciation of the new Mercedes-Benz.
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Baal -- sometimes called Beelzebub, fallen angel, and prince of demons -- happened to be the Canaanite god of rain before getting all mixed up with the occult crowd. I've always been skeptical of black magic, but I have come to accept that Baal has it in for me because a 48-hour downpour kept me from thoroughly experiencing the Mercedes-Benz CLS55 AMG and its "electronically limited" top speed of 155 mph. The CLS class is a welcome addition to the Mercedes family. It's an intriguing new design, smoothly combining the pinpoint handling of a coupe with the spaciousness of a sedan. The arched shape of the CLS combined with the mechanical guts of the E-Class makes a strong case that Mercedes can create a market segment for what it calls the "four-door coupe." Bet on the CLS55 AMG being a hit with refined gearheads, meaning you may have to make a deal with the devil to get one.

Sticker price: $87,320 for the CLS55 AMG, the high-performance version of the CLS500, which goes for $65,620.

Vital stats: 5.5-liter 469-hp V-8; 0 to 60 in 4.5 seconds; 19-inch five-spoke wheels; 14/20 mpg.

Nice touches: Heated -- and cooled, if you pay extra -- napa leather seats, a climate sensor that switches to recycled air if it detects too much nitrogen oxide or carbon monoxide outside, a 480-watt 12-speaker digital surround-sound stereo, and optional run-55-mph-on-a-flat-for-60-miles tires.

Drawbacks: Confusing audio controls and annoying sonar warnings of encroaching traffic.

On second thought: Since highways are no fun in the rain, I took a driving tour through the 478 acres of Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery. Resting place to 560,000 people, including Boss Tweed, "Crazy" Joe Gallo, and Jean-Michel Basquiat, the eerily serene hills of Green-Wood are filled with detailed columbaria, self-referential statues, and ornate mausoleums. The delightful collection reminded me that we should never shortchange ourselves on comfort, be it in the afterlife or in the front seat of a CLS55 AMG. So I went ahead and joined 'em, treating myself to repeated lower back massages from rolling air pressure inside the lower seat cushion. It's a luxury I would have missed darting down the interstate. Thanks, Baal. All is forgiven.

Last updated: Jun 1, 2005




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