As Mercedes-Benz rolls out sporty AMG editions of each of its products, the company's in-house performance group seems to put a different spin on every model. The 2006 CLS55 AMG coupe is no exception.
The AMG treatment does not come cheaply, and not all consumers believe the AMG brand is worth the hefty premium.
Our test model, equipped with only a single $3,900 option package, had a bottom line of $92,975.
HE: I was a big fan of the AMG tuning house long before Mercedes bought them and brought them inside, and the company's strategy of offering AMG versions of all their vehicles seems like a brilliant move, especially here in the States where the Mercedes brand has never been seen as a true competitor to BMW in the performance arena. Cars like the CLS55 AMG are really helping to change consumers' perception of Mercedes -- especially their performance capability -- in a very positive way. And you can count me as a booster; this car is highly entertaining, if you're one of the lucky few who can afford the whopping sticker.
SHE: This car is highly ridiculous. It makes me think of our neighbor Mike, the biology prof, who recently lectured me on the fact that men's DNA is set up so most of them are genetically programmed to look at women and cars. I'm sorry, but I don't get the AMG brand at all. It means nothing to me. And the car seemed overly masculine -- too black and monochromatic. I'm surprised it doesn't come with a standard jockstrap.
HE: Speaking of too shallow, I suppose you missed all the nice refinements and luxury touches, from the matte-finish burl-walnut trim and suede headliner to those heavenly "dynamic" seats that massage your tired muscles on long drives. And can you really tell me with a straight face that a supercharged 5.4-liter V-8 that makes 469 horsepower and 516 pounds-feet of torque doesn't stir your blood when you put your foot to the floor?
SHE: No, what stirs my blood is a completely paid-off credit card with no spending limit. On a purely practical level, this CLS55 AMG gets only 14 miles per gallon in city driving. It takes premium fuel only, which is now running around $3.50 a gallon. Plus, it has a $1,700 gas guzzler tax. Andit's relatively costly to insure. Yes, it has excellent safety features, including side curtain air bags. But I can get those on a Kia.
HE: We're talking about a whole different level of performance here, and for that, you'd be amazed at how many people are willing to pay the premium. And if they can afford a $90,000 automobile, chances are the guzzler tax and high fuel prices will be no deterrent. I have a few of my own specific issues with the CLS55 AMG, including the fact that the rear seats don't have nearly enough head or leg room for six-footers, despite the fact that the front seatbacks are scooped out. The controls on these fancy German cars are also getting outrageously complicated -- so much so that they start to become a hazardous distraction while you're driving.
SHE: I do feel like we were talking past each other on this one. But I think if Mercedes is hoping to draw women into the AMG brand, they should do a better job of educating us and convincing us why we should care about it. Maybe if I saw it in Oprah's magazine, on her list of favorite things, I'd be more convinced. But at this point, I just think it's another one of those pointless "guy" cars that just isn't worth the money.
Anita and Paul Lienert are partners in Lienert & Lienert, a Detroit-based automotive information services company.
The Mercedes-Benz CLS55 AMG touts a 5.4-liter, 469- horsepower engine and a luxurious interior that is befitting its $90,000 price tag.
2006 Mercedes-Benz CLS55 AMG
Type: Front-engine, rear-wheel drive, four-passenger coupe.
Price: Base, $89,075 (inc. $775 shipping charge and $1,700 gas guzzler tax); as tested, $92,975.
Engine: 5.4-liter V-8; 469-hp; 516 lb-ft torque.
EPA fuel economy: 14 mpg city/20 mpg highway.
Where built: Germany
Estimated 12-month insurance cost, according to AAA Michigan: $2,761
Likes: Fantastic safety features. High assembly quality inside and out. Comfortable ride, not overly harsh. High-tech four-zone automatic climate control. Excellent warranty, plus 24-hour roadside assistance.
Dislikes: Way too pricy, even for a Mercedes. Ridiculous $1,700 gas guzzler tax. AMG brand means nothing to me. Overly masculine -- too black/monochromatic. Takes premium fuel only -- at well over $3 a gallon. Do I really want a luxury car with "ground effects"?
Likes: Supremely comfortable "dynamic" seats (part of a $3,900 option package). Satin-finish wood and suede headliner are classy touches. Powerful supercharged 5.4L V-8 has muscle to spare. Great handling.
Dislikes: Lousy fuel economy. Not enough rear leg or head room, despite the scooped-out front seatbacks Complicated controls and switches.