FRANKFURT, Germany -- In time, I will return to sanity, to that real world of sacrifice and compromise where small joys are treasured.
But I am tempted to linger in this place a while longer. It is not so much a matter of location as it is a state of mind, which, in this case, is a matter of fantasy abetted by enormously fast, expensive and stunningly beautiful automobiles.
It is an affair of the soul that won't last forever. In a world gone mad and murderous and careless about its most vulnerable citizens, perhaps it should not last. But I am now held captive by the 2006 Mercedes-Benz CLS55 AMG sedan and am enjoying every moment of detention.
Passion and love are like that. They make no sense, just as this car makes no sense here in Germany, where the price of unleaded regular gasoline is the equivalent of $6 a gallon; just as it makes no sense in France, where consumer anger is marching in the streets in protest of motor fuel prices that are near $7 a gallon; and just as it makes little sense in the United States, where consumers are awakening from the dream of eternally cheap gasoline in the face of pump prices above $3 a gallon.
Talk to any member of the environment-activist Green Party here, and he or she will tell you that the world is wasting too much fuel; that America is wasting most of it; and that, although it isn't likely to occur within this lifetime, the Earth will become dry-boned and arthritic, its various plates rubbing and scrubbing against one another, unprotected by their drained natural lubricants and, thus, more prone to earthquakes and other catastrophic unhappiness.
Some Green Party people said those things to me. I nodded in agreement. But at the Frankfurt International Auto Show, the world's largest, we all salivated, however guiltily, over the sleek beauty of the CLS55 AMG.
To drive the car is to become addicted. It takes hold of you, obliterating notions of propriety and right and wrong, erasing the reality of costs. It is a pleasant disease, pushing you to drive, to tap the gas pedal one more time to feel the rush of the car's supercharged 5.5-liter, 469-horsepower V-8 engine.
Such transient joy comes at a base price of $87,375, including a $775 shipping charge; and it's based on the consumption of required premium unleaded gasoline at the rate of 14 miles per gallon in the city and 20 miles per gallon on the highway. In the United States, that means buyers of the CLS55 AMG will be hit with a federal gas-guzzler tax of $1,700.
The tax is imposed on new-model-year cars in the United States that fail to meet a minimum fuel-economy level of 22.5 miles per gallon. The more you fall below that level, the more you pay.
But in a world of haves and have-nots, the haves have the wherewithal to pay that toll; and if the haves want sensuous cars that are as passionate about speed as the haves are about possessions, the rear-wheel-drive CLS 55 AMG will sell.
Mercedes-Benz believes that at least 1,500 of those people, most of them in still-rich North America, can be found annually. The company has no illusions that such a market will last forever, perhaps not more than five or seven years, according to its estimates. But in the world of automotive accounting, selling 7,500 to 10,500 cars at a base price approaching $90,000 per car is good business.
It has nothing to do with morality, political correctness or anything else. If the audience exists for that kind of automobile, and it does, then from the viewpoint of nearly all of the world's major vehicle manufacturers, it makes no sense to leave that money on the table.
In that regard, for those of us who get to sample these wonderfully hedonistic machines, greed has its rewards. But maybe that's unfair. Maybe greed has nothing to do with affection for cars such as the CLS55 AMG any more than it has to do with the collecting of exclusive pieces of art.
From that perspective, the CLS55 AMG is kinetic art at its best -- at once abstract and impractical in its appetite for fuel, the tightness of its rear passenger cabin and the awkward ingress-egress bending of body and head demanded by the severe slant of its roofline; but beautiful beyond a doubt in highway performance and interior appointments.
It is the stuff of spiritual conflict and torture. But those are easily escapable, at least for the moment, by the turn of an electronic ignition key and the lightning-fast response to an accelerator pedal going down, tap by tap, taking you closer to damnation and glory.
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Nuts & Bolts
2006 Mercedes-Benz CLS55 AMG
Downside: It's a gas-guzzler. Also, the rear passenger cabin is a tight fit for the two passengers assigned to that space, unless they are small-framed adults or young children. The beauty of the CLSS55 AMG's super-sleek body is compromised by the contortion of human bodies getting in and out of the car.
Ride, acceleration and handling: The problem with Good and Evil is that they often wear the same face, as they do here. Ride, acceleration and handling are superior -- so seductive and addictive that they keep you in the car, constantly searching for the next curve, the next fast lane, going nowhere in particular in a world of specific agonies.
Head-turning quotient: Super, simply super.
Body style/layout: The CLS55 AMG is the extreme version of the CLS500, a front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, four-door sports sedan that has the appearance of a two-door coupe. AMG is the performance-car division of Mercedes-Benz.
Engine/transmission: The car is equipped with a supercharged 5.5-liter, 24-valve V-8 engine that develops 469 horsepower at 6,100 revolutions per minute and 516 foot-pounds of torque between 2,650 and 4,500 rpm. The engine is mated to a five-speed automatic transmission that also can be shifted manually.
Cargo and fuel capacities: There is seating for four people. Luggage capacity is 15.8 cubic feet. The fuel tank holds 21.1 gallons of required premium unleaded gasoline.
Mileage: I averaged 18 miles per gallon in city and highway driving.
Safety: Loaded. Side and head air bags front and rear; traction and stability control; rigid body structure; electronic brake-force distribution to better control the car in panic stops.
Price: Base price on the tested 2006 Mercedes-Benz CLS55 AMG is $86,600. Dealer invoice price on base model is $80,538. Price as tested is $92,975, including $3,900 in options, a $1,700 U.S. gas-guzzler tax and a $775 destination charge. Dealer's price as tested is $86,640. Prices sourced from Mercedes-Benz, Edmunds.com, and Cars.com, a Washington Post affiliate.
Purse-strings note: An option for the wealthy. Compare with BMW 545i, Cadillac CTS-V, Jaguar XJR and Maserati Quattroporte.