I still remember when the Mercedes-Benz CL 65 AMG came out in the mid-2000s: Horsepower had been escalating for a while, and some cars were getting a little more powerful, and it was getting a little crazy how fast even regular vehicles were becoming … and then Mercedes-Benz came out with the "65 AMG" line.
738 lb-ft of torque.
It was a total mic drop; it was the absolute top of the horsepower and torque wars — proven by the fact that it’s been a decade since then and Mercedes-Benz is still using the same engine in its "65" models with almost the same power and torque numbers. The numbers didn’t need to be increased. They’re still insane a decade later.
But while those figures are still crazy, the cars that initially debuted them — the SL 65, the CL 65 and the S 65 — have gotten pretty cheap. While they were priced from around $200,000 when they were new, you can pick up a decent 2006-ish Mercedes-Benz S 65 AMG or CL 65 AMG for about $30,000 — and I decided I just had to see what it was like to drive a $30,000 used luxury car with a 600-horsepower V12. So I borrowed a 2006 CL 65 from VIP Auto, an auto concierge service in the Philadelphia area — and I came to a few conclusions.
One thing I discovered, for instance, is that the CL 65 is still just as crazy now as it was a decade ago. No, the 0-to-60 time of 4.3 seconds isn’t quite as insane as it was back then — but the power is so massive, and so excessive, and so egregious that the CL 65 still feels like a jet trying to take off. Just like it did back in 2006. I also love the relative lack of drama when you push down the pedal: There’s no peaky engine that rockets you forward when you hit a certain RPM, there’s no angry noise that comes from the car. There’s just pure unadulterated acceleration, then a shockingly smooth shift, then more acceleration, at which point you’re going about 120 miles per hour without noticing.
You don’t notice, of course, because the car is so ridiculously well insulated from the road, and the driver’s seat is so comfortable, and the interior drowns out all the noise, and — as I mentioned before — there’s no real engine noise to permeate the cabin. The thing just pulls hard, and you just sit there, whispering to your passenger, if that’s what you want. No, it’s not quite as quiet and serene as the top luxury cars, as it was still using the W220 S-Class as a basis, rather than some purpose-built chassis designed to drown out the screams of the peasants — but it’s still tremendously placid and tranquil inside the CL, even when you floor it.
Not that you ever really have to floor it — because another thing I like about the CL65 is just how responsive it is. Yes, it uses an old-school torque-converter automatic transmission, which should theoretically dull the acceleration. But there’s just so much power you don’t need to wait for the thing to shift. Even a quarter push on the throttle sends the car zipping forward, precisely how you’d think it shouldn’t, given its massive size. It just has power and torque on demand at every level.
Are there drawbacks? Sure. I’ve never really loved the interior in this generation of S- and CL-Class, though I must admit it isn’t as bad as some of the base-level models I’ve been in. Meanwhile, the styling is starting to show its age, particularly as current S-Class models are so modern and up with the latest design trends.
And then there’s the ultimate drawback: You’re driving around in a 12-year-old, out-of-warranty luxury car that cost $200,000 a decade ago with a twin-turbocharged V12. Every time you floor the accelerator, you’re worried something will break. Every time you turn it on, you’re worried something will break. Every time you look at it, you’re worried something will break.
But if you can get past that fear — which, admittedly, might be difficult — you have something kind of cool here: a $30,000 luxury car with a lot of cool features and the kind of power that will still leave you awestruck. Your running costs will surely have the same effect, of course … but it just might be worth it. Find a Mercedes-Benz CL 65 AMG for sale
Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.