NICE, France - The most notable feature of the upcoming 2001 Mercedes CL600 is a new V-12 that usually operates in 'cylinder cut-out' mode with only half its cylinders operating, as an inline-six.
The result is about 20 percent better fuel efficiency than the model it replaces. It gets around 17.7 mpg in European testing, or an estimated 16/24 mpg in the U.S. city/highway test. Fuel economy is a huge selling point in Europe, where the fuel costs about four times as much as it does in the United States. But in America, is 'mileage-conscious V-12 buyer' an oxymoron?
'That's exactly the word I was about to use,' said George Peterson, president of consulting firm AutoPacific Inc. in Tustin, Calif.
American buyers are also liable to associate cylinder cut-out with a disastrous General Motors experiment with '8-6-4' engines, inspired by the Arab oil embargo in the early 1970s.
NO WAY TO TELL
For sure, all 12 cylinders kick in when the CL600 driver steps hard enough on the accelerator. And Mercedes engineers saw to it that there is no noticeable bump in switching to V-12 mode or back again. There is no indicator light on the instrument panel, or any other way for the driver to tell when the switch is made, except possibly the sound of the engine.
'We tried our best so that nobody will realize when it is six or when it is 12,' said Wolf-Dieter Kurz, project director for the new coupe.
With all 12 cylinders, the European version gets an impressive 367 hp at 5,500 rpm; peak torque is an even more impressive 391 pounds-feet at 4,000 rpm.
The CL600 goes on sale in the United States in fall 2000. The V-8 CL500 goes on sale in December, for the 2000 model year. In Europe, Mercedes will offer cylinder cut-out in the V-8, which cuts it back to six cylinders - but not in the United States.
Unlike the V-8, projected volume is too small to justify two different V-12s.
In 1998, Mercedes-Benz USA Inc. sold 1,090 CL coupes. About 22 percent of those, or only 240 units, were V-12s.