Mind the Gap!

More shutcrimes from Sindelfingen…

photo 1
The early noughties’ S-class coupé in all but name

Far from being the worst offspring of the late Sacco/Peter Pfeiffer era at Mercedes-Benz, the CL-coupé (C215) still exhibits a very poignant reminder of what went wrong at Untertürkheim during this particular period of time. Its proportions are actually very pleasing indeed (unlike those of its immediate predecessor), yet the CL is utterly let down by its detailing.

Be it the spoiler lip at the rear, the sloppy bonnet sculpting, the a-pillar arrangement or the slightly awkward shoulder on the boot lid – lots of small wrongs help messing up what should, by all intents and purposes, be a fundamentally right design. But no element is quite as grating as what was certainly intended to be the cherry on top of the CL’s icing: the faux hardtop.

photo 2
Why would you?

Supposedly reminiscent of Paul Bracq’s sublime W111 coupé, the C215 was intentionally equipped with a completely point-, as well as useless panel gap on its a-pillar. Along with the panel gap at the base of the b-pillar, it was supposed to lend the coupé the looks of a convertible with a hard top attached. Which the W111 actually did too, but that was a case of a lucky visual accident, rather than some daft Trompe-l’œil.

This gimmick really says more about the spirit of modern Mercedes design than even the absurd granite veneer option that was available for the CL, as well.

Author: Christopher Butt

car design critic // runs www.auto-didakt.com // contributes to The Road Rat magazine // writes a column for Octane France //

9 thoughts on “Mind the Gap!”

  1. I’m getting concerned as DTW’s interpid photo teams scour the World for styling crimes. Spare a thought for the poor owners, who proudly watch you snapping their treasure, only to come across it 2 years later on the web under the headline ‘Dog’s Dinner – Post Digestion’.

  2. I had noticed that gap at the top of the A pillar but never realised it was meant to suggest a cabrio. Also never realised it was meant to echo the w111. Still can’t really see it though. It’s certainly not a classic and I agree about the bonnet and awkward shoulder over the rear wheel but I quite like this car. I often see one quite near me and always admire it.

  3. These cars do nothing for me. I’ve noticed them only as cars I don’t have a feeling for. They arrived and went from production as a non-event. Did I read a review of them? I can’t recall. They didn’t do much for Benz’s image did they, either way. That they are so androgynous doesn’t help.

    1. I know what you mean when you say “androgenous” but I kind of liked that understated discretion. They looked a little ridiculous when amg’d up as the body kit and exhausts really didn’t fit well with the design.

  4. If the C215 demonstrates anything it’s the notion that scale can solve a lot of problems, if not quite everything. Stretched over a sufficiently large canvas this design works – or it does if viewed from a distance. How much of a distance? I’d suggest about 20 feet, or its metric equivalent. From the tiny grille and cheap looking headlamp arrangement, the curious C-pillar profile in relation to the DLO and rear screen to the gargantuan tail-lamp lenses, the C215 is perhaps more exasperatingly poor because it comes close to being correct.

    The panel gaps alluded to here do make me wonder if perhaps a convertible version was considered before the accountants intervened. After all, one should always engineer the convertible first. But returning to the styling, if we accept the notion that scale is important, the fact that this car fails on so many levels despite its size suggests that this car, like so many Mercedes designs of this era will have its place in posterity for all the wrong reasons.

    1. Yes, a cabriolet was in development. It was cancelled by 2002. I have photos of it.

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