Driven: Mercedes CLS 63 AMG
Mercedes adds a surprising dose of sophistication to its sledgehammer saloon
Given the loud and irrefutably soul-stirring tones of a typical AMG V8 exhaust across its rev range, I'd always innocently assumed the noise came out that way by default. Unreconstructed, and like a force of nature if you will. Chatting to a powertrain guy on the launch team, it seems AMG spends just as much time fiddling with the acoustics as other premium car makers, but they do seem to go on about it a bit less during press briefings. The knowledge that there's artifice involved needn't diminish a beautiful experience of course, although I'll spare you the breast-augmentation metaphor that AMG's SoCal launch location originally inspired...
You're probably already familiar with the crisply emphatic exterior treatment of the new CLS 'four door coupe' and, although some PHers have expressed reservations and prefer the look of the old one, I'm becoming increasingly admiring of the current M-B styling direction. It's distinctive and unapologetic at least, and the showroom-detailed press cars looked terrifically glamorous under the California sun. (Dahlings, didn't we all...)
The AMG effect inside brings piano-black trim panels (unless you want another finish), AMG sports seats in nappa leather, and an AMG steering wheel, which is much like a regular steering wheel, but with gently flattened polar regions. It also sports a pair of aluminium shift paddles, but more on those later.
Drive is selected via an SLS-style lever on the centre console, which looks nice but has an electronic Park button instead of a slot for the lever. This means casual users brought up on regular auto shifters, or at least absent-minded/careless hacks, may find themselves shoving the lever all the way forward (for Park), but actually only selecting reverse before jumping out of the car with the engine running. (Okay, Okay... it happened to me while I was photographing Merc's white Gullwing last summer and, were it not for my gazelle-like reactions to the sound of tyres crunching on gravel, an embarrassing phone call to the press office would have ensued. And the mother-in-law would now own a carport instead of a garage.)
As if the standard V8 isn't monstrous enough, the performance pack boosts power from 525hp to 557hp, and torque from 516 to 590lb ft. Thus configured, the words 'seriously rapid' scarcely do this madcap machine justice.
In auto mode Sport Plus, the car will accelerate to 62mph in 4.3 seconds, and there's seemingly no let-up in acceleration after that. It's relentless, presumably all the way to the electronic limiter at 185mph if you've got somewhere to do it. But the most exciting thing about this car is that it's by no means at its best as an autobahn bruiser.
Thanks to big, bitey brakes and with the ESP/traction and powertrain set to Sport or Sport Plus, the car seems able to hoover up the tarmac anywhere, however vigorously the road twists and turns to get away from you. The gearbox electronics are genius when driving fast across country in auto mode too, combining seamless shifts with delicious throttle blips (and exhaust 'brrraps') on downchanges, and all with a perfect sense of timing that suggested the car had somehow covered the same ground before and remembered it. In fact, so good is the 'box at deciding what gear you need - or indeed are about to need - that I gave up trying to second-guess it at all with the paddles. My own manual shifts never seemed as perfectly timed, effective or smooth, so I happily conceded control to the machine and got back to enjoying the drive.
It's presumably just a coincidence that one of California's top natural predators is the Jaguar, because arguably for the first time the CLS 63 AMG is stomping all over territory previously marked out by Britain's supercharged 5.0-litre 'big cat', the XFR. The Merc is likely to be a fair whack more expensive than the £65k Jag I suppose (prices are still TBC), but the first on-road comparison will make interesting reading.
Amazing that no one seems to have done a press release or comparative test yet, because it is totally fearsome and yet does not shout about itself atall. As you might imagine you can drive like an old fart or grab it and grin.
If nobody ever talks about it,that will be a huge shame as it is a proper proper car in every sense..
Onwards and sideways