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Tuesday 25th January 2011

Driven: Mercedes CLS 63 AMG

Mercedes adds a surprising dose of sophistication to its sledgehammer saloon



Thunderous tailpipes are generally one of the highlights of any AMG experience and the new CLS 63 doesn't disappoint. On a rapid interstate climb out of San Diego heading towards the Mexican border on the official press launch last week, it especially didn't disappoint the multitude of centre lane crawlers who got the benefit of 8 full-bore exhaust barrels in stereo as PH and some equally irrepressible 'media colleagues' outflanked them on both sides at possibly unexpected 'velocidades'.


This being America and the home of the V8, the manoeuvres seemed largely well received - at least if slack-jawed astonishment or excited giggling can be reliably discerned in a rear view mirror. AMG's latest biturbo 5.5-litre V8 might have given up a few cubic inches in the name of environmental responsibility (sic), but it still sounds spectacular from inside the car. And from outside it still sounds like a good old-fashioned war.

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...


The fast freeway ride out of San Diego was a great opportunity to relax into the new CLS 63, to get to grips with its fully featured control systems, and (in my case anyway), admire the new interior design which is stylish, refined and generally beneficial to one's overall sense of well-being.

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...)


As you've probably already spotted, the CLS 63 is easily distinguished from its lesser siblings by a more sculptural bonnet, flared wheel arches and a mean-looking front apron with a black painted lower cross-member. The rear gets quad tailpipes, a diffuser-style rear apron, and our 'Performance Pack'-equipped machine even got a carbon-finish lip spoiler on the boot, and gold-painted brake callipers. A shiny V8 BITURBO script runs along the sides.

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.


My first thought on sliding into the driving seat was how the view out of this CLS seems to have improved over the last one. I wouldn't swear to it without a back-to-back comparison, but the new car's windscreen pillars seem slimmer and visibility much improved. The seats are comfortable, supportive, and in our car would warm or cool your backside on demand, which was charming. And with a whirr here and there from the seat and steering column motors, there's surely an ideal driving position to be found for backsides of all shapes and sizes.

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.)


The gearbox itself is Merc's latest MCT 7-speed unit, with a wet clutch instead of a torque converter. It's combined with a stop-start system that, given the rumbustious nature of the engine, is unsurprisingly less than imperceptible in action. Fortunately you can disable the stop-start function, because surely nobody buys an AMG to make faltering getaways at the traffic light grand prix?

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.


The AMG car's bespoke suspension is steel up front, with air at the back, and there's three-stage adjustable damping through Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus. On our trip the AMG team confidently sent us on a route up in the mountains that would have seriously challenged any car. Yet tortuous twists and awkward camber changes were shrugged off with ease by a chassis that never once found itself out of sorts with the conditions.

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.


Super-accurate and beautifully weighted steering is provided by an AMG-specific rack with a more direct ratio, and which has been designed to provide early feedback of the onset of understeer. It's a condition that takes some finding on the road, as one of this machine's sweeter attributes is a front end that responds faithfully to its steering, and turns in with a directness and precision that belies the car's size. When understeer does appear, there's never a shortage of power to redress the balance at the other end, but during cornering the enthusiastic driver of less than god-like ability is far more likely to default to feeling the back end slip sideways momentarily under power when using the ESP/traction control as a safety net. (Assuming you've selected a Sport set-up. In Comfort mode, heavy right foot antics are ruthlessly overruled by the ECU.)


Seriously refined ride quality (which is even bearable on most surfaces in the Sport Plus damper settings) adds to a thoroughly rewarding experience, and one which has led other reviewers to name the CLS 63 the best AMG drivers' car to date. It certainly moves the AMG saloon concept on from bruising motorway 'hammer' to something far more sophisticated.

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.



 

Chris-R
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Author Discussion

TommyBuoy

Original Poster:

786 posts

53 months

[news] 
Tuesday 25th January 2011 quote quote all
Stunning.

I didn't like the CLS re-model when it was announced, but this definately settles it. Must have some presence on the road too.

Edited by TommyBuoy on Tuesday 25th January 11:36

mrclav

550 posts

109 months

[news] 
Tuesday 25th January 2011 quote quote all
Love this. Presence (understated), power and IMHO far more classy than a Continental GT. Definitely one to own at some point in my life.

Cassius81

261 posts

75 months

[news] 
Tuesday 25th January 2011 quote quote all
Like it...a lot. Although am not a fan of DRLs, no matter what car they are on.

Don't the gold calipers mark it out as having the (presumably) optional ceramic discs?

Rawwr

14,507 posts

120 months

[news] 
Tuesday 25th January 2011 quote quote all
I hope this means the old CLS will depreciate more. Have you seen what you can grab a CLS63 for these days? It's almost criminally cheap.

Bill

32,101 posts

141 months

[news] 
Tuesday 25th January 2011 quote quote all
frown I'm not convinced about the looks, but I still want.
Advertisement

Mannginger

6,890 posts

143 months

[news] 
Tuesday 25th January 2011 quote quote all
The old CLS was a looker but this looks even better, especially in AMG guise. The Black should be pretty menacing!

Edited by Mannginger on Tuesday 25th January 13:05

Gizmo!

18,105 posts

95 months

[news] 
Tuesday 25th January 2011 quote quote all
Sat in one of the old ones at M-B World last year and thought it was a truly lovely place to be. This is probably better smile


Strange choice of suspension though, metal at the front and air at the back?

epom

2,652 posts

47 months

[news] 
Tuesday 25th January 2011 quote quote all
thats handsome that is !!

Luca Brasi

841 posts

60 months

[news] 
Tuesday 25th January 2011 quote quote all
Cassius81 said:
Don't the gold calipers mark it out as having the (presumably) optional ceramic discs?
Yep.

kambites

41,084 posts

107 months

[news] 
Tuesday 25th January 2011 quote quote all
Interesting that while M cars seem to be attracting complaints for getting softer and less involving, AMG seem to be finally finding their way. I look forward to seeing a back-to-back comparison of this and the new M5.

trickywoo

4,217 posts

116 months

[news] 
Tuesday 25th January 2011 quote quote all
PH said:
Mercedes adds a surprising dose of sophistication to its sledgehammer saloon
Isn't it a four door coupe?

BMWill

429 posts

65 months

[news] 
Tuesday 25th January 2011 quote quote all
This car looks great from every angle except the back (keeping in line with the out going CLS then).
Except this time, the rear lights design seem to have been inspired by open flesh wounds...

Riggers

1,851 posts

64 months

[news] 
Tuesday 25th January 2011 quote quote all
trickywoo said:
PH said:
Mercedes adds a surprising dose of sophistication to its sledgehammer saloon
Isn't it a four door coupe?
Tomayto, tomarto... wink

Zod

26,882 posts

144 months

[news] 
Tuesday 25th January 2011 quote quote all
Great engine. Car looks horrible.

UltimaCH

2,549 posts

75 months

[news] 
Tuesday 25th January 2011 quote quote all
Don't and never liked the CLK. Looks like an elephant sat one day on the roof

Riggers

1,851 posts

64 months

[news] 
Tuesday 25th January 2011 quote quote all
UltimaCH said:
Don't and never liked the CLS. Looks like an elephant sat one day on the roof
EFA wink

Though you may actually mean the CLK, in which case that would be a bit o/t...

coleclough

12 posts

75 months

[news] 
Tuesday 25th January 2011 quote quote all
Very interesting that Chris mentioned the Jag XFR as competition. I have been "Q" car ing about in my new XJR for the last 6 weeks.510 hp 625 foot pounds of stuff at 1750 rpm and only 1850 kilos. It does not have an exhaust note,rather....it rumbles like a Vicon Bomber.

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

J.


Porsche997C4S

160 posts

50 months

[news] 
Tuesday 25th January 2011 quote quote all
Like it apart from the wood in the interior of the car.

Risotto

3,223 posts

98 months

[news] 
Tuesday 25th January 2011 quote quote all
I thought the old one looked great - right up there with the best of Paul Bracq's Mercedes designs.

What have they done?! The new one looks awful. Why do Mercedes insist on grafting that incongruous crease (around the leading edge of the rear wheel arch) onto all their new models?

LeighW

767 posts

74 months

[news] 
Tuesday 25th January 2011 quote quote all
cloud9 I want one. Quite a lot.
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