Mercedes CLS63 AMG: Elegant, yet ferocious
Most of my mates are devoted family men. They love spending time with their wives and children. However, when it comes to cars, they display a deep-rooted hatred of saloons — something a family guy inevitably drives. Sadly, my colleagues here at wheels aren't very different. The fact that my car has four doors and theirs just two, apparently makes me the only ‘family man' on the team. And obviously, they let me drive most of the saloons that come our way. Except on the rare occasion, when they reluctantly ‘agree' to have a go in an Aston Rapide or a Porsche Panamera.
So when Mercedes-Benz lent us the new CLS63 AMG for a few days, everyone tried their best to look disinterested. Why wouldn't they? Who would swap an SLS AMG, a Porsche Carrera GTS or a Camaro SS for a mere saloon?
Not a saloon
When Mercedes-Benz revealed its groundbreaking CLS-Class in 2004, it seemingly had such men in mind, as it didn't call the new car a saloon, but a four-door coupé instead. It had four doors all right, but it wasn't a conventional three-box shape. Leaving the motoring world in shock and awe, it created a whole new segment in the market. It was a gamble, which luckily for Stuttgart, paid off, heralding a resurgence of the fastback design. A concept that suddenly caught everyone's imagination; right from premium German and British carmakers to Korean upstarts. Seven years on, with the market flooded with a deluge of fastbacks of various sizes and prices, Mercedes-Benz found it necessary to refashion its super successful four-door coupé.
Reinventing a design icon is not an easy task. So what the stylists at Stuttgart did was take the original, pad it up with some muscle and embellish it with cues from another icon. You can see a lot of lines in the CLS that draw heavily from the SLS coupé, in particular the single-louvre radiator grille. Overall, the new CLS looks pretty much like its predecessor, but after a few years of steroid abuse and pumping iron, especially in AMG garb.
Apart from the bulging bonnet, wider fenders, a revised front apron and a rear carbon fibre spoiler lip and diffuser give the CLS63 AMG a distinctively muscular look. Mercedes has done the seemingly impossible here, by taking what was already a great-looking car and making it even better.
What's in a name?
Mercedes has always succeeded in confusing us with its naming conventions. You'd naturally think that the SLS with its 6.3-litre badge would be powered by a 6,300cc lump. You'd be wrong, because it's actually a 6.2-litre V8 that rests under the bonnet. But things get really confusing with the new CLS63 AMG. What you get here is a much smaller 5.5-litre engine, boosted by a pair of turbochargers. And that somehow justifies the 63 badge. Go figure. Anyway, the newly developed V8 is good for 525bhp and 700Nm of torque. Our test car came with the optional AMG Performance Pack, so its peak output is a more acceptable 557bhp and a stomach-churning 800Nm of twist.
The turbochargers in the new mill have slightly muffled the loud bellow that made the previous 6.2 an aural treat. Although not in Maserati Quattroporte territory, the CLS63 fires up with a deep bawl and settles down to an ominous rumble, before emitting a menacing roar as you open the throttle. But you'll have other things to deal with than sitting back and enjoying this auditory pleasure; like the facial-feature-altering G-forces that pin you to the seat. Acceleration is brutal with a supercar-baiting 4.3sec to 100kph and an electronically limited top speed of 250kph. Coupled with the seven-speed AMG tranny (from the macho man's SLS), this biturbo unit is undoubtedly one of the best to have come out of Affalterbach.
With wider track, multi-link suspension on both ends, steel struts up front and self-levelling air suspension and a diff lock at the back, the CLS AMG's electronically controlled damping system makes swift adjustments according to the tarmac and driving style. The car's handling belies its nearly two-tonne weight. In fast corners it's as chuckable as a hot hatch. The grip is phenomenal, but this being an AMG creation tail-out action is the norm, once you switch off traction control. The Alcantara-covered steering wheel (not exactly a wheel, with its flat top and bottom) feels accurate and perfectly weighted, with just the right amount of feedback. All these make the new CLS63 AMG a hugely entertaining car.
The most striking aspect of the CLS is its dual personality. While being as chuckable as a super sportscar, it also affords a ride that's almost as luxurious as an S-Class.
The interior, which gets a dash of sportiness with the carbon fibre trim inserts, is an utterly comfortable place to be in. The supple Nappa leather seats add to the cabin's aura of luxury, and the rear seats can actually accommodate two life-sized human beings, unlike the dummy seats in the Rapide. However, the sloping roofline means headroom at the rear suffers a bit.
They even come with Isofix child seat anchors, clearly with the family man in mind. Add to these the unimpeachable safety features packed into the car, including drowsiness detection (daddy gets tired, you know) and warning, lane tracking assist, night view assist, Distronic adaptive cruise control, blind spot warning and nine airbags, the CLS is a reassuringly safe car, whether it's being driven hard or you're cruising along with your loved ones.
The confidence-boosting carbon ceramic brakes with 360mm discs on all corners are assisted by the Pre-safe brake system which detects an impending collision and intervenes to reduce the impact, or even prevent a crash.
With tricks like an auto stop-start system, Mercedes claims this car is 32 per cent more fuel efficient than the previous model, and with a CO2 emission of 231g/km, less polluting too.
A heady mix of captivating good looks, vicious power and remarkable comfort, the CLS63 AMG is the ultimate enthusiast's saloon.
It deftly alters its character in accordance with what you want it to do. And with a price tag of Dh570,000 (that's the one we drove), there isn't another car out there that's as versatile as the CLS. And the biggest testimony to that is the fact that I got to drive the CLS only for the first day, and the remaining three days I hopped from an SLS AMG to a Carrera GTS to a Camaro SS.
Suddenly, there seems to be nothing wrong with being seen in a four-door car. The CLS63 AMG, it seems, has put the family man back in vogue. Just don't call it a saloon though.
Most of the driver assistance technologies packed into the CLS are not just passive warnings. They take over control from the driver should he ignore the warnings. For example, the blind-spot assist alerts you if you drift out of your lane on the road, but if the radar senses an impending crash, it will nudge the car back into the lane. Smart.
Model CLS63 AMG with AMG Performance package
Engine 5.5-litre V8 biturbo
Transmission Seven-speed auto, RWD
Max power 557bhp @ 5,750rpm
Max torque 800Nm @ 2,000rpm
Top speed 250kph limited
Price Dh570,000 as tested
Plus Performance, versatility good looks
Minus Rear headroom