At the top of the mountain, the driving has never been better. Witness the 2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS63 AMG. This car has it all – performance, handling, safety and style.
Because our day with the new CLS63 in the hills and desert east of San Diego was the first opportunity we had to drive the CLS63, let’s start with performance.
Briefly, it goes and stops more smoothly and efficiently than any car we’ve ever driven. Which is to say, it’s only breathtaking when you realize what just happened. Zero to 60 in 4-plus seconds, 60 to whatever-you-think-you-can get-away-with in only a few seconds more. The specs indicate that the new 5.5-liter V-8 biturbo – handbuilt in Affalterbach, Germany, and signed by the engine builder, of course – puts out 518 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque. Power gets to the wheels through the seven-speed AMG Speedshift multiclutch automatic transmission. But those are just words and numbers.
Most cars with high-power engines and high-performance transmissions produce “neck-snapping acceleration,” and their heavy-duty transmissions make you very aware of each shift point.
Not this car. The acceleration and speed sneak up on you so quietly that you can be in ticket territory without knowing it, and cuffs-and-jail land is only a few hundred yards farther down the road. Turbo lag? If it weren’t for the sound (we were driving with the windows open to enjoy it), you’d never know that the power is coming from engineering, not just cubic inches.
When we did realize how fast we were going, the optional Brembo ceramic brakes brought us back to sanity in short order. I suspect a panic stop would feel like landing on one of those aircraft carriers in San Diego harbor, but it wasn’t difficult to modulate the braking power.
By the way, 550 horsepower and 590 pound-feet of torque will be available in the performance package, but the only drivers I’ve met so far who could take advantage of that much power were wearing AMG instructor jackets and well-used racing shoes.
Steering and handling were just as incomparable. We were all impressed with the handling of the SLS AMG Gullwing when we first drove it, largely because the suspension had been designed from the ground up by AMG engineers and test drivers to use the best of old-school and high-tech systems. The CLS63 uses the same approach but is still not far removed from the standard CLS550.
When I discussed that with Tobias Mores, the AMG vehicle development manager, he smiled and said, “After we designed the SLS by ourselves at AMG, the Mercedes-Benz vehicle engineers have started asking for our advice in the early stages of designing the standard cars, which makes it easier now to make the AMG versions.”
Another footnote: With the higher fuel efficiency of the new engine, the CLS63 is exempt from the gas-guzzler tax levied on nearly every other car offering this performance, and also produces fewer emissions than previous AMG engines.
In any performance car launch, we don’t expect to hear the product managers talk about safety, but Mercedes-Benz is proud of the range of safety devices.
The test cars had the entire range of standard and optional devices. For the first time, we had the chance to test the new active lane-keeping and blind-spot systems. If the car started to drift over the lane markers or across the white line at the edge of the road, the system would first shake the steering wheel and then the ABS system would brake the appropriate wheel to push the car back into the lane. It works effectively and almost unobtrusively. I was skeptical at first, as I had been with Distronic cruise control, but I’m now a believer. On those longer trips for which this car is so well suited, these are desirable systems to counteract a lapse of attention.
The exterior of the CLS has been completely redesigned for 2012, and we really appreciate how the designer – actually an American working at the Mercedes design studios in Irvine – has made subtle changes to the panels to give the car a distinctive image of muscular grace. Our test car’s optional dark Mystic Blue gave it a handsome appearance.
We really like the styling and choices of materials in the interior. Ergonomics also are excellent, with all the necessary controls for performance, handling and accessories clustered under the right hand on the console.
Our only caveat: If you expect to routinely carry adults in the backseat, get the E63 or S63. With the sloping roofline of the CLS63, adults can sit back there, but they won’t appreciate the car as much as you do in the front seat.