The Mercedes-Benz CLS has always been a car of contradictions. Here’s a big four-door sedan that likes to pretend it’s a sleek coupé. It oozes fat-cat luxury, yet wants to be an athlete too. Mercedes says its new-generation CLS is much better than the first in every respect – and that should be true of the AMG muscle car version. DEON SCHOEMAN slips behind the wheel to find out.
Interestingly, the AMG version of the all-new Mercedes-Benz CLS arrived in South Africa almost two months before the standard model, underscoring just how independently AMG operates these days. It means I haven’t seen the standard rendition of the new CLS yet – at least not in the metal. But despite its bodybuilder bulges, the AMG model shows off some promising styling improvements.
Most apparent is the more powerful, more aggressive front end. It echoes some of the SLS Gullwing’s boldly retro design cues, complete with a dish plate-sized three-pointed star. The car also gets a more muscular stance, thanks to sculpted wheel arches and scalloped sides.
But the rear remains instantly recognisable for all the wrong reasons – it still droops and sags like the behind of an octogenarian, emphasising the extended rear overhang and handicapping what has developed into a very handsome car in every other respect.
As one would expect, the CLS63 AMG is much more aggressive than the standard version. It gets all the exterior embellishments you’d expect of a muscle car.
There’s a deeper front spoiler with larger air intakes, while more pronounced fenders accommodate the huge 19-inch wheels. That controversial rear-end still looks awkward, and the slapped-on boot spoiler looks like an ill-advised afterthought.
Thankfully, a fearsome foursome of squared-off exhaust tailpipes, and a rear diffuser, add a level of street cred and serve to remind innocent bystanders that this is a serious performance machine.
But the real eye candy is at the front. The CLS63 AMG gets full-blown LED lights as standard. That includes the main and dipped beams, as well as the daytime running lights. There are a total of 71 LED lamps and they create a swathe of light that’s daylight bright.
The interior is pure AMG and almost exclusively black. The form-hugging AMG sports seats are trimmed in black hide, and can be electrically adjusted in every plane until the seat cushions are moulded around your every bulge and contour.
The squared-bottomed, racing-style steering wheel has a thick, grippy rim with multifunction controls on the spokes and aluminium gear shift paddles behind. There’s enough switchgear to keep a fighter pilot happy, although the mix of conventional analogue dials and digital displays remains fairly intuitive.
Given the sheer size of the CLS, the lavish interior space comes as no surprise. And from behind the helm, it feels like a big, regal machine, with the vastness of the bonnet stretching out ahead of you.
At the rear, the individually sculpted seating positions add a touch of lavish indulgence. If it wasn’t for the dynamic promise of the AMG badge, I’d be tempted to opt for the comfort and space of the rear while being chauffeured to my destination. And unlike the first-generation CLS, there’s enough headroom, despite the sloping roofline.
While the cabin oozes luxury and craftsmanship as only a large Mercedes-Benz can, it’s augmented here by a certain high-tech ambience. Nor is it just a cosmetic promise: this latest CLS 63 AMG literally bristles with advanced driver assistance systems.
Among these are two new active systems – active blind-spot assist and active lane-keeping assist. The former will prevent drivers from turning into the path of a car in the driver’s blind spot. The other stops drivers from straying into another lane across a solid line.
But for real petrol heads, the biggest attraction can be found under the bonnet. Confusingly, the plastic-shrouded mill is not a 6.3-litre unit as the car’s nomenclature might suggest. Instead, AMG’s engineers have opted for a 5.5-litre V8 fitted with twin turbochargers.
Despite the smaller capacity, the forced induction extracts a massive 386kW of max power from the eight-potter, accompanied by a full 700Nm of torque. That’s 8kW and 70Nm more than the previous, normally aspirated 6.3-litre V8.
Best of all, fuel consumption drops by an incredible 32%, to just 9.9 litres/100km in the combined cycle. At least, that’s what Mercedes claims.
Frankly, I didn’t get even close to that. But then, I have a heavy right foot when it comes to performance cars which, by their very nature, demand to be driven with fair amount of gusto. I thought the 13.9 litres/100km I managed was pretty good, under the circumstances …
The gearbox is AMG’s familiar Speedshift MCT unit, which is effectively an auto box without a torque converter. It uses a wet clutch for starts, and shifts gears as rapidly as a dual-clutch design, while also offering a launch control function. Drive is to the rear wheels.
Remember to open the windows before pushing the start button – even if it’s freezing outside. That V8 sounds just glorious, with enough of an edge to startle the neighbours and a deep growl that can rattle windows, even at idle.
While you can drive the CLS 63 AMG in full auto mode, those paddle shifts cry out to be used for the cog swaps – and deliver a much more immediate, involving driving experience in the process. There are four driving modes to choose from: Comfort, Sport, Sport Plus and Manual. The adaptive damping can also be firmed up manually, or left to its own devices.
We’ve come to expect edgy, unruly and even downright scary performance from cars wearing the AMG badge. And on some levels, the new CLS 63 AMG is no different. Even with stability control switched on, giving it welly will threaten to light up the tyres, and swagger the tail in a straight line.
But there’s more to this car than brute force. It does a better job of harnessing that urge than, for instance, the old-school, downright brutal CL 65 AMG I drove not that long ago.
Even compared to the previous CLS, there’s less bulk to absorb all that momentum and throw it back at you as unwanted inertia. Lavish use of aluminium has done much to keep weight down and reduce unsprung mass.
Given its size, a kerb mass of 1,870kg is impressive, if hardly trim. Still, it allows a power to weight ratio of 206kW/ton – a figure which pretty much explains why a car measuring just 4mm short of 5m long and 1,88m wide feels like a quicksilver two-seater off the mark.
The factory figures credit the CLS 63 AMG with a 4.4 second zero-to-100 time. And predictably, 250km/h is the maximum speed allowed before an electronic nanny digs in her heels. But for me, it’s the sheer tractability of the Merc that’s most impressive: floor the loud pedal in any gear and the kick in the small of your back is more missile than muscle car.
The big Merc’s overtaking prowess is simply devastating, and when the engine’s growl crescendos into that almost tactile metallic whine, you know it’s time to hold on! Nor does it take much to unsettle the beast: hit a bump, a dip or a wet patch under full acceleration, and you’ll feel the steering come alive as those big tyres start scrabbling for grip.
However, with its rear air suspension and adaptive damping, the CLS 63 AMG can also play the role of comfortable boulevard cruiser quite convincingly, as long as you remember to be easy on the gas.
There’s even an eco-mode, which includes start/stop operation whenever the big Merc comes to a halt. An AMG muscle machine with a conscience? Bunny hugging will never be the same again!
I started off this test describing the CLS as a car of contradictions – and perhaps that’s even more true of this AMG version. It’s a monster in disguise, a balled fist in a thin velvet glove, a racing car finished in road car veneer.
But unlike its predecessor, the new CLS 63 AMG isn’t nearly as compromised. It plays its multiple roles with great conviction, and becomes a desirable, exclusive – and above all – a high-performance all-rounder.
I still think the rear end looks droopy. But that’s just my opinion! DM
Mercedes-Benz CLS 63 AMG
5,461 cc V8, 32 valves, twin-turbocharged
Seven-speed Speedshift MCT Auto
368kW @ 5,250rpm
700Nm @ 1,750rpm
13.9 l/100km (tested)
R1,3 million (estimated)
"The soul is known by its acts" ~ Thomas Aquinas