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2013 Mercedes-Benz CLS63 AMG, a Stirling performer: Motoramic Drives

Marco R. della Cava
March 20, 2013

With most luxury sedans, you welcome the chance to share your car’s opulence and high-tech wizardry with three or more passengers. Not so with AMG’s Frankenstein-like overhaul of the Mercedes-Benz CLS, the CLS63 AMG. Been asked by your significant other to get milk? Gone. The dry-cleaning needs picking up? Done. No helpers need apply. This car is so stinking fun and criminally fast that you’ll be compelled to thrash it around town at the drop of a solo chore. Perhaps that’s why the marketers at M-B oddly call this car a coupe.

When the CLS bowed nearly a decade ago, it was a bit of an odd duck. Positioned as a sedan with the svelte lines of a two-door, its rear-passenger capacity was limited to two by a central storage bin and visibility was hampered by slit-like rear windows. But in due time the four-passengers-only sedan (sorry, marketeers, it’s not a coupe) gathered momentum, and today comes in flavors such as Porsche Panamera, Aston Martin Rapide and the Audi A7. So that space-configuration oddity is no longer so strange.

In fact, sitting at a curb the dimensions of Mercedes’ CLS are Goldilocks just-right. Where the E-Class happily battles it out with the BMW 5-Series and Cadillac CTS in the realm of practical sedans, and the S-Class lumbers along in the land of four-wheeled luxo-yachts, the CLS manages to make an imposing impression that splits the difference between the two. It’s wide and low-slung, projecting a decidedly masculine vibe. The massive three-pointed Merc star in the grille looks less like a corporate logo that a laser sight aimed at cars that are impeding its progress. And the still-low arc of its front and rear windows give the impression of speed at rest.

And that’s the no-frills CLS. What rolled up for a week of play was a $113,715 (base is $95,900; the regular CLS starts at $72,000) AMG-tweaked version of the sedan, which takes an already imposing machine and gives it a Lady Gaga can’t-look-away makeover.

While I’ve always felt any Mercedes product looked best in black, this car’s Iridium Grey paint gives it a stealth fighter feel, while it’s optional designer Light Brown Leather Package ($1,920) turns a funereal interior into a cognac-and-cigars club room. And while BMW has always worked to make sure its Motorsports cars looked a different from its non-M cars, Mercedes’s AMG vehicles typically are distinguished by very subtle details. On this CLS, that includes the V-8 Biturbo badge on the flanks (denoting the sequential twin-turbo, 518-hp 5.5-liter V-8), 19-inch wheels and the quad-tipped exhaust in the rear. Meanwhile, the true mark of your car’s uniqueness is hidden under the hood: a hand-built engine signed by the man who made it.

A confession. Ever since Mercedes bought Affalterbach-based tuner AMG in 1999, I’ve been partial to these iterations of M-B fare. That same year, I was fortunate enough to run Italy’s Mille Miglia, the historic yet still-furious version of that country’s famed but ill-fated 1,000-mile road race, in a 1955 Mercedes 300 SL Gullwing. One of the other folks on this Mercedes-assembled team was a guy named Sir Stirling Moss, who was driving the very same 300SLR that he used to win the Mille Miglia in 1955. The point being: while in this country Mercedes-Benz has developed a justified reputation as upscale transport for doctors and lawyers, the company’s roots are nonetheless in racing. And these AMG variants pay homage to that.

Firing up the CLS63, you’re greeted by a sonorous rumble that only grows louder as you dip into the throttle. Inside the cabin, the leather is Bentley-soft while the switchgear looks built to last. Things glimmer. While the old-school clock mounted in the center of the dash isn’t likely the most expensive piece ever made by IWC, it offers a nice throwback to a pre-digital age.

Not that the CLS63 isn’t crammed with technology. Besides the usual array of premium level safety- and comfort-related gadgets, this model was loaded with the Premium I package ($3,690) featuring rear camera, heated and cooled front seats with a driver’s side massage function, and adaptive headlights. The biggest add-on was the fairly rare P30 AMG Performance Package ($7,300), whose value is in the eye of the beholder. Your brake calipers are red, the top speed is raised to 186 mph, horsepower is bumped up to 550, carbon fiber covers your prized engine, and the flat-bottomed steering wheel gets a touch of grippy Alcantara. But perhaps the most noticeable addition is the sport-tuned suspension.

The CLS63 is after all an heir to the first AMG-branded Merc that made a big impression, the E-Class E55, nicknamed “the Hammer.” This sedan is more about brute force than scalpel-like precision; a diehard M5 fan will likely not be moved by an AMG product. But the the AMG isn’t without charm. Anyone who has ever floored the pedal on a prized muscle car knows the inherent appeal of raw horsepower. That the CLS63 also has manners in the curves is a bonus. The steering is certainly communicative enough through the thick racing-style wheel, and in paddle-shift mode you can keep control of the car with quick downshifts and not even worry about deploying the massive brakes. The car can be driven so aggressively so effortlessly that passengers may well object to your Stirling Moss impression.

Hence the solo errands.

As to the suspension, that Performance Package upgrade feels like overkill. In Comfort mode, the ride is fairly jarring. When the knob is dialed up to Sport or Sport+, you’ll be hunting for only freshly laid tarmac. This is one area in which driver and passengers alike want a bit more luxury and a little less sport. But that’s a small quibble with what is otherwise stellar automotive recipe that manages to inject some legitimate road-racing DNA into the Mercedes line-up. The rumble, the neck-snapping acceleration and, yes, the head-turning looks all are undeniably intoxicating. It’s called AMG, but it might as well be renamed OMG.