One by one, big engines, are slowly succumbing to the stranglehold of the eco-mafia, and downsizing is the vile new word hogging the headlines.
However, a ray of hope is poking through the dark clouds. New technologies allow efficiency and brute V8 power to co-exist, and a shining example of this new paradigm was recently presented to us in the form of the CLS63 AMG.
As with its graceful predecessor, the mechanical underpinnings of the second generation CLS are largely adopted from the current E-Class in the way that you swap a Boss business suit for an Armani sports jacket.
The latest interpretation of Mercedes’ four-door coupe is more sculpted, with a more muscular and purposeful stance. Its wide grille with the big three-pointed star and shiny horizontal bars also underlines an unmistakable family resemblance to the SLS AMG.
The AMG version wears even more extreme sporting attire. In addition to a new bonnet, wider front wings with V8 Biturbo badges, AMG front and rear bumpers, boot lip spoiler, rear diffuser and four polished exhaust outlets, the CLS63 AMG is distinguished by its unique LED headlamps.
The elegant cabin oozes elegance and black leather. The comfortable AMG sports seats offer optimum lateral support, but you should avoid the optional glass sunroof if you are tall, since headroom is already at a premium. Otherwise, the CLS offers sufficient room for its driver and three passengers even if the individual rear seats make this a strict four-seater.
The night lighting of the interior is subtle, delivering a warm ambience that contributes to the feel good factor. If you are into high-tech driver aids, then Pre-Safe, Brake Assist Plus, blind-spot detector, and other optional gadgets will keep you amused.
Even a car at this level cannot totally escape criticism though. The IWC clock on the center console falls short of its salubrious surroundings in design and quality, while the top of the door panel trims is too edgy for resting your forearm on a long journey. Finally, the navigation screen graphics need revising as square corners, and eye hostile forest plots should be a thing of the past.
In contrast with its predecessor, which used AMG’s naturally-aspirated 6.2 litre V8, the latest CLS63 AMG hides a twin-turbo 5.5 litre V8 under its sleek bonnet.
Out of the box, this offers 525hp and 700Nm of torque. Power junkies can order the AMG Performance Package, which delivers an extra 32hp and 100Nm. This includes an AMG Driving Academy training course, which allows you to have the top speed limiter lifted to 300km/h.
A fast autobahn trip to Berlin was the opportunity to exercise this well-dressed predator, whose 4.4 second 0-100 km/h (Performance Package, 4.3 sec) time is almost in supercar territory. With the 525 horses now warmed up, and the 142 LED lights seeking out potential adversaries, we go on the prowl. BMW 530d? Easy victim. Nissan 370Z? Easy victim. Suddenly, a white dot appears in the rearview mirror, closing rapidly, its own LED running lights ablaze. The speck grows quickly. It is a Porsche Carrera GTS. This will be a duel of natives: Stuttgart vs Stuttgart. Game on!
Our two turbos are spooling up. Like the lungs of a world-class opera singer, they inhale deeply and prepare to rock the stage with the V8’s rolling thunder exhaust note.
With 408 horses and momentum on its side, the GTS blasts past in the left lane, but we are accelerating hard now, and the gap shrinks as we start to reel him in. The hunter has become the hunted, and the massive wave of torque and explosive top-end punch of the AMG signal that the show has only just begun.
Then, suddenly and frustratingly, the tables are turned. Over 250km/h, the GTS pulls away, but only because the AMG is electronically neutered at that speed.
Paradoxically, this so-called ‘gentleman’s agreement’ on top speed has become a cynical marketing exercise, and you can pay AMG to increase the Vmax to 300km/h. However, for ‘safety reasons’, this expensive change to a line of computer code is only sanctioned after you complete the AMG Driving Academy course.
From Berlin we head towards the west coast of Denmark. Fuel stations are far apart here, and we take every opportunity to top off the tank. Cruising the winding country roads in the AMG, you surf the torque curve to the benefit of fuel consumption, but when the speedometer needle shoots around the dial, the fuel gauge needle starts to move in the opposite direction.
On the other hand, an average fuel consumption of 13 L/100km, including plenty of pedal to the metal autobahn driving, is actually not bad considering the car’s weight and epic performance. AMG claims an average of 9.9 L/100km, and in gentler hands, this actually sounds realistic.
The many varied road surfaces we traversed on our trip gave us the chance to experiment with the AMG Ride Control. The suspension uses a combination of steel springs and gas dampers in front, with self-leveling air suspension at the rear.
The electronically-controlled dampers provide a wide range of adjustment that gives the car the versatility to play limousine as well as sportscar. The control knob on the center console also gives you the choice of Comfort, Sport and Sport + mapping for the engine and the AMG Speedshift MCT seven-speed automatic gearbox.
The quick steering rack, wider front track and well-honed suspension give the CLS63 AMG its incisive turn in and precision in the bends. It has truly amazing agility and poise for a 1,870kg car.
The throttle response is also something special. Turbo lag is all but absent, and in Sport mode especially, any call for power is answered with an urgency that befits the cars AMG heritage. The optional ceramic brakes improve endurance on track and also look good behind the lightweight 19-inch alloy wheels.
The electronic traction control system can be managed in three stages. Fully enabled, it does a relatively unobtrusive job in everyday driving, and when you just want to get somewhere on a dark, wet night.
Start using the 525hp in anger though, and the ESP making your progress rather jerky as the electronic nanny reacts to every slip and slide at the rear wheels.
The solution is a short touch of the ESP button to loosen the reins. In Sport mode, you can even indulge in gentle oversteer on the exit from bends so long as you are smooth with the power and steering.
For full-blooded drifting on a racetrack, you need to hold down the ESP button longer to completely disable the system. Then you are really on your own, even if you hit the brakes. So if burning rubber is your thing, this is the setting for you!
Rambo finally meets haute couture in the new CLS63 AMG. A few years ago, anyone suggesting that a car with this level of performance could average 9.9L/100km and be driven to work like a luxury limousine, would have been looked at with great concern for his mental health.
However, Mercedes-AMG has now convincingly proven that power and efficiency can exist cheek-by-jowl. More than that, the emotional aspects of a stylish design and an engaging driving experience also remained unsullied.
Obviously, the demise of the big, powerful internal combustion engine has been greatly exaggerated, and is not a forgone conclusion. As the famous saying goes, it ain’t over till the fat lady sings. For now, V8 power still rules okay!
Mercedes-Benz CLS 63 AMG
Layout: Front-engine, V8 Biturbo,
Engine Capacity: 5,461 cc
Power: 525hp/386 kW @ 5,250 rpm
557hp/410 kW @ 5,750rpm*
Torque: 700Nm @ 1,750-5,000 rpm
800Nm at 2,000-4,500rpm*
Acceleration: 0-100 km/h 4.4 sec/4.3 sec*
Maximum speed: 250 km/h (Electronically limited)
*With AMG Performance Package
Text: Mario-Roman Lambrecht
pictures: marioroman pictures