The missed right turn, which took me 70km out of my way, was a mistake that turned into an opportunity--to flog the CL65 AMG just as its creators envisioned it to be flogged. Why else would they have gone to such considerable trouble to tweak the already powerful 12-cylinder biturbo engine? Its 612 bhp and--hold on to your endorphins--737 lb-ft of torque must be there for a reason.
The missed right should have been made in Le Logis-de-Pins, a picture postcard town on the Route Napoleon not far from the Cote d'Azur. Instead of bearing east, toward Vence, I continued north on la Route, which weaves along the fractured eastern edge of the French Alps, tracing the path taken from Nice to Grenoble by Napoleon Bonaparte after his escape from exile on Elba in 1815. Hence, the name.
Bony and his merry band of determined usurpers spent five days making the journey through the wild terrain, traversing goat paths and game trails to avoid enemy troops. At the rate I was covering the same ground in 2003, the run up la Route to Grenoble would have taken just a few hours. Luckily, though, some mental compass needle swung into the "Uh, oh, something's amiss" zone, and after studying the Nav system's map and holding a wet finger up into the wind, I determined the need for a U-turn and lots of pace.
And what better way to reach speed than to throttle up the most powerful engine yet to come from AMG's workshops. The V12's 5980cc, attained through both a larger bore and longer stroke over its 5.5-liter progenitor, is stuffed into the S Class sedan as well as the CL and, says the factory, can rocket both models from 0 to 100 kph (62 mph) in a mere 4.4 sec. Reaching 124 mph takes just 13.3 sec., and if the car weren't electronically limited to about 155 mph (250 km/h), top speed could appproach the speedo's final readout of 360 km/h (223 mph). My pants seat was certainly telling me the CL 65 AMG is fast, though in a deceptive, understated way.
I made up the lost miles with an amazing absence of perceptible effort. I rushed the big coupe over the landscape at a pace more suited to a carbon-composite mid-engined machine than a leather-stuffed luxury GT. I hurried the 5,500-lb car along knife-edged ridges, inches from nothing but deep troughs of soft Provencal air. I hustled the CL around mountain switchbacks as though I were late for the last plane leaving a war-torn foreign capital. And I let my right foot display a bravado quite at odds with my usual social propriety and instinct for survival.
I could offer no argument against such behavior. Even on a road that wiggled like a worm with the caffeine jitters, the CL65 quietly tamed any and all surprise undulations or weirdly coiled corners. And it did so while charming me with the wondrous magic carpet ride conjured by Mercedes' active body control (ABC). I decided it could be the only car I'd need to drive from here to forever.
Because of the elevated performance of the V12, everything about the CL was studied with an eye for improvement. For instance, some 400 parameters were used in developing the sportier parts and software for the AMG-tuned suspension, ABS, Brake Assist, ASR and ESP programs.
If you're going to put a car with 1000Nm of torque (incredibly, electronically restricted to that level) in the hands of the public, you'd better make sure the brakes work well. To that end, the CL 65's front binders were completely redeveloped around eight-piston fixed calipers and internally ventilated and perforated composite discs. Their resistance to heat means minimal brake fade, greater durability and reduction in system weight by some 20%. Hefty 8.5x19-in. multi-piece AMG wheels and high-performance rubber measuring 245/40-ZR19 in front and 275/35ZR-19 at the rear complete the car's robust and stable connection to the pavement.
The AMG Speedshift five-speed gearbox was a reminder that no one puts better automatics in its cars than Mercedes. To be honest, I didn't spend much time actually shifting, either with the console lever or steering wheel-mounted controls. So much torque is delivered so quickly and smoothly that this is essentially a one-gear car. Put it in D and press the throttle; it's that simple to astound your passengers and scare yourself silly with the resulting acceleration. Which is not to say this is some neck-snapping, buckboard-stiff sports coupe. Its demeanor is truly that of a classic Gran Turismo automobile, cosseting its occupants at the same time it leaves other cars of its kind behind.
I'd been cautioned that it was important to keep an eye on the speedometer, because the car was sneaky fast and corners could come up too quickly for the inattentive driver. Duly warned, I proceeded to discover that you'd have to be comatose to screw up in this car. Between the cosmic power, huge brakes and a suspension tuned for fun, I was able to drive sports-car deep into the bends and could jab the throttle almost viciously at the exit, confident that the electronically enhanced chassis would keep the car off the guardrails.
As I drew close to my destination, I gave serious thought to becoming "lost" again and finding myself climbing the Brenner Pass, wondering how the heck I'd gotten there so quickly. Do I want A CL65? Badly. Can I get one? Probably not. Only 350 are slated to be built this year, with subsequent volumes dependent upon demand. And the price is a bit steep for this working man. The sticker wasn't set at the time of this writing, but expect to see numbers around $120,000 to $130,000.
Considering the modest sales expectations, I posed the question to AMG officials: Why bother? They had a long answer, but I prefer the short one: "Because we can." And for that, all car nuts should be thankful.
For details on this wonderful V12 engine, and a visit with Dan Barnes to AMG headquarters in Germany and a day on the test track with AMG's lineup.