The ’12 Mercedes-Benz CLS63 AMG kicks butt in a most civilized way. There’s no reason to think the "basic" version of this machine, with 518 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque, cannot hold its own in a tush-kicking contest. But the car reviewed here has the optional Performance package, placing 550 hp and 590 lb-ft at the disposal of a flexed right foot, and raising top speed from 155 to 186 mph.
That extra $7,300 for the Performance package also buys a sports suspension, flat-bottomed steering wheel, carbon-fiber trunk lid spoiler and the almost-obligatory red-painted brake calipers. Going against the current grain, though, there is no start button.
Hardly a problem. Turning the key fires up a new engine from AMG, a 5.5-liter, twin-turbo V8. Pistons pump within low-friction silicon-aluminum sleeves, while piezo-electric fuel injectors and multi-spark technology set off thousands of tiny explosions to help create the kinetic force, yet only one gallon of gas is required to cover 23 miles on the highway or 15 miles in the city.
This car can hit 60 mph from standstill in 4.3 seconds. A racing start function lends a hand, but something odd happens in that short space of time. It feels super-fast and simultaneously tranquil, with just a subtle growl from the sports exhaust. Gearshifts are barely perceptible, only intruding on a driver’s consciousness if the paddle shifters are used.
The suspension, consisting of air springs at the rear and coil springs at the front (for sharper turn-in), can be set in a stiff-and-sporty mode, which is great on a smooth track, but somewhat jarring after a few miles of bumpy reality. Even at its most forgiving, there is still plenty of resistance to body roll. Meanwhile, the brakes are nothing short of superb: strong and stable, with a perfect bite.
Nice touch number one: the steering wheel is covered in black leather, but has Alcantara at the quarter-to-three position; the headliner is also Alcantara. Nice touch number two: the earliest logo of AMG is embossed in the leather that covers the gear shifter. Not so nice touch: the front seats, admittedly covered in the finest leather and featuring the cool active bolstering that holds occupants even more firmly through corners, do not feel particularly comfortable.
The driving experience is so full-on (even the electrically assisted steering seems to have more feel than most similar systems) that it’s almost easy to forget the big selling point of a CLS. The design.
This is generation two for the four-door coupe. Mercedes-Benz likes to take credit for inventing this niche with generation one. Based on the E-Class platform, the CLS has won many fans with its looks, so an update was always going to be tricky. The man responsible is Hubert Lee, working out of M-B’s Southern California studios. A broader design language is delineated by the rear haunches that bring the E-Class to mind, along with the more upright grille that echoes the SLS AMG supercar.
Seeing the two generations of CLS together, the original seems more feminine, the newcomer more masculine. Yang has taken over from yin. The new model’s extra attitude is enhanced by an AMG bodykit and a handsome set of lightweight alloy wheels. The hallmark sloping roof remains, giving the CLS its own character, but cutting down on rear headroom. The resulting small doorway serves as a reminder that the rear quarters are best suited to the young, short and flexible.
The interior also has a pleasing design, formed with classy materials and executed with a craft expected from a luxury German marque. Carbon-fiber trim makes a welcome change from the usual wood, and seems especially fitting for a high-performance car like this.
Standard equipment includes voice-activated satellite navigation as part of Comand, M-B’s infotainment system; a 14-speaker Harmon Kardon surround-sound audio system and a powered tilt/slide sunroof. Then again, the active full-LED headlamps, electronic trunk closer and iPod integration are part of the $3,690 Premium 1 package.
Driving away in a ’12 CLS63 AMG takes a minimum of $95,775 (including destination). The good news is that its predecessor was $4,150 more expensive, and thirstier; this model is exempt from gas guzzler tax. Such laudable thrift is made partly possible by a stop/start function. Like a hybrid car, the engine stops running whenever the car comes to a halt. A touch of the throttle, or sometimes just easing off the brake, will set the engine spinning again. Stop/start kicks in whenever the transmission is in Comfort mode. The non-AMG version of the CLS does not have this feature, but it will work its way into more M-B vehicles over time.
If finding the money is not an issue, then this is an attractive package. Not many cars have such style, power and everyday usefulness.
2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS63 AMG w/ Performance Package
Longitudinal front engine, rear-wheel drive
5.5-liter, dohc, 32-valve, V8, turbocharged and intercooled
Seven-speed automatic w/ paddle shifts
Three-link struts (f), five-link air suspension (r)
Six-piston fixed calipers w/ 14.2-in. ventilated and perforated discs (f), four-piston calipers w/ 14.2-in. ventilated and perforated discs (r)
Wheels and Tires
9x19, 255/35 (f), 10x19, 285/30 (r)
550 hp @ 5250 rpm
590 lb-ft @ 2000 rpm
MSRP: $95,775 (price as tested: $115,435)
From the hip
Fast, but not furious