Published July 14, 2011
I’m not Scandinavian, or much of a comic book fan, so I’m not sure if Thor ever settled down to have a family. But I am pretty sure that he is the son of Jord. So I’m guessing that if mom ever had to take her little God of Thunder to soccer practice, she'd have done it in something like the Mercedes-Benz CLS63 AMG.
The CLS is the car that spawned the generation of four- and five-door "coupes" on the road today. The Volkswagen CC, Aston Martin Rapide and even the Hyundai Sonata all owe a debt of gratitude to that four-wheeled elongated arch. But while the 2006 original was little more than a prettified version of the E-Class sedan, the all-new version has come to conquer more than the valet line at the country club.
In profile, the new CLS remains true to form, but now its surface is cut with deep character lines and bulges with MB’s signature “Ponton” rear fenders. It also has a meaner, chiseled face with multi-layered LED headlamps that say “outta my way” when they fill up the rearview mirrors of the cars in front of it. Imagine what Chris Hemsworth would look like leaving the gym in a tailored suit.
The cabin has a less aggressive, more elegant appearance. It features the same, supposedly aircraft-inspired imagery that’s also found in the SLS supercar and is trimmed in stitched leather, lots of shiny metal and, in the case of my test vehicle, carbon fiber – the latter for a mere $2,835 extra. It’s such a far cry from the interior of the latest E-Class that you can’t help but think that they sandbagged that one to make the CLS look that much better.
With a bit more space between the wheels than the old CLS, there’s noticeably more legroom for the rear passengers – all two of them – and plenty of space overhead. An analog IWC clock on the dashboard adds a touch of retro class, but the foot-operated parking brake just seems like an anachronism. What’s under the hood is anything but.
All CLS models now come with twin-turbocharged, direct injected V8s. A 402 HP 4.7-liter in the CLS550, and a hand built 518 hp 5.5-liter in the $95,775 CLS63 AMG. The latter replaces the much-loved turbo-free 6.2-liter V8 of the outgoing model in the name of fuel efficiency. It’s a hard act to follow, if only because that one sounded like teen Thor’s garage death metal band.
As it turns out, the voice of the CLS63 still pretty awe inspiring. Turbos are usually too busy pressurizing intake air to remember to make the exhaust sound like anything, but that’s not the case here. Plus, the new powerplant packs 516 lb-ft of planet-spinning torque. Not impressed? A $6,990 performance package increases that to 590 lb-ft and tosses in an extra 32 hp along with a carbon fiber spoiler and engine cover, red brake caliper housings, sport steering wheel, a tighter suspension and a relaxing of the top speed limiter from 155 mph to 186 mph.
So equipped, the CLS63 will get to 60 mph in less than four ticks, and turn a 12.1-second quarter mile, according to the folks at Mercedes-Benz. If you doubt them, press hard on the brake pedal, switch the car in Race Start mode, pull the right steering-wheel mounted paddle, floor the throttle, double-check that you are on a drag strip or a dry lake bed, and sidestep the brake.
The quickness experienced after you do is doubly amazing when you consider that the CLS63 is rear-wheel-drive, and puts a significant amount of rubber down in the process. The similarly-fleet Porsche Panamera Turbo has all-wheel-drive and spins its wheels so little under acceleration that it could probably take off from a white shag carpet without leaving tire marks.
Assisting the CLS63 in its efforts is a 7-speed automatic transmission that uses an automated clutch for a more efficient application of power than a sloppy torque converter could provide. Keep in mind, this isn’t one of those increasingly popular dual-clutch transmissions like the Panamera uses – not to mention MB's own SLS. The unit in the CLS63 is smaller and lighter, but works almost as seamlessly. At least when it’s left in comfort mode. Switch it to sport, sport + or manual and you get a nice pop in the back with each shift, just to remind you who’s hands your fate is truly in.
The stiffened, three-mode active suspension can do the same to your backside if the pavement isn’t cooperating. I suspect that more than a few masters of the universe will need to make appointments with Inga the masseuse if they commute to Wall Street every day in the CLS63. Oh, silly mortal me, the seats do that for you.
On smoother surfaces, the CLS63 exhibits the crisp responses of a much smaller vehicle. The driving position is sports car perfect, the electro-mechanical power steering actually feels mechanical and the three-stage stability control system lets you dial in as much tail-out fun as you think you can handle. Just watch out, with all of that torque on tap this 4300-pound brute hates its rear tires and is more than happy to send them and you spinning off into Hel.
Of course, even the fattest cats need to keep up appearances these days, so the CLS63 is equipped with a hybrid-esque Eco mode that shuts the engine off when the car comes to a stop. This helps increase fuel economy to 16 mpg city, 25 mpg highway, and means that the CLS63 is no longer saddled with the $2,600 gas-guzzler tax the previous car had to bear. In other words: you get a year’s worth of free fuel with every car.
Unfortunately, the A/C doesn’t work when the engine isn’t running, so you might need to leave the stop/start system off during the summer months. Or perhaps you can just adopt Thor’s sleeveless shirt style.
Who knows, maybe it’ll catch on.
2012 Mercedes Benz CLS63 AMG
Base Price: $95,775
As Tested: $115,435
Type: 4-passenger, 4-door ‘coupe’
Engine: 6.3L twin-turbocharged V8
Power: 550 hp, 590-lb ft torque
Transmission: 7-speed automatic
MPG: 16 city, 25 hwy