Mercedes-Benz CLS 63 AMG S-Model 4Matic
Here was a car already so good looking that Mercedes itself says there wasn’t much on the outside that needed changing. So when it came to facelift time, it simply didn’t bother. There is a new grille, new bumpers and new lights but that’s your lot on the outside.
Inside there have also been detail changes. The most obvious of which is the new infotainment display screen on the centre console. Bringing the CLS in line with other more recent Mercedes models, the integrated display has been binned and in its place has been plonked a freestanding eight-inch screen that looks like an iPad. It also looks as if you can use it as a touchscreen, but you can’t – instead it’s managed by the good old rotary command controller between the seats, which is now backed up by some extra shortcut buttons around its edges. It remains a slick and impressive system, and now comes with a huge number of extra connectivity options and apps.
This AMG model has actually seen few of the underlying mechanical changes that the more pedestrian CLS models have been granted. Indeed, the drivetrain is the same – same V8 engine (albeit now with an extra 28bhp) and same seven-speed gearbox, but that’s fine because, like the styling, there’s not much you would change to make it any better.
Packing more firepower than even the mighty Audi RS 6 or BMW M5, the S version of the CLS 63 deploys its 576bhp with surprising ease. The engine note hardens from a Yankee V8 burble to the hard-edged scream of a proper plutocratic European racing engine when you aim for the horizon and you are left in no doubt that this is a serious performance weapon. Ease back though and the CLS 63 is happy to lope along at roughly 0.01 per cent of its capability envelope, as good at plying a luxury trade as it is at destroying pretty much anything south of a Ferrari F12.
The handling is exceptional too, with real road feel coming back through the tiny, Alcantara-trimmed wheel and a mixture of agility and composure that reassures you that you can get out of any trouble the engine goads you into (which it will). That assessment does come with something of a caveat though – the left-hand drive, German-registered car we were test driving was the 4Matic four-wheel drive version, a car that won’t be coming to UK shores. Why? Because it’s considered too expensive for Mercedes to re-engineer the all-wheel drive system for right-hand drive, which is a shame because, especially given our narrow country roads lubricated by the scattered showers of a classic British summer. It might even be worth putting up with the left-hand drive and getting one in on special order.
That’s much less of a problem at the other end of the range, where we find a new entry-level CLS 220 CDI sporting a 170bhp version of Mercedes’ familiar (and somewhat noisy) 2.1-litre four-cylinder diesel engine. Don’t dismiss it – it’s got enough grunt (295lb ft) to keep out of its own way and its combination of 56mpg and 129g/km of CO2 mean you can have a car that looks every bit as good as the AMG version (well, nearly) and costs a heck of a lot less to buy (£46,500) and run. Still though, the extra performance of the CLS 350 CDI (258bhp, 295lb ft) really does the styling a bit more justice and it’ll be barely any more expense to run than the 220. Or, if diesel is anathema to you, what about the clever new CLS 400 3.5-litre V6 petrol turbo? That’ll return an official 38.7mpg and emits a high-ish, but not outrageous, 170g/km.
The diesels (except the 220 CDI) and the non-AMG petrol models also get a new nine-speed gearbox, which replaces the old 7G-Tronic transmission. It manages to be the same size as the seven-speeder and even lighter again, and Mercedes claims it does wonders for fuel economy, allowing engines to drop to as little as 1350rpm at motorway speeds. It can still be a little reluctant to kick-down though, although you can ameliorate that by switching to Sport mode or taking control with the paddle-shifters. Is nine gears just too many to choose from though?
I said there’d be more about the new lights. While LED lights have been previously available on the CLS as an option, there’s now a grid of 24 individual LEDs that make up the main beam light and they can be selectively dimmed or switched off so as to leave a ‘dark’ space around an oncoming car or a vehicle in front of you, while the rest of high beam remains switched on, improving visibility for everyone.
Cleverer still – the windscreen mounted camera that forms part of the safety kit also talks to the headlights and tells them to point into corners that it spots ahead, allowing you to see into upcoming bends before your hands have turned the steering wheel. They are also GPS linked to the satnav to illuminate roundabouts.
The updated CLS 63 is a perfect reminder of why we love AMG cars so much. Naughty performance, saintly chassis deportment and sensible practicality.
0-62mph: 3.6 seconds
Top speed: 155mph
Engine: 5.5-litre twin-turbo V8
Power: 576bhp at 5500rpm
Torque: 590lb ft at 1750 to 5000rpm
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic
Wheels: 19-inch light-alloy front and rear
Tyres: 255/35 ZR19 front/285/30 ZR10 rear
On sale date: now