by Samantha Stevens - 08/02/13
It’s sad to say that this writer’s 10-year high school reunion was quite some time ago, but the memory is still markedly clear; walking in to the venue flicking the keys to a then-brand new CLS AMG model, and lying to my old classmates by claiming it was mine.
The CLS really nailed the now-thriving ‘Coupe Like Sedan’ genre, offering the sleek, more sporty profile of a coupe but with the convenience of four doors.
The AMG model takes that profile to extremes with sharper lines, low aero spoilers and skirts, huge wheels and brakes, and of course that massive hand-built Affalterbach V8 engine, which is now smaller in size but offers bigger outputs.
Back then, the top shelf AMG model was the ‘CLS55’, powered by a 350kW 5.4-litre supercharged V8. It then morphed into a real monster, running the most powerful naturally-aspirated V8 at the time and tagged ‘CLS63’ for its 6.2-litre displacement.
Now it gets really confusing - in the current model, the V8 has shrunk in size, but the model is still called the CLS63, and actually makes even more power.
The smaller 5.5-litre V8 runs two turbochargers, developing 386kW between 5250rpm – 5750rpm, and 700Nm in a gloriously flat and accessible torque curve from 1750rpm right through to 5000rpm.
The 90-degree direct injection V8 is a sophisticated unit, and is matched to a seven-speed dual clutch transmission with sports shift and paddles. The seven-speed is quick and smooth in its operation – much better on fuel than the previous five-speed torque converter auto. Plus a stop-start system, which shuts off the engine at the lights, claims to further cut the fuel bills.
However, it only clocks a 3.5-star green rating due to a 10L/100km combined fuel claim, and needs premium fuel to do so.
With a 0-100km/h sprint at 4.4 seconds, it’s hard to drive it frugally.
Lavish yet clean, the interior matches Germanic rigid lines with organic detail and soft touch surfaces.
The centre console flows right through the middle of the car to the rear firewall. The space usually reserved for the centre-rear seat is instead filled by leather and trim paneling with four-zone climate control knobs and vents, cubbies and cupholders.
The entire car is covered in full Nappa leather, with a wide range of colours and materials with contrasting trims, ambient lighting, and power-everything, including power steering column adjustment, power rear blind, and power boot close, all standard. The front sports bucket seats have multiple electric adjustments for just the right fit.
The centre stack has a large colour touch screen with controls for the pounding 14-speaker six-stacker stereo, Sat-Nav, and a television.
Safety features include front, side and curtain airbags, load limiter and pre-tensioner seatbelts all round, three-stage traction/stability control, motion sensor alarm with ‘tow-away protection’, proximity key with auto-lock, front and rear parking sensors, a hill holder, tyre pressure monitors, radar cruise, lane departure warning, blind spot sensor, and even a big ole first aid kit.
The CLS is an imposing car; though it is under 5m in length, it isn’t far off, and its width is touching on 1.9m.
The standard 19-inch alloys can almost look small under its flared guards, but its profile is made sleeker by the AMG bodykit of spoilers and skirts, the latter being streaked with chrome to match the blingy LED-lined headlights and chromed exhaust tips.
While the standard features list for both inside and out is admirably long, the exterior palette choices can get pricey, with additional bespoke paint schemes ranging from $1500 to a stunning $29,000 for ‘Alubeam’ metallic silver.
The 2012 CLS is a stunner - sedate and refined on the highway, or stupidly over-the-top when you flat-floor it - all wrapped in a classy yet sporty body with every luxury at the fingertips. Which is what you would expect from a quarter-mil worth of car.
The smaller turbocharged V8 doesn’t have the old nat-atmo unit’s bawling roar, but a bit of extra power and torque plus the refinement of said hollering to a more honed thrum is adequate compensation.
The steering is light but accurate, and the car corners like a much lighter, smaller sedan thanks to adjustable suspension through electronically-controlled dampers which are finely honed to limit yaw and pitch, though the ‘Comfort’ setting still allows our often terrible road surfaces to jar under its big wheels and skinny rubber. “Sport’ simply exacerbates it.
On test, some bumps even managed to get the traction control/ESP flashing, though its hand is not too heavy until you start burning rubber like a goose. It is switchable in two stages, and the ‘off’ setting would likely ruin the rear rubber completely or send you sideways if your skills aren’t up to scratch.
Find a nice set of twists, however, and the suspension props the big, heavy cruiser (1870kg) up extremely effectively, with excellent feedback through wheel and backside, and no real fall-over or push at the front.
The brakes are big – eight-pot fronts with four-pot rears. They are almost over-sensitive and over-servoed, but better that than the other way around; it simply takes a little getting used to in city traffic. More so than the DSG gearbox. While these types of dual-clutch transmissions are traditionally a little lazy and even lurchy on part throttle in traffic or up hills, this system, like Porsche’s PDK, is almost without fault.
It would be all too easy to exceed speed limits in seconds and lose ones license.
While its all-inclusive list is immense and the options list surprisingly modest, the price tag places it well out of reach of many. While exclusivity and over-the-top luxury is part and parcel of the AMG badge, there are other manufacturer offerings that challenge its lofty retail price with ample performance and luxury at a competitive cost.
The dual-clutch automatic transmission is excellent, but some still shy away from this technology.
Almost a five star car; one that screams ‘I’m simply awesome’, rather than ‘I think I’m awesome’.
The CLS would typically be shopped against similar offerings from Audi and BMW, and from Jaguar.
BMW has just launched its 640i GranTurismo model, a four-door version of its hard-top coupe that starts at $184,800. The more likely competitor for the AMG, however, is the larger-engined 650i, which will be released soon in Australia and should cost $40 - $50K more. However, it is more of a GT cruiser.
The Audi stable has the stunning A7, which is a beautiful example of CLS design. Its Quattro All-wheel-drive and speed-sensitive electric steering make for a less purist experience from a dynamic point of view, but it is a classy contender at $147,800. There’s no S7 model yet though, so Audi will have to wait until 2013 to challenge the CLS63.
Jaguar doesn’t have a coupe-shaped sedan, however the XF-R with its ample kit, stylish design and stunning supercharged V8 may entice with a $210,000 price tag.
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