The Mercedes-Benz CLS is one of those unique and striking cars that fits in the blurry area of sedan and coupe. Officially it's marketed as a four-door coupe and here in 63 AMG S guise, promises battleship-like firepower. How did the Mercedes-Benz CLS 63 AMG S fare over a week's test of its abilities?
Engine and PowerplantIt's fair to assume that each time there's a new AMG model in town, the primary focus is on its V8 engine and how much power it produces. Despite the 63 badge on its rear, this engine is not a 6.3-litre V8. The days of a naturally-aspirated big V8 are numbered and most manufacturers have gone the forced induction route. The CLS 63 makes do with a biturbo 5.5-litre V8 putting out 430 kW and 800 Nm. That's a lot of grunt and Mercedes-Benz claims this four-door coupe will rocket to 100kph in just 4.1 seconds, which is supercar performance.
The reality is that when you dial in the race start function and set off, the rear-wheel drive only CLS 63 AMG S will battle to get traction, despite the large 19-inch 285/30 tyres at the back. Once traction is regained, the CLS 63 devours tarmac at a frightening rate of knots as it hurtles to its limited top speed of 250kph. There's something to be said about the noise from this magnificent engine and as you hook the next gear, there's an almighty thunderclap coming from the quad exhausts. Subtle is not a word to be used when driving an AMG product…
Power from that mighty engine reaches the rear-wheels through the 7-speed twin-clutch transmission which also features steering-wheel mounted shift paddles. The car has many driving modes, but the only ones that really matter are Comfort and Sport+ . The default is Comfort and that optimises the car for day-to-day driving with suspension becoming softer and the engine’s sledgehammer abilities are temporarily neutered. Sport+ puts the CLS 63 into full hooligan mode and the car becomes a rocket. Fuel consumption is claimed at 9.9L/100km, but I find this extremely optimistic as a vehicle of this nature goes through a lot more unleaded in the real world. When given the boot, you can easily see the figures climb in the 14s.
Luxury and GadgetryDespite its light-speed performance, the Mercedes-Benz CLS 63 AMG S can still deliver qualities that fans of the brand desire. The ride is firm, but not hard enough to be overtly sporty and you can manage this through the adaptive sports suspension settings. Build quality is exceptional and the car features some impressive technology. It is the design though which pleases me most. The CLS is simply beautiful to look at and even in AMG guise with its big wheels, gaping air intakes and battery of exhausts, the design is pure and sublime.
The classiness continues in the cabin where carbon fibre, wood and leather merge in a happy blend of luxury. All the cutting edge tech you’d expect from a vehicle such as this comes fitted as standard. The seats are supportive and comfortable, and offer both heating and cooling functionality. Satellite navigation, Bluetooth, USB input, cruise control, auto wipers, auto headlamps, adaptive LED headlights are just some of the gadgetry you’ll get. This particular unit came with a terrific Bang and Olufsen sound system which was audio heaven.
Safety and PracticalityWith such performance readily accessible, you’d have to have some quality safety systems plugged in. There are no less than 9 airbags, ABS brakes with EBD, and the electronic stability systems will keep things in check. Expect the traction control to flash repeatedly if you’re heavy footed with the accelerator pedal.
It’s practical too, with the rear seats offering up sufficient legroom for passengers. Taller passengers will feel the sloping roof brush the top of their head thanks to the coupe-like sloping roofline. The boot size is commendable and there’s room for at least two sets of golf clubs or numerous suitcases. Being a large and luxurious Mercedes, there’s a convenient button which enables the boot to close automatically.
VerdictThe situation most potential CLS buyers would find themselves in is that they’d be keen on the AMG derivative model, but mindful of what its siblings can offer. Despite the sheer ferocity and visual presence of the 63 model, the CLS 500 offers 90% the ability of its performance brother. The CLS500 has a smoother 9-speed box, which’ll be lighter on fuel too. Yes, it's wonderful and effortlessly fast, but you can achieve the same effect with the lesser model.
If Mercedes-Benz SA were to offer the all-wheel drive 4Matic version of this AMG product, then I think it'd be a different story. As a halo, range-topping model the CLS 63 AMG S is outstanding, but in the real world it’s a little over the top. If you’re not a Mercedes-Benz fan, both the BMW M6 Gran Coupe and Audi RS7 offer similar levels of addictive V8 power.
Second OpinionSome cars have so much character that they can only be described by an outlandish comparison; in this case, the Merc is a warship on four wheels. It is almost impossibly low and sleek, subtle, but aggressive, yet oozes presence. Every moment happens against the backtrack of an angry, deep growl from the four tailpipes; and it's hard not to smile constantly while you're in it. At the same time, it manages to be a a luxury barge par excellence, with massage seats and fine materials everywhere.
However, it has one large problem, and that it is a victim of its own success. 430 kW from a biturbo V8 sent through the rear wheels sounds great in theory, but in practice it is terrifying, especially in the rain. The car breaks traction too easily and only the most confident of drivers will feel persuaded to push the car to its limits. I think Mercedes SA has missed a trick by not bringing the 4Matic version to our roads - it's quicker and undoubtedly (feels) safer. - Ciro De Siena
Mercedes Benz CLS 63 AMG S Price in South AfricaThe CLS 63 AMG S retails for R1 611 389 and that price includes a warranty of two-years/unlimited kilometres and a six-year maintenance plan with 100 000km. There's a service interval indicator with services every 15 000km.
We Like: Supercar-like performance, sleek looks, brimming with technology & luxury
We don’t Like: Needs 4Matic, expensive, CLS500 offers similar performance for much less money