Road and track test: Mercedes-Benz CLS 63 AMG
When the CLS came out, it was extremely striking. Different from anything else, it certainly made a statement. Behind the wheel it was extremely competent (I tried the 320 CDI) but somehow there was some magic missing. When a car looks this different on the outside, it needs to feel just that bit more special behind the wheel. The MkII improved on that a little but the Shooting Brake, that fabulous, anachronistic term for ‘estate car’ takes things into a whole new realm. It is mean, it is moody and with the charcoal interior it feels almost Gothic in there – certainly more intimate than its external dimensions would suggest.
Let us take in some of those external features. There is the arc of the upper window line, echoing the slightly banana-shaped saloon, yet bringing a most graceful curve to this car’s profile. Then there is the trapezoid side sculpting, the colossal rear overhang and the heavier, haunch-like rear wheel arch (which suits this model better than the E-Class). There is one word which sums it up: dramatic.
I drove the flagship CLS 63 version (pictured here on one of the remaining segments of the original Brooklands banked circuit) and it really is a beast to behold. Parking the car on such an angle really did emphasise the weight of those doors as I was variously trapped-in or pulled-out trying not to let the door fly. Everything else echoes the solid feel and while the dash board is similar to that of other cars carrying the three-pointed star, there are a few touches to remind one that this is a little different – from the centre analogue clock to the miniature font-like tweeter speakers in the doors, continuing the Gothic theme. The black trim and headlining and black alcantara section of the steering wheel all add to the atmosphere.
This large Merc gives its all
Firing up the 5.5 litre biturbo V8 engine, there is a feeling of it clearing its throat for the challenges ahead. The sound is wonderful and pulling away, there is a temptation to press the loud pedal more than needed just to hear the sound through those four tail pipes. There is a slight inconsistency with ‘C’ for comfort on the dial being represented by the slightly ridiculous ‘Eco’ moniker on the instruments. This mode allows more gentle progress, required in heavy traffic and a giving nod toward using less fuel. Even in this mode, the side bolsters in the seat automatically grip on corners reminding the driver constantly that the car has been built for more extreme situations than 30 mph limits around Weybridge.
Sport mode turns up the volume (improving throttle responses) and provides an extremely satisfying shove in the back. The twin turbo V8 delivers ample power right across the rev range. Sport+ ensures this large Merc gives its all. There are three modes for the suspension, too – offering various levels of control, all of which are acceptable on the highway but the effects of the stiffer settings can be felt immediately when cornering.
Considerable 800Nm torque
After enjoying the CLS 63 Shooting Brake on the road for a spell, I returned to base – licence in tact – to try out the identically engineered CLS 63 saloon on the track and skid pan. Accepting there is a slight weight difference opposite the Shooting Brake, I can certainly vouch that the saloon is beautifully balanced and the considerable 800 Nm of torque pulls the car forwards at a remarkable rate once free of A-road dawdlers. Thankfully, the dustbin lid-sized discs and huge calipers shave the speed off extremely quickly. The grip is remarkable, too; instead of 2½ tonnes going straight-on, it’s possible to tighten and tighten again to bring the car round the hairpin corners.
With the electronic aids off, the CLS 63 is still extremely controllable on the circular skid pan, it being quite easy to just feather-in the power to allow a good long drift. A couple of circuits and I’d certainly mastered the balance.
Sonorous and extremely capable
So, arresting looks, delightful, intimate interior, wonderfully sonorous and extremely capable. The only downside is really that capability – other road users are unlikely to appreciate this car’s ability to overtake safely where most can’t and will therefore not be checking mirrors. The raw power is also a licence-loser on the public highway. The metal discs on the track car were remarkably good – on the road it barely needs the carbon-ceramic ones unless the driver is prepared to use it on track days. That said, this is about driving the pinnacle of motoring capability and Mercedes-Benz has certainly delivered an absolute stormer.
Mercedes-Benz CLS 63 AMG Shooting Brake starts at £83,055 (model tested: £117,055 including ceramic brakes, £9,300; 14 speaker Bang & Olufsen BeoSound system, £4,235; clever seats/luxury pack, £2,695)
Power: 557 hp (5,250 – 5,750 rpm), torque: 800 Nm (2,000 – 4,500 rpm), emissions: 235g/km CO2 (band L), 0-62 mph: 4.3 secs.
Motor Writer rating: ●●●●○