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First drive: Benz’s CLS63 sounds like a blast

Thrilling: The stonking Mercedes-Benz CLS63 AMG will be here in the middle of this year.

Booming 386kW AMG CLS loses nothing from smaller Mercedes-Benz V8 with turbo

25 Mar 2011

ANYONE concerned that Mercedes-Benz’s AMG V8 might have lost its aural appeal after being shrunk and turbocharged will be placated by the upcoming CLS63 AMG.

Due to arrive in Australia in the middle of this year, the four-door coupe is the sportiest car to house the new, more efficient, smaller capacity, twin-turbo V8, and GoAuto can report that it is a thrilling drive.

Our test drive was limited to a two-lap blast around the Australian F1 Grand Prix track at Albert Park just before the race meeting kicked off, but with no speed limit, the big coupe hit 200km/h.

Although Albert Park is a street circuit, it is marble smooth, so we will have to wait to get an idea of what the new CLS AMG will be like in real life conditions when the car is launched here along with the rest of the CLS range. At least we know it can be a lot of fun.

The second-generation CLS takes over from the original four-door coupe that was ridiculed by several critics when it was launched back in 2004 as a niche within a niche, as well as drawing fire for its bold design. Soon after, premium car-makers busily readied their own four-seat coupe cruisers that now include the Aston Martin Rapide, Porsche Panamera, BMW 5-Series GT and Audi A7.

Like its predecessor, the new CLS is built off the E-class platform and maintains the same concept of conveying four people in luxury, although it has more accentuated and muscular design and the latest suite of technological features.

It is the third car in Australia with the new-generation twin-turbo V8, following the S63 and the CLS63 coupe (which is based in the S-class) last year.

The smaller CLS63 is a much sportier offering than those two machines. It also differentiated from the standard CLS range with visible upgrades designed to remind the owner of where some of the extra money has gone.

4 center imageThe CLS63 AMG at Albert Park.

For example, the regular CLS has a column gear-shifter mounted on the steering column while the CLS63 has a stylish centre mounted gear-shifter with a leather wrap that features an embossed AMG emblem.

A not-so-obvious change is the use of aluminium doors (rather than steel), a move that saves 24kg. Several chassis components, the quarter panels, boot-lid and bonnet are also of aluminium.

Still, the CLS is a big car (measuring 4996mm from nose to tail) and weighs a considerable 1870kg.

The heft of the car tends to get lost on some sections of the track because of the power available under the bonnet, but it is noticeable when the brakes are applied. With the car having done several hard laps up to that point they do take a while to reign in the big CLS.

The AMG 360mm diameter internally ventilated and drilled brake discs fitted to all four wheels get a workout. No one is likely to buy a CLS63 for track work, but if you did, high-performance ceramic brakes are an option.

The CLS63 runs a special suspension set-up, called AMG Ride Control, using steel springs at the front and airbags at the rear. An exclusive three-link front suspension system has a track 24mm wider than the standard model.

The suspension damping rates can be altered with the driver able to choose from Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus modes. Even firmer front suspension springs are available from AMG.

The damper control is electronic, and the system works constantly to limit body roll.

It doesn’t compare with the C63 sedan or wagon for agility, but the CLS63 is far sight sharper around the bends than the big CL63 around the Albert Park track.

AMG has given the electro-mechanical steering system a 22 per cent more direct ratio than the regular model. The resistance felt through the steering wheel alters depending on the mode selected by the driver.

The steering wheel has a flat bottom, as well as suede sections for extra grip. In Sport Plus mode, the steering weight is comfortably heavy and the steering feels direct, which contributes to the sporty feel.

Given the short period of time spent in the car, and the fact that we were concentrating hard to avoid the concrete walls, we didn’t pay too much attention to the interior, but the perfectly shaped steering wheel felt great and looked good, as did the unique square gear-shifter.

That said, we didn’t use the central shifter after first selecting drive and easing on to the track.

We were happy to use the paddles on the steering wheel in Sport Plus mode to control the seven-speed automatic transmission. Not a dual-clutch transmission, instead using a wet clutch for extremely quick changes.

The only problem with the automatic is that it is unable to shift down a gear until the engine revs have dropped, which can be frustrating.

There is nothing wrong with the engine. We have had a go with this unit in the CL63 and were concerned at the lack of noise, although we conceded at the time that the subtlety might be due to the car’s luxury positioning.

Even with the muffling effect of wearing a helmet, the CLS63 AMG still sounded wonderful, with a rich thunder building along with the revs.

It sounds as good as the brutal sledgehammer 6.2-litre V8 it replaces, and AMG must have done a lot of work to get it sounding this way.

Engineers say turbochargers ‘chop up’ the normal V8 engine sound, so getting it to generate such a soundtrack is quite an achievement.

The cracking sound on up changes and wondrous thumping sounds that go with the throttle blip on down changes add to the exciting atmosphere.

As for the engine’s performance, well, it is remarkable. This 5.5-litre eight belts out 386kW as it surges to 5250rpm and there is also 700Nm of torque on tap all the way from 1750-500rpm.

This is enough to sling it from zero to100km/h in just 4.4 seconds using the launch control feature if you have the time and the space to use it.

The main issue on the track was getting the power down, and even in the Sport Plus mode, the electronic stability control intervened constantly. Turning it off would allow for slight movements you would normally enjoy on a track, but organisers wisely told us to leave the ESC on to prevent any Mercedes-meets-concrete-barrier incidents.

In a straight line, the remarkable coupe gathered speed, hitting 200km/h just before the braking zone.

There is more power than you would ever need, which is why it is surprising that AMG offers an upgraded version of this engine. Yes, that’s right, even if you shell out for a CLS63 AMG (the price is yet to be locked in but will be considerable) there is a better and more expensive model.

It’s called the Performance Package and lifts the power past the 400kW barrier and all the way to a remarkable 410kW. Torque soars to a whopping 800Nm. The extra urge shaves 0.1 seconds off the 0-100km/h time although owners are likely to get more satisfaction from telling others about the power figures.

The standard CLS63 engine is remarkably efficient, recording an official fuel economy figure of 9.9 litres per 100km, and features a idle/stop feature to kill the engine at idle. That seems like an odd feature on a performance car and we suspect many owners will turn it off.

We will need more time to see how the CLS63 AMG copes with regular roads and tighter bends and how the standard 19-inch rims affect ride quality, but the initial impression is positive. It certainly settles any concerns that the new and more efficient twin turbo V8 might sound a little mundane compared with the monster 6.2 it replaces.

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