Road Test: 2011 Mercedes-Benz CL63 AMG
The Americans call them "Fast Driving Awards" and you will certainly pick up a few of them, so stealthily does the Mercedes CL63 AMG pick up speed and roll with it. This is probably one of the most absolutely powerful and performance orientated big cars without the exotica tag, and it can go at one heck of a lick.
Debuting in 2007, the AMG-tuned flagship of the class was recently given a makeover that gave it a smaller - yes smaller - engine compared with the 6.2L beast that previously inhabited the engine bay. But in this case, smaller means more poke, and the 5.5L replacement pumps out far more horsepower than its predecessor. The twin-turbo V8 hammers out a massive 536hp and 800Nm of torque, which combine to send it close to supersonic.
Power is sent through a seven-speed multi-clutch transmission to the rear wheels. Unlike Mercedes's smooth seven-speed automatic with a traditional torque converter, found in the CL550 4matic, the sportier gearbox in the CL63 AMG uses a compact wet start-up clutch in an oil bath.
According to Mercedes, the CL63 AMG completes the 0-to-100kph dash in just 4.5 seconds, while top speed is electronically limited to 250kph. If that isn't quick enough, Mercedes-Benz offers an optional AMG Performance Package that increases turbo boost to 15.6 psi, pushing the powerplant from 544 to 571hp and 800Nm to 873Nm of torque.
Boy, does it growl at you. Although not as imposing as a car that is designed to scream into your soul, such as a Lamborghini Gallardo, for example, the CL63's roar reaches into your heart and stays there the more you build the revs. Let's not forget that for all its performance potential, this is a car that competes with other super-luxury sportsters like the Bentley Continental GT, so refinement is everything in this business.
And inside, it comes close to putting its competitors to shame, given the amount of technology it serves. Some innovations, however, can be a little hit or miss - literally. Our test car was fitted with the optional Active Multicontour Seats that include massage and drive dynamic functions - which translates to air bladders that actively inflate to hold occupants in place during cornering.Each time the steering wheel turns, the bladders surge into the lateral supports of the seatback a little too forcefully to be comfortable.
Even though it is styled like a coupe, this is a sizeable car, especially in the lateral department. It feels magnificent and the greenhouse-like abundance of glass makes for almost unparalleled visibility. The swathes of leather across the whole interior are soft to the touch and add a tremendously opulent feel.
A small button next to the light switch brings an optional high-definition night view to the dash display. There is all sorts of safety equipment, including innovative technology with more "assists" than an unselfish ice hockey offence. Along with Xenon Active Headlamps, there is Attention Assist, Active Lane Keeping Assist, Active Blind Spot Assist and Night View Assist. The various radars and infrared emitters seem to generate a virtual electronic forcefield around the vehicle.
Layers of well-placed sound insulation and laminated safety glass on all four sides result in a near-absence of tyre and wind noise. Along with the quality of the materials and the atmosphere the designers have created in the cabin, this lack of all but engine growl produces a thoroughly cosseting experience.
If looks could kill, Mercedes would be guilty of mass murder. The erstwhile sleek lines have been reinvigorated for 2011, while new daytime running LEDs have been added to the front for a distinctive facade. The overall look is pure Mercedes, but this is one that stands out more than most. Driving through Dubai, a city flooded with high-end Mercs, even drivers of S-Classes turn to take a look. In white, the CL63 is one of the most distinctive cars on the roads.
For the price, though, the CL would be more impressive if it had a little more personality, like the SLS does. For generations, Benz has been churning out ice-cold technology and, if you wanted more soul, the men from Bavaria would point you onto the quickest route to Italy. But the grand tourer class is an emotional one and it would have been nice if the car maker had infused a little more heart to go alongside all the precision machinery.
Bentley has its signature wuffle and Aston has its (sometimes maddening) eccentricities, but the CL does exactly what is expected of it. And that is going fast in the most clinical, German way possible.