One of the pearls of wisdom that filtered through Groucho Marx’s thick moustache is this: Time flies like an arrow, but fruit flies like a banana. Yes, that’s right. It hits you after a few moments, depending on the speed of the processor in your head. But have you ever heard something so exquisite, so profound, in the English language?
I have no legitimate reason to start this story with this immortal line other than the fact that this is a banana-shaped car that flies like an arrow. Tenuous link maybe, but what the hell, it’s true. After AMG has been through Mercedes-Benz’s oxymoronically named four-door coupe, it has become even more slippery than the slipperiest banana and cuts through the wind to touch 100 kph in a ridiculous 4.5 seconds and 200 kph in 15.1 seconds. And an electronically limited top speed of 250 kph. Remember, it weighs close to two tonnes. And is a luxury car, mind you.
It’s so well-built and well-appointed that the AMG 6208cc V8 and the related exhaust note, which in the SL 63 AMG sounds like Satan clearing his throat, sounds like distant thunder in the CLS. So much so that you check the rear view mirror expecting to see dark clouds. There is this muscular burble that emerges from the four oval exhaust pipes even when you are just puttering about, and when you rev the engine, it barks like er, Satan’s three-headed dog or even Cerberus. And it’s this soundtrack that makes you feel that you are in a special car and not in an ordinary CLS, if there was one. But does the CLS, which is a genteel car (and the very reason for its existence is to just look good), need AMG to fettle it? It’s a bit of overkill, don’t you think? Well, I do think so, but that’s not going to stop me from going for several hot laps in it. Because it’s no use arguing about such trivial stuff when you have 507 bhp at 6800 rpm and 64 kgm at 5200 rpm from a naturally aspirated 6208cc eight-cylinder motor waiting to explode.
Explode it does. One moment, it’s just standing there, looking pretty and calling attention to itself like a dazzling woman, and then, in what feels like microseconds, it’s doing some crazy three-digit speeds like a hound from Hades (Cerberus!). At this moment, all I can do is hold the steering wheel tight, try not to look like a dribbling village idiot and whip it some more. The shift from crazy three-digit speeds to highly ridiculous three-digit speeds is instantaneous, the power delivery just does not flag. It is at moments like these – when the surrounding scenery is blurring rapidly, when the road sign becomes road signed and when the car in front is the car at the back – when I ponder about various inconsequential things in life. Like: wonder what’s for dinner, when do I fit a new battery in my Tintin watch? Hope the raddi-wallah comes tomorrow, etc.
Maybe it’s caused by this immense rush of adrenaline that you detach yourself from the madness and think of other harmless aspects of your life. But the point I am making is that unlike in the SL 63 AMG (elsewhere in this issue), in the CLS 63 AMG, you can think. It is frighteningly fast, but doesn’t feel so simply because you are so cosseted inside, except of course for the howl from the exhausts. Just don’t look at the speedo, that’s all. And when trying to break the sound barrier in the CLS, don’t even by mistake look at the dial on the left of the speedo. It’s a clock and in that speed buzz you may mistake it for something else and slam on the brakes in alarm. Just joking. For a car that revs like kingdom come, it’s not a handful in traffic and is actually pretty docile. The reason is that about 80 per cent of the torque – 51 kgm – is available at as little as 2000 rpm. There’s something about V8s, I tell you. However, the best part I liked about the CLS is not its straightline acceleration, but when it’s time to corner hard. Matching every beat of the V8 is that AMG Speedshift Plus 7G-Tronic. You have both Comfort and Sport mode in automatic and the M manual override function. And while you are in M mode, you can hold the revs and it doesn’t upshift or downshift automatically. This gearbox has been tuned by the magic-makers at AMG to handle the performance available on tap. And they have gone one further. Like in the Nissan 370Z (only in the manual), the transmission actually blips the throttle automatically when you are downshifting in preparation of tackling a corner. While it just takes the entire experience a notch higher, what it does is allow you to keep the same intensity before you approached the corner. Without this function, the CLS would have perhaps balked and taken away the smoothness of exiting a corner.
The CLS is actually a big car. It’s made to look like a coupe, but it’s a four-door coupe, remember. Mercedes-Benz did a clever thing by using the last-gen E-Class platform and creating this one of a kind (before the others got into the act) and priced it close to the S-Class. Still, the AMG CLS does not feel that large, it is, er, coupe-like and cosy. What that translates to is a large car that you can actually feel one with, it’s built around the driver and shrinks around him. The reason is that AMG sports suspension that does this shrinking trick. Based on the Airmatic air suspension with an adaptive damping system, the whole shebang adjusts to the road conditions and the speed automatically. You can keep it in any mode that you want depending on your mood, including a showboating comfort setting (hey, it’s a Mercedes-Benz and comfort is its middle name). The sport setting obviously lowers the body of the car and stiffens the suspension even more. It is best felt while you are cornering the CLS, it becomes nimble and gives the car a degree of precision that’s frankly brilliant. Combined with the superb steering setup and grippy 19-inch rubber (255/35 at the front and 285/30 at the rear), you can apex corners as if you were a racing driver. Yes, the CLS 63 AMG makes you feel like one, despite, as I have mentioned earlier, its bulk.
In this test car especially, we had the optional AMG performance steering wheel, which is smaller in diameter compared to the regular one and the bottom section of the wheel is flattened. This is a must-tick on the options list and completes the sensory experience. What I however don’t like about the CLS, even if it’s the AMG version, is the vast panel of wood on the dash that won’t be out of place in a 1930s Merc. Mercedes-Benz may say it’s classy and stylish, but I feel that it’s more of an after-thought to fill up the acres of dash with something other than HDPE or PVC or whatever they use in dashboards nowadays. Suggestion: instead of wood (let it be in the regular CLS), use brushed aluminium, black metal or maybe even real carbon fibre in the AMG CLS.
As far as the car’s looks are concerned, it still remains the best-looking of all the production Mercs around, despite being over five years old now. Maybe it’s that eternal banana shape. Time really flies like an arrow, doesn’t it?