Pros: Successfully redesigns a trend-setting sedan with mean curves; thrilling performance for a four-door; interior balances masculine lines with delicate details
Cons: Coupelike styling sacrifices rear headroom; similarly muscular E63 AMG can be had for $6,000 less; some items you'd assume would be standard at this price point are optional
The oxymoronic term "four-door coupe" is tossed around a lot these days, but it was the Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class that pioneered the expression when it was first unveiled at the 2004 New York Auto Show. With its elegantly arched roof and uninterrupted character lines, the original CLS started with an E-Class chassis and added flowing bodywork that transformed the otherwise staid sedan into a sexy four-seater. A gutsier AMG variant followed, and the CLS became a surprise hit, not to mention a trailblazer that inspired a slew of similarly styled competitors.
The redesign of the CLS was crucial, since styling is such a crucial consideration for the car's core audience. If the $72,175 CLS550 isn't quite enticing enough for buyers, the $95,775 CLS63 AMG makes a seriously compelling case thanks to high-performance underpinnings and even more aggressive bodywork.
Comfort & Utility
While there's more room than you might expect in the back of this swoopy four-door, the CLS63 AMG's rear seats are difficult to get into and out of, especially when it comes to negotiating your noggin.
As for amenities, the CLS63 includes navigation with a 40-GB hard drive, a 14-speaker Harman Kardon Logic7 surround system with Dolby Digital 5.1, full leather with an Alcantara headliner and heated front seats. But despite its standard features, quite a few bells and whistles come at an additional premium on top of the $95,775 entry price. Items you'd think might be standard like a rear-view camera, heated and ventilated front seats, adaptive high beams, an electronic trunk closer and keyless go are a part of the Premium 1 package, a reasonably priced $3,690 option. Make no mistake, the CLS63 is loaded with a solid amount of doodads; we would just have expected a few of the optional items to come standard.
The most exciting technology to find its way into the CLS63 AMG resides under the hood, but a few tidbits can be found in more mundane aspects of the driving experience. For instance, Parktronic with active parking assist runs $970; it assesses the feasibility of sliding your CLS63 into a spot before it takes over the steering duties and wheels it in while you modulate the brake pedal. Mbrace adds iPhone and Android connectivity, enabling key features of the car to be operated by your cell phone, including transmitting route information. The Comand system is equipped with a 40-GB hard drive and navigation system with voice control and includes satellite radio and real time Sirius traffic updates. Night Vision Assist ($1,780) literally allows you to see in the dark and also features a pedestrian detection system.
Performance & Fuel Economy
Although it's no miserly fuel sipper by any means, the Mercedes-Benz CLS63 AMG combines extremely high levels of performance with 32 percent better fuel economy thanks to a smaller turbocharged engine with start/stop technology. This mill also happens to produce more power than its predecessor. The CLS63 is rated at 15 mpg in the city and 22 mpg on the highway.
The CLS63's direct-injected 5.5-liter engine produces 518 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque, enabling 0 to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds and a top speed of 155 mph. Add the AMG Performance package for $7,300, and terminal velocity is lifted to 186 mph while new software enables greater turbo boost levels that shave 1/10 of a second off the 0-to-60-mph sprint. The suspension also benefits from sportier tuning. A $2,030 limited-slip differential offers improved traction, while ultimate stopping power can be gained from the carbon ceramic brake option, which runs a steep $12,625.
The 2012 CLS63 features more than a dozen driver assistance programs including Attention Assist, which monitors 70 variables to detect drowsiness and warn the driver when it's time to pull over. The Lane Tracking package ($850) incorporates blind spot and lane keeping assist, while the Driver Assistance package ($2,950) includes those features and adds Distronic Plus with Pre-Safe Braking.
The CLS63 includes front, side, pelvic, window and knee airbags as well as Neck-Pro active head restraints. Rear side airbags are a $420 option. Full LED headlamps are now standard, offering improved nighttime sight lines, and adaptive highbeam assist maximizes visibility while reducing irritation to other drivers. A three-stage stability control system manages the V8's copious power, while a rollover sensor helps avoid more serious types of accidents.
The CLS63 AMG's hulking sheetmetal is a fairly honest visual representation of how this so-called four-door coupe addresses the road. The V8's full flood of 516 lb-ft of torque becomes available at only 1,750 rpm to thrust this 4,277-pound sedan forward with a deep, rumbling exhaust note. Especially when the seven-speed transmission is in S (Sport), or its most aggressive S+ (Sport +) mode, gear changes are quick and crisp, with rev-matched downshifts that seem psychically in tune with the driver's intentions. M (Manual) mode isn't quite as satisfying, since gearchanges initiated by the steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters don't happen quite as instantaneously as we'd like.
The CLS63's hunkered-down stance makes it respond like a smaller car than it actually is, and the suspension's Comfort, Sport and "Sport + settings adjust damper stiffness electronically, offering a range of compliance that transforms this car from a mellow cruiser to a more tenacious canyon carver. On twisting roads, the CLS's powerful V8 is capable of sending so much torque to the rear wheels that stability control is summoned quite frequently. At least it can be set to more permissive levels, which allows the tail to step out under heavy throttle.
Brakes are also commensurately powerful, and the CLS63 AMG's overall performance makes it unusually satisfying to drive fast, perhaps lending some credence to Mercedes-Benz's insistence that it has managed to combine the best of both worlds: two-door performance with almost all of a four door's everyday usability.
Other Cars to Consider
BMW 650i Gran Coupe - This just-introduced Bimmer is an elegantly styled answer to the Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class. While the top-tier model is powered by a twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V8, the true competitor to the CLS63 AMG will be an M version of that BMW-if they choose to make it. As it stands, the 445-hp 650i comes with a steep $87,385 price.
Porsche Panamera S - Porsche's $90,300 Panamera S sedan may not have the Mercedes-Benz's slick styling or its sensual personality, but this humpbacked four-door instead offers driver-involved dynamics and a far more usable rear seat and trunk.
Jaguar XF-R - This $82,000 British alternative has some inevitably tweedy associations, but its supercharged 510-horsepower V8 is anything but, while its contemporary styling and plush interior make a strong case for the plucky Jaguar nameplate.
Here's the car for those who want a double life: a swoopy coupe, but with four doors to accommodate passengers; comfort and luxury, but accompanied by the power to drive truly aggressively when desired. We'd add the Premium 1 package so as not to miss out on the ease-inducing technology it contains.