Matt Davis, European Correspondent
The AMG arm of Mercedes-Benz is in the middle of a new phase of development. It's now concentrating on making every new AMG model more and more AMG and less just a souped-up Merc.
Case in point: AMG's new front suspension design. It's a setup that features a wider track and more aggressive camber settings than the standard models. A set of stiffer springs and more precise dampers just isn't enough anymore. And into this fray enters the 2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS63 AMG.
The new Coupe Leicht Sportlich is still the prettiest poster child for modern Mercedes styling. Adding the edginess of the AMG look — especially one with the optional Performance Pak like our tester — turns it into the Mona Lisa with a nose ring. It's beautiful and all, but anything other than "comfort" mode has the 2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS63 AMG noticeably eager to run, and run fast.
AMG's Turn With the CLS63
"The S- and CL-Classes with the new M157 AMG engine," AMG Director of Engine and Powertrain Friedrich Eichler tells Edmunds.com, "both have lots of room under the hood, so the exhaust section between the manifolds and turbochargers is a straight path." Due to the packaging of the slightly smaller CLS- and E-Classes, this tube needs bending, which also helps with insertion of one of the engine mounting bolts. "It looks cooler, too," Eichler says, "and the power-transfer losses are minor."
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On the 518-horsepower CLS63, ECU changes delay the ignition on cylinders four and seven of the 5.5-liter biturbo V8. "These two cylinders have very good load exchange with, therefore, greater air volume than the other six cylinders," adds Eichler. "This is what causes the greater rumbling vibrations in the S- and CL-Class.
"But by delaying the ignition of four and seven on the CLS between the 650-rpm idle and 1,000 rpm and bringing all cylinders in sync, much fewer unpleasant vibrations get transmitted," Eichler continues. On the other hand, the subsequent pay-off is a more explosive sound and reaction when we apply the throttle.
The first-generation "C219" CLS63 AMG came with 507 hp and a 4.5-second dash to 62.13712 mph (i.e. 100 km/h). There was no formal Performance Pak available.
The 518-hp "C218" CLS AMG gets to 62 mph a tenth of a second quicker. Then there's the Performance Pak, which turns up the boost to deliver 550 hp and 590 pound-feet of torque. So equipped, the 2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS63 shaves yet another precious tenth off its 0-60-mph time. If you would rather brag about top speed, the 186-mph delimited Driver's package with AMG driving school is also offered here as before.
Through the AMG Speedshift MCT seven-speed sports transmission drivers can select between modes C for "Controlled Efficiency," S, S+, M, and RS for "Race Start." In C, now there's a Toyota Prius-like green ECO light that lulls us into thinking we're actually doing earth a favor by buying an AMG and leaving every intersection in 2nd gear. It is at least verifiable that in this setting the new 5.5-liter biturbo M157 V8 engine consumes up to 32 percent less fuel than the former 6.2-liter V8. Also in C, the start-stop function happens automatically every time we sit still at those intersections, and the restart action is very smooth and quick enough to avoid frustrating anyone.
Burn, Baby, Burn
Our Iridium Silver tester with $12,900 AMG Performance package and burnished gold-calipered $10,000 carbon-ceramic brakes was a firestarter along all 160 miles we drove through San Diego County. Any drivetrain setting besides C results in a well-intended evil itch to lurch forth like a giant eel grabbing a passing fish. "Yeah," says engineer Eichler. "We wanted it to be a little more bad boy this time."
Part of that feel is attributable to the new AMG Ride Control suspension setup. It pairs steel springs up front with air springs in back. The new three-link front suspension features a nearly 1-inch-wider track than the standard CLS, in addition to revised hub carriers and steering arms which allow for more aggressive camber settings. The rear suspension gets a thicker roll bar along with stiffer subframe mounts. Adjustable dampers are used at each corner and are driver-adjustable to four settings.
We made full use of the optional 19-inch AMG wheels and the larger footprint of their ContiSportContact SP tires (255/35 ZR19 (96Y) front, 285/30 ZR19 (98Y) rear). It was a glued-to-the-road feeling at all times and if ever we felt like coming unglued in a curve, the optional rear differential with 40 percent locking action tidied up the line quite impressively.
Our Race Start experiments (ESP set at S+, Speedshift rheostat then set to RS, brake applied, pedal to the metal) out in the lonely high desert were exhilarating and void of any tire smoke. Go ahead and switch off the ESP completely on your own nickel, though, and await the fireworks. The two 18.9-psi pressure turbochargers (14.5 psi each without Performance Pak) definitely make this enhanced 2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS63 AMG a 4.0-flat performer accelerating to 60 mph. And the roar from the quad AMG exhaust during all of this does a body good.
Mostly Prettier Than the Original
We like the entire two forward thirds of this new CLS and its AMG variant. It's the latter third that drops the ball on a few levels.
The AMG designers clearly decided to take the example set by SLS AMG, a car that looks as if it was designed around its engine. The almost 1-inch-wider front track of the AMG version of the CLS beefs it up even more over the standard car. There are also new wider aluminum fender panels and a gnarlier-looking aluminum hood to go with the AMG grille and its supersized star. The look really suits it well.
But then we get toward the C-pillar back of the rear doors and it all sort of turns less attractive. Especially looking dead-on at the rear end, all the drawn lines of the trunk, rear fenders, new lighting elements, bumper, etc. come off both pinched and pudgy at the same time. It's a matter of too much being forced to happen back there. And whereas the previous CLS design was unrecognizable as sharing all underpinnings with the E-Class sedan, the rear fenders over the wheels this time give away the E-Class sharing like a neon sign.
Ride height remains the same as on the series car, even with the Performance Pak, though all of the skirting around the bottom edges would have us think different.
Putting Gen One in the Dust
Without a doubt, the new 2012 Mercedes CLS63 AMG — whether it has the Performance Pak or not — leaves the old version fittingly in the mirrors. Dynamics are hugely improved via the new suspension and its custom settings and the Speedshift MCT transmission weighs less and can handle more torque, too. Fuel mileage is way up, and the passenger cabin remains a comfortable place for four adults.
Currently, at least, all we could think of that adequately competes head-on with the 2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS63 AMG is either the slightly smaller though more potent $63,040 Cadillac CTS-V sedan or $79,150 Jaguar XFR. Otherwise, we wait for the next BMW M5 that will surely be under pressure to crush all three of these others.
Overall, the new CLS63 is an impressive piece no matter how you slice it. That upward of $125,000 to pay for our Performance Pak tricked-out car, however, could mean it's just for those who must have a potent Mercedes.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.
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