It was nearly eighty degrees when I stepped out of the airport into the January San Diego sun. The comely AMG-branded blonde greeter immediately engaged me in lively superficial chit-chat as a black Mercedes S400 Hybrid was waved around to ferry me to the Rancho Valencia. The lifestyle immersion process of the AMG brand had already begun.
But it was just the beginning. Arriving at the resort hotel, shuttled to my room on a waiting golf cart, luggage in tow, I was dropped at the door to a private villa stocked with AMG promotional materials: my residence for the next several days.
With the Robin Leach treatment, you might think the car I was there to test--the 2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS63 AMG--would be little more than a bit player, a bedtime mint on the pillow. It's anything but.
The Benevolent Dictator
Slip into the new CLS63 and get your driving position set, then stick the fob into the dash and give it a twist (yes, you have to--no pocketing the fob and pushing a button here), and the new 5.5-liter twin-turbo V-8 gently burbles to life, resolving to a low murmur at idle. Spin a few knobs and press a button or two and you're in M (manual) mode for the seven-speed single-clutch planetary-gear transmission, the firmest setting for the dynamic dampers, and, if desired, completely unhindered by traction control. Ready to roll.
And roll it does. Like a runaway train off the edge of a cliff once you apply a little boot to the fast pedal. Despite the elemental, force-of-nature wall of power, our observed fuel economy over more than 100 miles of highly spirited driving was a computer-reported 20.2 mpg.
Should you choose to leave some of the electronic nannies on--it is a roughly $100,000 car, after all, and initially unfamiliar at that--you'll find your play reined in only when you get seriously out of hand. Hustle the car smoothly and well, and you'll notice only tiny dabs of the brakes on individual wheels if you notice it at all. This car's computer is speed's friend, not its enemy.
According to director of vehicle development and AMG board member Tobias Moers, himself a skilled high-performance driver, the lap times of AMG's hottest shoes were the same whether ESP and traction control were engaged or not, and after driving it, we tend to believe him. That's high praise for the systems, and a welcome change from the lawyer-induced lackadaisicality common to the electronic minders of much of the 500-plus horsepower club. The Nordschleife time of the new 2012 CLS63 AMG? No one would give me a straight answer, but Moers did say it's in the "very, very low eight minute range."
Float Like a Feather
At 4,270 pounds, the 2012 CLS63 AMG is well into the heavyweight category for high-performance cars, but you'd never guess it from behind the wheel. Nimble isn't a word you'd typically apply to a two-ton, 113.2-inch wheelbase four-door, but it fits here. Nimble like Muhammad Ali, with just as powerful a punch.
The perception of nimbleness comes as much from the feedback you get from the steering wheel as it does from the well-tuned if a bit brusque-in-the-bumps suspension. The CLS63 sports AMG's first electrically-assisted power steering system, and according to Moers, that system alone took weeks of intense development and revision to perfect. The end result is indeed very near to perfection, or at least as close as we've experienced in such a large, heavy car.
A constant 14:1 ratio strips the vagueness and unpredictability of variable-ratio steering from the mix, leaving behind a direct, communicative, wiggle-free tiller that serves as much as a Human-Machine Interface (HMI) as the COMAND multimedia system does, and much more intuitive to use.