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2013 Mercedes-Benz CLS 63 AMG review:

Effortlessly fast sedan saddled with slow tech

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The Good The 2013 Mercedes-Benz CLS 63 AMG boasts startlingly good acceleration for a sedan of its size, thanks to its powerful engine and our equipped performance package upgrades. It also manages to be quite comfortable thanks to an adaptive suspension, multiple drive modes, and a high level of cabin comfort amenities. The stop-start fuel saver is one of the smoothest that we've tested.

The Bad The Comand interface is showing its age with confusing organization and features that feel tacked on rather than integrated. The Mercedes-Benz Apps interface is poorly organized and too slow to be of any use behind the wheel.

The Bottom Line The powerful, comfortable 2013 Mercedes-Benz CLS 63 AMG feels like a car that's worth its high asking price, but we'd wait for the next generation of its Comand interface before taking the plunge.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

CNET Editors' Rating

8.0 Overall
  • Cabin tech 7.0
  • Performance tech 9.0
  • Design 8.0

I don't care what Mercedes-Benz says on its Web site or even on the spec sheet affixed to the window, the 2013 CLS 63 AMG is not a coupe. Streamlined roofline or not, the car that rumbled into the Car Tech garage this week has four doors and a discrete trunk. That, my dear friends in the Mercedes-Benz marketing department, makes it a sedan.

Now, that's not to say that it's not a handsome sedan. The CLS is a fine-looking set of wheels when viewed from most angles, hiding the increased bulk necessitated by the big sedan's fairly spacious cabin with muscular sculpting and sporty proportions.

However, I'm not a fan of the profile, which looks a bit too, well, fat. Mercedes wanted this generation of CLS to have more headroom on the back row, so it's raised the roof line, demolishing any bit of coupelike profile that the previous generation had. The new model also features a B-pillar, where the outgoing chassis boasted a trick pillarless side glass treatment.

Interior styling pulls off a trick that only Mercedes-Benz can: being gaudy and bold, but in an understated way. The design is decidedly Benz. That means that, at least in photographs, there's not much visual difference between the cabin of the $95,900 CLS 63 AMG and that of a much less expensive C350. In person, however, the difference boils down to much better materials throughout the cabin -- not just at the touch points -- more metal, less plastic, and better isolation from the elements.

That the long-wheelbase CLS offers more shoulder room up front, and more legroom in its spacious back row, doesn't hurt either.

AMG Power
Power, responsiveness, and comfort: the CLS 63 AMG is a car that does everything right...which it should, for a base price of nearly $100K.

The CLS 63 AMG's hood swings wide to an absurd 90-degree angle, giving a clearish view of the 5.5-liter bi-turbo V-8 engine's optional carbon fiber cover, part of our vehicle's AMG Performance Package. That package also includes an AMG Sport steering wheel and -- most importantly -- a boost in power and torque. As equipped, our tester boasted 550 horsepower and 590 pound-feet of torque; its top speed limiter has also been raised to an insane-for-public-roads 186 mph.

CLS 63 AMG engine bay

The 5.5-liter bi-turbo V-8 is already a beast, but our performance package further increases power and torque.

Josh Miller/CNET

Even from within the CLS' quiet cabin, the engine sounds amazing -- its low rumble palpable at idle, growing to an epic howl that complements the G-forces that pressed me into the sport bucket seat with a strong stab at the accelerator. Power delivery is predictable, linear, and, unless you catch the gearbox lazing in its top cruising gear, immediate.

However, this isn't the sort of car where you'll spend much time at full throttle; your driver's license simply wouldn't survive it. When making my regular performance-driving loop, I had the misfortune of getting stuck on a two-lane road behind a guy putting along at 10 mph below the posted limit. When the solid center line went dotted and I was clear to pass, I gave the CLS 63 AMG the full beans and was amazed by how quickly the speedometer swung into the triple digits. I honestly hadn't meant to reach those speeds, but the AMG not only reached them quickly, but also effortlessly. The rush was exhilarating, but not necessarily terrifying.

Engine plaque

A plaque in the engine bay reminds the owner that each AMG engine is hand-built.

Josh Miller/CNET

The shifter for the eight-speed automatic gearbox is an odd electronic unit that returns to center after you push it forward for reverse or pull it back to enter drive -- sort of like the Toyota Prius', but with a more satisfying "thunk" signaling that you've selected your direction of travel. To park the vehicle, you push a small, almost-hidden, rectangular P button just ahead of the lever.

Gear changes from the automatic happen quickly enough when in its default Comfort mode, though the CLS 63 AMG changes ratios with more of the casual effortlessness of a conventional torque converter transmission than the lightning-fast, snap changes of a double-clutch unit. Goose the throttle and the CLS has enough torque on tap that, in many situations, it may not even need to downshift.

Of course, for performance driving it's better to be in the right gear to begin with, so the CLS' transmission is also equipped with two more programs, Sport and Sport+, that hold progressively lower gears and change the shift points to more aggressive settings for even better responsiveness and even more roar from the force-fed V-8.

shifter and buttons

The unconventional shifter returns to center after the drive direction is chosen.

Josh Miller/CNET

There's also a manual shift program but, interestingly, the Mercedes-Benz CLS 63 AMG's shift lever lacks a manual shift mode gate -- you know, the type where you push the lever forward to upshift and so on. Instead, the company assumes that anyone with half a brain would prefer to use the more conveniently placed metal paddle shifters on the steering wheel. So the automaker has skipped the whole lever-shifting nonsense altogether. As a driver who tends to default to paddle shifters when given the choice, I have to say that I approve of the decision.

In an attempt to maximize fuel economy around town and reach the EPA-estimated 16 city mpg, the CLS 63 AMG is equipped with a stop-start system that shuts the engine down when stopped, perhaps at a traffic light, and fires it back up when you start moving again. Normally, I immediately go searching for the "disable" button when testing cars with this system, but I didn't even realize that this Benz was thus equipped until my second day of testing.

That's because the stop-start system is automatically disabled unless the gearbox is in Comfort mode, and because the operation was so seamless that it was almost unnoticeable. Refiring of the engine is instantaneous with nary a shudder of the chassis. You can still hear the engine crank if you listen for it and feel the slightest bit of hesitation if you jump too quickly from the brake to the gas pedal, but for casual around-town cruising, this is one of the most transparent, nonhybrid stop-start systems that I've ever tested. Plus, I rather like the coffinlike quiet that fills the cabin once the engine shuts off as a contrast to the rumble of the car in its Sport modes.

Handling and performance
The CLS is equipped with an adaptive suspension with three settings: Comfort, Sport, and Sport+. However, when augmented by the AMG Performance Package's suspension upgrades, the settings may as well be Sport, Sportier, and Sportiest.

suspension button

The AMG button sets almost all systems to their most hard-core.

Antuan Goodwin/CNET

In its comfort mode, the ride is still firm. What the adaptive suspension does is smooth out the ride to tune out the harshness of expansion joints, cracks in the concrete, and small potholes. Big potholes will still be pretty jarring, just not "OMG, did I just break something?!" jarring.

The suspension settings can be toggled with a button on the center console or you can simply press the shiny AMG button that sits adjacent to instantly set the gearbox to its Manual shift mode and the suspension to its most aggressive Sport+ setting.

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