12 Dec 2012

Driven - Mercedes-Benz CLS63 AMG Shooting Brake

Colin Hubbard reviews the Mercedes-Benz CLS Shooting Brake, and finds it lives up the the hype.

I was recently privileged to drive the brand new Mercedes-Benz CLS Shooting Brake in the AMG 63 format. On the same day I also drove other AMG sportier models with the same engine and this was the one which shone and the one I would take home with me if funds permitted.

The CLS Shooting Brake is based upon the 4 door CLS (Coupe Limousine Sport) which is defined as a Coupe in that it has coupe-like proportions and a low roof design. This in itself is based upon the E Class but with swoopier and sleeker styling but the ‘look’ has been created by lowering the roofline and reducing the side window height so retaining a spacious cabin with the sleeker look.

A Shooting Brake is defined as a vehicle with both the features of a coupe and a wagon (or estate car) and the CLS definitely fits into this category with a heavily raked rear end which cuts into the higher ends of the boot space. The side glass in the boot compartment narrows to such a low angle that it makes itself irrelevant other than outside visual appeal and for the Labradors to have a letterbox sized view of the world literally flying by.

Being a Speedmonkey meant I headed straight for the keys to the AMG model leaving the oil burners for the others to fight over. The initial specs got the petrol flowing through my veins with a 5.5 litre twin turbo AMG hand-built engine developing 550 bhp and 590 lb/ft torque and put through to the road via a Twin Clutch 7 speed transmission. All this equates to being capable of hitting 62mph from a standstill in 4.3 seconds. In a practical family car!!!!! (Note - this car is fitted with the enhanced performance package so, as standard, the engine develops 518bhp and 516 lb/ft torque which is still more than enough)

The twin turbo 5.5 litre engine replaces the normally aspirated 6.2 litre engine (Mercedes badges it 6.3) in order to satisfy emissions demand and regulations and is the perfect engine for this type of car giving longer fuel range and monster torque for smooth but lairy acceleration. The engine does make a glorious noise and is amplified with the sunroof open and doesn’t require the synthetic engine noise from the HiFi which BMW relies on for its current M5. In my opinion the old 6.2 litre engine, which is still available in other AMG models, is not the right engine for this car as it is too vocal which would scare the wife, kids and dogs when starting up and at high revs (I would define the noise the 6.2 makes as Satan gargling with aviation fuel).

On the road the CLS feels very comfortable and can do cruising very well, be it at a leisurely commuting pace or at its limited top speed of 155mph on an autobahn. The engine is smooth and makes a deep burble and on paper can deliver a combined 28 mpg according to the official figures. The issue is you will never achieve this figure because the engine's such a beast you will want to turn it up to 11 and go flat out everywhere.  The chassis copes admirably with this amount of power, I did get the traction control lights flickering at motorway speeds but to be fair the conditions were damp and the car was fitted with winter tyres.

 Even at roundabouts the car is composed and accurate with little body roll and shrinks its 5m length around you so you can genuinely chuck around and have some fun. This is achieved by coil springs up front and air springs at the rear (to adapt to differing load weights) with electrical damping and supercomputers controlling the damping, ABS, traction control, anti skid control etc so it all remains competent when you want to play.

The brakes are huge steel discs front and rear, with 6 piston front and 4 piston rear callipers, and are more than capable of bringing the car to a standstill and provide positive feedback through the brake pedal and, as a bonus, I didn’t encounter any brake fade whilst out in the car. If I was to personally spec the car I would have opted for AMG's carbon ceramic brakes which offer immediate pedal feel and absolute stopping power, the only restriction would be the tyres and weight of the car, some 2540kg, although spending a few thousand pounds on some carbon fibre interior and exterior trim may well save about 0.5kg.

The steering follows most other manufacturers trends in that is electrically assisted in lieu of hydraulic assistance - another measure to help toward fuel economy as there is no pump to drive off the engine which creates additional drag and uses more fuel. This didn’t affect the steering performance in that it is accurate and well weighted but this is never going to be Porsche accurate due to its high kerb weight and large wheels.

This is a good looking car with the signature AMG front grille following from the SL and now SLK, headlights which flow into the front wings, a deep front bumper and LED daytime running lights. The side profile is swoopy like the coupe and the side window line tapers off nicely toward the rear which is a handsome feature but with white paintwork the expanse of roof area from the side profile is exaggerated and slightly awkward, this is less obvious on some darker hues. The side profile may benefit from some discrete side skirts, only an inch or so deep but to give a slightly more purposeful stance. 

The rear end is the view most people will see of the car and Mercedes and AMG have been very kind to other drivers by making it a good one with two twin squared exhausts, rear diffuser, tasty white and red tail lights which melt into the rear three quarter panels, and a rear window which wraps around into the rear quarters slightly like the car in Wayne’s World. An optional pair of petrified Labradors can be fitted as aftermarket accessories under the owners discretion. The 19 inch twin 5 spoke AMG alloys do a great job of showing off the huge cross drilled and slotted brake disks and multi piston callipers. Overall a great success in the looks department but one I would pick in a darker colour and with the carbon brakes with bling Gold callipers.

The interior is well built and spacious for 5 people, not spectacular like a Pagani but handsome with a quality fit and finish of materials as expected in a £100k car. The front seats are comfortable and supportive during hard cornering and the rear seats have plenty of legroom and head room although the shallow depth rear side windows may mean smaller children can’t see out so well. The rear vision is fairly poor but a small price to pay for the fab looks. 

 The boot is spacious but limited in height towards the rear by the sharply raked rear end, more style over substance but you will get more that enough luggage space for trips to the Alps but not that trip to Ikea. There is more than enough tech inside this car and there's everything you would expect to find in the latest generation of S Class. There's a rear view camera, massage seats, lane assist, blind spot assist, night view assist, speed limit assist etc etc, all very well whilst in warranty but I wouldn’t want to own one out of warranty unless I had deep pockets. To be fair the same could be said for most modern high end cars.

The base cost for the car is £83,000 and comes very well equipped as standard - I could live with the standard spec. The price as tested jumped to £107,000 as a press car and demonstrator of all the tech and bling that can be offered. There was nearly £7k of interior and exterior carbonfibre, £2k optional 19 inch forged alloy wheels and £4k for the optional Bang and Olufsen 14 speaker HiFi (worth every penny).

There are a few small details which let the car down; the first being the stop start facility, this unacceptably delays progress from junctions/roundabouts. The second is a visual detail in the gap between the fuel filler cap and the rear side window which looks like the engineers have forgotten to put some seal around and you can see inside the void. The last one is when the rear side window and rear door is open the section of glass that doesn’t retract looks awkward and prone to being damaged. These are fairly small niggles and the result of the designers pen vs the automotive engineers and the need for constant progress toward reducing fleet emissions.

To sum up this is a very fast, capable, good looking, thoroughly enjoyable and practical estate car that is as happy on a School run as it is on an Alpine pass. Well done Mercedes and AMG you have just created your new Flagship model, the Starship Enterprise of the Road!