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Merc CLS63 is pure Jekyll 'n Hyde

Unless you’re an alphanumerical prodigy, Mercedes’ model line-up can be as confusing as Chinese calculus. And to make matters worse, this model, the new CLS63 AMG has a 5.5-litre engine that replaces the old CLS 63’s 6.2-litre V8.

Where on earth does the sixtythree come from then? And then Mercedes goes and calls the CLS Class a “four-door coupé”. That’s like calling a bicycle a two-wheeled unicycle.

Curvy banana shape now has a few creases up its side to give it an even more racy look. And that new biturbo 5.5-litre V8 motor is just pure evil. Gotta love a car this crazy.

But forget all that. This is the all-new CLS Class that’s now available in SA in V6-powered CLS350 and V8 CLS500 guises, as well as the CLS63 AMG which is tested here.

After the bigger S and CL Classes, this is the third Mercedes AMG model in SA to ditch the naturally-aspirated 6.2 V8 to make way for its even more powerful 5.5-litre biturbo replacement. Don’t ask why it’s called a 63 because not even Mercedes itself can offer a valid answer except for a loose link to ‘60s model heritage cars such as the 300SEL with a genuine 6.3-litre capacity motor.

We’ve tried out this new 5.5 turbo engine before in the CL Class so we know it can get down and dirty when the lights go green. In fact, before the new CLS came along the CL63 was sitting pretty as the seventh fastest car we’ve ever had over the quarter mile, and now this one, which actually makes slightly less power than the heavier CL, has knocked it down a spot in our log.

Our Vbox pretty much agrees with Merc’s performance claims, and we achieved a best 0-100km/h time of 4.5 seconds while it crossed the quarter mile in 12.6.

Those are insane numbers for a car with air suspension, four doors, a generous boot and legroom for four large passengers. And, on top of that Mercedes can still up the power from 386kW and 700Nm to 410kW and 800Nm with an optional Performance Package priced at R82 000. I shudder to think what it’d do then. Even without the upgrade our CLS63 is the sixth quickest car we’ve ever tested.

But what a discombobulated disposition... Reminds me of a recent TV interview with sweet little Anne Hathaway who conducts herself with the composure of any bombshell actress. But then, on cue, her Hyde side’s revealed and she bursts out a verse of gangsta rap that could put Lil Wayne to shame. Google it. It’s bizarre but irresistibly attractive.

Parked in your garage the CLS is a sweet ‘n sexy thang with a sensual Hathaway-like demeanour. The E-Class-sized sedan has always been a looker but now the smooth “Flying Banana” shape gets a whole new flavour thanks to lots of curvy creases along almost every panel. Two in particular dominate the side profile like a visible panty line through a silk dress.

Endlessly adjustable leather seats cosset your bum like a cricket ball in a keeper’s glove, and a colour DVD screen coupled to an eerily good Harman Kardon sound system keeps your senses in awe. I swear the Dire Straits’ steel guitar was in the passenger seat and I could feel Mark Knopfler’s breath on the back of my neck.

As in any luxury Mercedes the CLS has larney kit coming out its wazoo, but push the engine start button and all those fancy extras are forgotten in a piercing belch from the pipes.

There are two turbos at work here but you’d never guess by the noise this V8 makes, especially when it’s cold. It’s got that typical big-displacement V8 sound and each spark blats a miniature explosion out the back like a vulgar Lil Wayne riff.

Engage drive with Merc’s new-style gear selector (no more steering-mounted stalk), which in the 63 features AMG’s Affalterbach logo pressed into the leather on top. Dab the throttle and it’s possible to pull away at a civilised rate of knots, but the word inconspicuous isn’t in the exhaust system’s brash vocabulary and the loud rumble relentlessly urges more throttle.

There are suspension and traction control settings, along with a programmable AMG button (to call up all preset driver preferences with one push) mounted temptingly along the centre console, but I’d recommend against fully disengaging the traction help.

This car is a wheelspinning machine with traction control off, and applying a hair too much throttle in a bend kicks the arse out dangerously.

There’s also a Race Start function that can be activated after a sequence of driver inputs, that’s designed to launch the car from a stop with maximum effect, but strangely our best test times came with all electronic assistance off.

VERDICT

What’s not to like? The new CLS63 will force a smile across your dial with all sorts of opulence, and then rip your face off with one gas pedal prod. They say you can’t have your cake and eat it too, but Mercedes-Benz disagrees. Pity this cake costs R1.319-million before options. Ah go on, throw in the R82 000 performance pack cherry on top too. - Star Motoring

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