I was driving a bit rashly that brisk fall morning down the twisting roads of the Austrian Alps, fearing the greatest fear of them all, missing my flight home, the only one that day from Munich to Los Angeles. Fortunately, Mercedes-Benz had very thoughtfully designed an automobile for just such fearful times: the new CL63 AMG. This beautiful and powerful coupe might not be able to leap tall buildings, but it can swallow huge swathes of territory without breaking a sweat, and can do so without the driverbreaking a sweat, either.
Though any of the trio of new CLs would have done as well. The CL550 (with a 382-bhp V8) and CL600 (with a 510-bhp V12) are also mightily impressive. These two are 2007 models, while the CL63 AMG and even more powerful CL65 will be offered later in the year as 2008s. Prices are expected to be pretty much in line with current CL stickers, which range from around $90,000 all the way up to $130,000.
The Euro-spec 6.2-liter V8 puts out 525 bhp (518 for US cars), the most of any naturally aspirated production V8, but I didn't need to use anywhere near all of it. Munich is downslope of Kitzbhel, the ski resort where I'd started from, and the traffic was slow and thick, so I was weaving a giant slalom rather than blasting along a wide-open downhill run. I try never to offend (well, not too excessively) the local speed limits and I prefer not to attract the unwanted attention of the polizei, but my fear of missing a flight is a bit more acute than my fear of a speeding ticket, and so the quickness of my pace felt somewhat justified.
I made sure, however, that the pace never outran the car's ability to contend with the conditions. With its improved second-generation ABC suspension on full sport and seven-speed Steptronic transmission in manual mode, gear selection at my fingertips, this most powerful version yet of Mercedes' new flagship carved through the corners like a much lighter and smaller performance coupe, its controlled dynamics and flat cornering a seeming impossibility in a 4500-pound luxury car. When the big brakes were called upon (those Austrians sure like to poke along), there was almost no chassis dive--despite the massive amount of grip from the front 10-inch composite rotors and 9.2-inch rear discs. The steering, too, felt as ideally weighted as the chassis, receiving and fulfilling commands almost instantaneously, and clearly feeding back the placement of the front wheels without vibrating my hands into numbness.
The V8's mountain-sized torque (465 lb-ft, also the most of any series-produced non-blown eight) made passing the ubiquitous tour bus a small matter of tapping my right foot on the accelerator, confirming through the seat of my pants the factory claim that this new, larger and heavier second-generation CL will run from 0-62 mph in only 4.6 seconds. This is the seventh car to get treated with AMG's astonishing new V8, the first Mercedes engine to be engineered and built totally in-house at the AMG plant. It pulls like a muscle car and sounds a little like one, too, but it revs like a race engine, which is what it proceeded to do as soon as we crossed over into Germany and onto stretches of unlimited autobahn. I soon discovered the option that deletes the 155-mph electronic speed limiter, allowing a 186-mph top end, and it was glorious balm to a fearful soul, chewing up the miles and approaching my destination with time to spare.
Mercedes' big coupe has been the stable's traditional leader in combining power and luxury, but it has also become a world leader in safety. The active and passive safety features in all new CLs are extensive and innovative, built around the Pre-Safe system that debuted in last year's S-Class. However, it's now even more effective by networking the system with the radar-based Distronic active cruise control. Now called Distronic Plus, it measures closing rates on the cars ahead and, using Brake Assist along with the new Pre-Safe Brake system, automatically applies 40 percent of the brake system's pressure if the driver fails to respond in time to avoid a probable collision.
Radar also plays a part in the new Park Assist system, which replaces Parktronic. Ask it for help, and it will measure possible parallel parking places suitable for the CL's dimensions, alert you it has found one, and then guide you into place with a graphic bird's-eye view of the scenario shown on the new COMAND system's display screen.
The coolest new feature, however, is the improved infrared Night View Assist system. Two projectors in the headlights shoot out invisible infrared beams in two separate arcs. Images reflected in the beams are then picked up by a camera mounted in the windshield and converted to a grayscale image on the high-resolution display.
High-tech lighting is another aspect of Mercedes' holistic approach to safety. Not only do the CL's headlamps perform wondrous swiveling tricks and adaptions to rural roads or high-speed highways, the taillights also play a more crucial role in reducing collisions. Now, when the driver of a CL hits the brake pedal hard, the rear LED taillights blink rapidly, quickly alerting following traffic that something is happening up ahead. This industry first also turns on the emergency flashers when the car comes to a halt after emergency braking, turning them off again only after the car exceeds 6 mph.
Yeah, you get what you pay for and all CL-Class cars are magnificent returns on the dollar--from the most modestly equipped eight-cylinder CL550 through to the 12-cylinder CL600, up to the most lavishly appointed CL63. Every model comes with an astonishing array of creature comforts and technological innovation, yet none are intimidating.
This patrician character has come naturally to Mercedes' flagships since the 300S coupe of 1952, and the spectacular performance-tuned luxury coupe rolling me on toward Munich might, one day, be considered the best of a great lineage. After all, it got me to the airport on time.
Spotlighting The CL
*Three engines: a powerful V8, a more powerful twin-turbo V12 and the most powerful range-topping 6.2-liter V8 from AMG
*Pre-Safe Brake, a system that can save the inattentive driver by automatically applying the binders in an emergency situation
*Park Assist will find a suitable space and guide you into a parking spot via cool digital graphics
*Interior borrowed from the S-Class but with even more custom fittings and high-end materials, spectacular seats and a friendly central COMAND center
*Second-gen active air suspension transforms the CL from a cushy cruiser to a sport coupe at the push of a button
*Standard 18-inch wheels on the CL550 and CL600 can be upgraded to the standard 19-inchers on the CL63 AMG
2008 MERCEDES-BENZ CL63 AMG
Longitudinal front engine,rear-wheel drive
6.2-liter V8, dohc,four valves per cylinder
Double wishbone front, multi-link rear, active electrohydraulic damping,stabilizer bars, Active Body Control
Electronic power assisted four-wheel vented discs, ABS, Brake Assist
Length x Width x Height (in.):199.4 x 73.7 x 55.8
Wheelbase: 116.3 in.
Curb Weight: 4710 lb
Peak Power: 518 bhp
Peak Torque: 465 lb-ft
0-60 mph: 4.6 sec.
Top Speed: 155 mph (limited)
Why we love it:
The most powerful naturally aspirated V8 in the range
Why we don't:
Pricing has not yet been confirmed, and we're frightened
The Price Tag: $120,000 (est.)