Mercedes has given its CLS executive car a face-lift for 2014, with new styling, new safety kit and new engines under that sleek bonnet.
As part of the range update, the CLS63 AMG version is now available only in S guise, which means it has a sizeable 577bhp going to the rear wheels, and a limited-slip differential fitted as standard.
This twin-turbo V8 version of the CLS – available as either a saloon or Shooting Brake estate – aims to offer a more appealing blend of practicality, performance and flair than any of its rivals, including the Audi RS6 Avant and Jaguar XFR-S Sportbrake. All of these rivals are significantly cheaper than the Mercedes to buy, so does it do enough in other areas to justify the hefty premium?
What’s the 2014 Mercedes CLS63 AMG S like to drive?
We’ve already tried this engine in the E-Class Estate and SL roadster, and it’s no less intoxicating in the CLS. Acceleration is brutally quick, the CLS reaching 62mph from rest in just 4.1 seconds. The exhaust emits a deep bellow at low revs, but reaches a full-blown howl near the rev limiter – it’s as exciting as it is rapid.
The only part of the experience that isn’t as slick as we’d like is the seven-speed gearbox. It’s at its best when you’re using the manual paddleshifters, but if you want to pull away smoothly from a junction, or need a burst of speed in Comfort mode, it often dithers for a second or two before picking up the right ratio. It’s frustrating, but certainly not a deal-breaker.
Beyond the straightline pace, the CLS63 is also impressive when you’re threading it through a series of corners. The steering is light enough for easy urban manoeuvres, but weights up consistently when you’re pressing on. The standard limited-slip differential gives supreme traction out of bends, too.
Adjustable suspension gives you three settings to choose from: Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus. On anything other than very smooth roads, you’ll want to leave it in Comfort, which itself is only just about tolerable for UK conditions. That said, when you do find a perfectly surfaced route ahead of you, the firmer settings give the CLS superb body control at high speed.
Despite the engine’s visceral noise under acceleration, it quietens down when you’re just cruising on the motorway. Wind noise is also pretty well-suppressed inside the cabin, but you inevitably get quite a bit of tyre roar from those large alloy wheels.
What’s the 2014 Mercedes CLS63 AMG S like inside?
You’d expect a luxury car costing nearly £90,000 to feel pretty special inside, and for the most part, the CLS63 AMG doesn’t disappoint. Lashings of leather make the cabin feel genuinely luxurious, and apart from a few lower-grade bits of trim, the plastics feel dense and expensive, too.
It’s easy to get comfortable behind the wheel of the CLS, because it’s essentially just a lower, sleeker E-Class. The standard electrically adjustable heated leather seats can even be specified with optional ‘dynamic’ side bolsters that adjust to hold you in place during cornering.
The dashboard itself is still rather button-heavy compared with rivals', and the Comand infotainment system isn’t as intuitive as the systems you’ll find in the Audi RS6 or BMW M5. Still, it is at least now displayed on a larger, sharper eight-inch display, which looks smart and feels solidly bolted on.
Standard equipment is comprehensive, with dual-zone climate control, sat-nav, an electric sunroof, keyless start, a reversing camera and a Harman Kardon sound system all included.You also get DAB digital radio and Bluetooth, as well as Collision Prevention Assist Plus, which can brake the car automatically to prevent rear-end crashes.
You get plenty of boot space behind the rear seats, regardless of whether you go for the saloon or the Shooting Brake. That said, the latter isn’t especially practical with the rear seats folded.
Should I buy one?
The CLS63 AMG S is now cheaper than it used to be. However, given that the non-S model is no longer available, the starting price is still substantially higher than all of its rivals.
Audi’s RS6 Avant might not have as much power, but its four-wheel-drive system means it has the performance bragging rights, managing 0-62mph in 3.9 seconds. It also costs a hefty £10,000 less.
Jaguar’s XFR-S Sportbrake is also cheaper, offers just as much style (on the outside at least) as the CLS Shooting Brake and even greater practicality thanks to its larger boot.
It’s not all bad news for Mercedes though, because the car we’d ultimately recommend over all of these rivals is still from its AMG model range. The E63 makes much more sense than this pricey version of the CLS. It’s more practical, has more room inside, and is significantly cheaper in its 549bhp guise.
The CLS63 has all the performance, flair and excitement you’d expect, but it’s just too expensive.
What Car? says…
Specification CLS63 AMG S
Engine size 5.5-litre twin-turbocharged V8 petrol
Price from £86,500
Torque 590lb ft
0-62mph 4.1 seconds
Top speed 155mph
Fuel economy 27.2mpg
CO2 emissions 243g/km