Testdrive The Mercedes-Benz CLS 63 AMG is not just about exotic styling, it is also well-suited to Indian conditions and requirements,writes Shapur Kotwal

M odern art isn't instantly loveable, especially so if you're an art newbie. Pore more into them over a period of time and you may just start observing those underlying layers those critics have been pointing at. Slowly, it sinks in and it becomes a pleasant sight that you may even begin to appreciate. Case in point, Merc's new CLS AMG, a car I just couldn't “get” the first time I saw it.

That was then, almost a year ago, during the unveiling at the Los Angeles Auto Show. Today, however, with the car squatting low on the road, right next to me, I can't help but admire those beautifully sculpted wheels, those extrovert, flowing lines and the tight, muscular form. I think the stance is spot-on — the snout exudes massive confidence, those bulging wheel arches are just right, and the squared-off quad exhaust pipes are exactly what this car needs. Only the tail-lights and boot-lid appear out of character — they look a tad too timid to gel with the rest of the design. Overall, this freshly minted slab of Mercedes is something to marvel at.

And the story's the same on the inside — plenty of brushed aluminium bits, a handsomely crafted steering wheel, clean crisp lines and some attractive details as well. This new direction for Merc's interiors works well, indeed. It is easy on the eyes, the functionality of some of the new bits has been improved and the infinitely adjustable front seats are simply amazing. Still, this new-age cabin seems to wow you only with its design, and not its overall build quality. And that's something Merc lovers will miss. On the plus side, rear seat comfort is much better than that of the earlier low-roofed CLS. The seat is almost as comfortable as an E-class, headroom is more than that on the earlier car and this AMG version has beautifully trimmed rear doors too.

But you don't buy an AMG to simply sit in its rear. You buy it to sit behind the wheel, grip it and experience the cannon-like performance as you flatten the accelerator. And with a chest-thumping 549bhp on tap on this performance edition, grip you will, till your knuckles turn white.

The car starts with a deep-chested woofle, almost a bark, and AMG has done a stellar job of getting the bass right. It is crisp and tight, and sounds urgent and full of intent. And that's despite the presence of the turbos that tend to come in the way of the pipe music and that clean, pure V8 sound we all seem to love.

While this car may be called the 63 for historical reasons, the motor under the hood, confusingly, isn't the 6.3-litre, naturally aspirated V8 or the M156. The real clue to what lies under the hood sits on the fenders, where anyone caring to take a look will find an attractive-looking V8 Biturbo badge. Known as the M157, this new 5.5-litre, twin-turbo V8 has been designed specifically by AMG to be the powerplant of the future. Even though it's smaller in capacity, and hence cleaner and more efficient, this motor can be tuned to deliver masses of power on boost. In fact, AMG engineers say the current 549bhp this performance pack-equipped version puts out is only the beginning.

However, it lacks the immediate response of the earlier naturally aspirated 6.3. Sure, it takes off like it has been drop-kicked on full throttle, and initial acceleration is also very strong. That said, there is a hint of lag, especially if you find yourself in the wrong gear at the wrong speed at half-throttle, but I guess that's only to be expected.

What's important, though, is that where it matters, there's no sign of the lag. Make sure you have an empty stretch of road ahead of you, flatten the throttle and the CLS explodes off the line with the energy of a tsunami, turbos fully spooled up. You hit 150kph before you think you've crossed 80, 200kph comes up as easily as 120, and 10 minutes behind the wheel is all you need to get out of the car with your hair standing on end. Make no mistake, this AMG has the ability to push you and three passengers to express-train velocities in mere seconds, without any kicking, screaming or drama. In fact, the only screaming you'll hear is likely to emanate from within the cabin — this AMG has the ability to scare passengers totally witless in a blink of an eye.

Soon, all the extroverted styling, road-roller spec tyres and the ground-hugging shape begin to make sense. This car has serious performance on tap, easily up there with many dedicated two-seaters, and what makes the motor even more effective is the purpose-built seven-speed auto that quickly dishes up the tastiest bits of midrange on cue. So the CLS 63 AMG always feels urgent and devastatingly quick as long as you're on it.

There's also plenty of agility here, despite the 1.9-tonne kerb weight. The quick steering makes the nose of the car snap to attention the instant you tweak the wheel, the new purpose-built front suspension seems to ooze an almost-magnetic grip and the CLS hurls itself around corners like it's running on rails. The light steering, however, delivers very little feel and this is especially galling when you turn in and want to ‘feel' the amount of grip the corner has to offer. But that apart, the solid, well-sorted brakes, nicely in-tune rear air suspension and overall composure add up to make this a really sweet drive — something that's right up there with the Bentley and Porsche four-seaters.

The CLS AMG is well-suited to the Indian conditions and requirements. It's got enough ground clearance to be practical, can comfortably seat four and with 36 Mercedes dealers across the country, you know it's going to be looked after. True, the 19-inch wheels fitted to this car aren't the ideal choice for Indian roads. As a result of the tyres, the CLS often skips over bumps. Get the wheel size right and be prepared to accept a few thumps and bumps over bad patches, and what you have is a great Merc that will deliver consistently quick driving experiences year on year.

At Rs 1.10 crore, here's a Merc that's actually good value for money — how often do you walk away from a Merc thinking that?

The quick steering makes the nose of the car snap to attention the instant you tweak the wheel and the CLS hurls itself around corners like it's running on rails