The Mercedes-Benz CLK63 AMG from Germany subscribes to the all-American philosophy that an engine can never be too big.
by Lawrence Ulrich
As many drivers adjust budgets to contend with fluctuating gas prices, another battle rages for the benefit of those who couldn”t care less: The war to boost horsepower to record heights.
The latest escalation comes from Mercedes-Benz and its exclusive AMG division, known for the ferocity of its supercharged, super-priced models.
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Now, the CLK63 AMG certainly qualifies as ferocious. But unlike earlier AMG models, there”s no supercharger to be seen “” or, more to the point, heard. AMG”s latest hand-built V8 is as German as can be, but it demonstrates the distinctly American credo that, in terms of raw power, the larger the engine in terms of cubic inches of displacement, the better.
Within the comparatively mild-mannered body of the CLK63 AMG beats a full 6.2 liters of V8 power. That”s bigger than some V12 engines in terms of displacement. The new engine is the secret weapon behind several new AMG models, and it sounds glorious. More importantly, this modernized version of an old-school big-block engine is good for 475 hp and a crushing 465 pound-feet of torque, the twisting force that launches the car from a standstill.
Those are mind-altering numbers for any car. But especially in the smallish CLK convertible, the engine creates a car with the temperament of Jekyll and Hyde. Because it looks so conservative on the outside, the four-seat CLK is a sport coupe for people who”d never buy an actual two-seat, harsh-riding, sparsely equipped sports car. It”s the perfect, practical convertible for a person who otherwise hates convertibles.
With this incredible engine, the CLK63 AMG produces acceleration worthy of a Ferrari or Corvette. Still, this is not your car if you”re expecting a hot-handling sport sedan like the BMW M5. This CLK is tuned more for comfort and effortless driving, albeit potentially at triple-digit speeds.
One drawback: with the $2,600 gas-guzzler tax, the CLK63 AMG”s price pushes past $90,000. That”s a $37,000 premium over the V6 CLK350 Cabriolet, and $29,000 more than even a CLK550 Cabriolet, whose 5.5-liter V8 delivers a healthy 382 hp of its own. The other models come in coupe and convertible body styles. The CLK63 AMG comes exclusively as a cabriolet.
If flying under the radar is the first priority, this AMG version is ready for stealth-car service in upscale communities from Greenwich, Conn. to Pasadena, Calif. Most onlookers will barely register the visual cues that distinguish the CLK63 AMG from its garden-variety siblings. What they may remember is how that person in the Mercedes convertible destroyed them when the light turned green, and never looked back.
The CLK”s familiar lines do seem to be aging in a hurry “” especially compared to the latest school of Benz styling that”s brought the svelte CLS-Class, the more flamboyant SLK-Class convertible and the latest flagship S-Class sedan.
Walk around the CLK, and your eye struggles for something to latch onto. The stance is sporty, but the bodywork is soft and indistinct, especially compared with shapelier rivals including the BMW 6 Series and especially the striking Jaguar XK. AMG additions to the body styling help matters somewhat.
They include a more aggressive front fascia with wire mesh inserts and deeper air inlets; 18-inch, five-spoke alloy wheels with performance tires; a rear-deck spoiler and twin, oval-shaped chrome exhaust outlets. Enormous brakes with huge calipers that include the AMG logo are also on view.
One annoyance is the undersized exterior mirrors “” they are aerodynamically unobtrusive but restrict the driver”s view. On the rear deck, a hidden roll bar pops up automatically in the event of a rollover.
The CLK, unlike Mercedes” two-seat SLK and SL hardtop convertibles, features a fast-acting, powered fabric top. The CLK”s modest 8.6 cubic feet of cargo space drops to 5.4 cubic feet in top-down mode. It’s not huge, but it’s enough for weekend travel duty and the odds and ends most folks cart around with them on daily commutes. Plus, there”s the back seat, which is a convenience neither of the other Mercedes-Benz convertibles have.
AMG touches continue inside the luxurious cabin, including sport seats and a steering wheel with aluminum shift paddles; AMG instrumentation that includes a lap timer; aluminum trim; special Nappa leather upholstery, including on the doors; and AMG logos on the door sill plates. Those excellent 10-way power seats allow a wide range of lateral and lumbar support.
As with any CLK model, the car”s back seat is a major selling point for people who demand at least some family-friendliness from their convertibles. Adults will struggle to climb in and out. Yet once you”re back there, the rear seat is notably roomier than the one in the BMW 6 Series and other models whose back seats are more like glorified parcel shelves.
The front seats automatically slide forward when the seatbacks are tilted, for easier rear access. A small, shoulder-height mechanical arm, which Mercedes calls a seat belt “presenter,” nudges the front seat-belt buckle forward when you start the car, making it easier to reach.
The well-finished, thickly insulated soft top does a good job keeping road and wind noise at bay, though one of the car”s best points is that you can really hear that amazing engine at work, whether the top”s up or down. Side air bags are standard both front and rear.
As mentioned, the biggest performance news is that Mercedes dropped the supercharged V8 of the previous CLK55 AMG model. A supercharger uses a mechanically driven compressor to blow pressurized air into an engine, unlike a turbocharger, which is driven by engine exhaust.
A supercharger has long been the easy route to big power, but it has its drawbacks. First, unlike turbochargers, these so-called “blowers” draw substantial energy from the engine itself. In addition, the whine or whistle they produce isn”t music to every enthusiast”s ears. In some classic Mercedes models from the 1950s, when the supercharger kicks in, it sounds a little like an air raid siren. And in some recent AMG models, the onset of supercharged power was a rush, but could come on so explosively that it upset the car”s balance.
The point is that the naturally aspirated engine (that is, neither super- nor turbocharged) in the CLK63 AMG is superior to the old one. And that”s not only because it”s more powerful than the old CLK55 AMG by a breathtaking 114 hp.
The new hand-built 32-valve V8 is made largely from a silicon-aluminum alloy. It launches the CLK63 AMG from 0-60 mph in 4.5 seconds. It revs freely to more than 7,000 rpm, producing a deep, addictive rumble that”s best heard with the top down.
The engine is well-mated to the Mercedes seven-speed automatic transmission. The driver can change gears via the console shifter or steering-wheel paddles. Three transmission modes “” comfort, sport and manual “” create successively faster shifts.
With its AMG-tuned suspension, brakes and tires, the CLK63 AMG is the sportiest CLK by far, with plenty of stopping power and grip in turns. Yet the steering offers too little feedback. And the chassis and suspension, while smooth and adept at license-shredding speeds, don”t particularly enjoy being chucked around the curves.
One positive: Electronic stability control systems from Mercedes have been notorious for intervening too early “” cutting power or applying brakes even when the driver is in full control. But this AMG model allows more enthusiastic driving, including some tire howl in turns, before it steps in.
As you”d expect, a car with this much power develops a powerful thirst. The CLK63 AMG is rated at 13 mpg city and 20 on the highway. We saw 14 mpg in overall testing.
Again, that poor mileage results in a $2,600 guzzler tax.
Of course, those who see the need for 475 hp can likely overlook other numbers, whether in mileage, taxes or near six-figure price.
Is the Mercedes-Benz CLK63 AMG for You?
Buy the CLK63 AMG if
To get 475 hp, you”re willing to pay an extra $35,000 over a V6-powered CLK350 Cabriolet; you need four seats in your luxury convertible.
Keep Looking if
Styling of the CLK63 AMG is too conservative to make you part with ninety grand; you want a sportier-handling vehicle, such as the BMW M5; your idea of a luxury convertible is more “cruise” than “cruise missile.”
Four adults split between front and back, with enough top-down luggage space for a weekend trip for two.
Audi RS 4 Cabriolet, Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet.
2007 Mercedes-Benz CLK 63 AMG Gallery:
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