First Drive: 2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS63 AMG

With any new Mercedes-Benz comes, sooner or later, the inevitable AMG version, some of which seem appropriate and some gratuitous. We count the new, second-generation CLS four-door coupe among the former. Like the CLS on which it's based, the 2012 CLS63 AMG re-interprets its predecessor's restrained lines with a more expansive, aggressive approach. The snout draws from the gull-winged SLS, and a steep windshield flows into an arching roofline, meeting a muscular rear haunch that culminates in a tail with deep overhangs. The look is husky and mean, offering more gravitas than its delicate looking progenitor.

The hand-built AMG powerplant has been downsized to 5461 cc, but the V-8 gains twin turbos, yielding bumps in horsepower and torque-518 hp and 516 lb-ft, or 550 hp and 590 lb-ft with the optional performance package. Turn a blind eye to the curiously stubborn 6.3 designation-which was never quite right anyway, since its naturally aspirated predecessor displaced 6208 cc-and it's hard to find fault in the new powerplant, which manages a 32 percent gain in fuel economy. EPA figures of 16 mpg city and 21 mpg highway help the smaller motor dodge a $3000 gas guzzler tax, aided in part by a stop/start system that shuts off the engine when stationary.

The CLS63 still feels intimate and-well, coupelike inside, though there's more space than you might expect for such a rakish silhouette. Nestled in the rear seat, a five-foot, eleven-inch person fits comfortably below the roofline, with sufficient legroom to allow a relaxed posture. Piano black details meet touchstones like burled walnut trim and an IWC timepiece that's a nod to Art Deco glamour. The performance package gains edgier exterior details, carbon fiber interior panels, and a steering wheel partially wrapped in Alcantara, as well as the power-enhanced engine and carbon ceramic brakes.

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