Friday, December 9, 2011

Test Drive: Mercedes C63 AMG Coupe vs. CLS63 AMG vs. Audi A7

Mercedes CLS63 AMG
I had the opportunity to test drive 3 of my favorite cars at a local dealership today: the Mercedes C63 AMG Coupe, CLS63 AMG, and the Audi A7 (in that order). In short, what a day... Both Mercedes packed serious punch and growled like no other, causing the beautiful Audi A7 to feel relatively sedate in comparison. I was unable to snap photos of the cars given the salesman's apparent lack of time and patience, so I've chosen some impressive stock photos from the trusty site instead. Lots to cover, so click through for my impressions:

Mercedes C63 AMG
1. Mercedes C63 AMG Coupe: There's nothing like spending a Saturday afternoon haggling with an annoying car salesman...but if the prize is to test drive a $70k sports car like the one pictured above, I'd do it any day. The new C63 coupe is priced higher than the competitors - the BMW M3 and Audi S5 are about $10k less expensive - so that may drive away potential buyers. However, the engine sound of this car is AMAZING and is worth the extra dough. Stepping on the gas produces a deep growl like I've never heard before, and it is accompanied by an equally satisfying rush of acceleration. The 6.2 liter V8 is spectacular and provides a muscle car experience in a much more polished package than the traditional American ponies.

The C63's handling is nimble but not as tight as the all-wheel-drive Audis or the magically handling BMW Ms. That being said, the Mercedes is more unpredictable and, therefore, more fun to drive in my opinion. Although Mercedes does not produce a true manual transmission (hard to believe!), I tried out the paddle shifter manual option, and had a blast revving the engine to high RPMs.

The exterior of the car is beautiful and impressive to onlookers. The brutish body kit, spoiler, LED fog lights, dark gray wheels, and black roof are exciting to look at. And I must say: the car looks awesome in white.

Mercedes C63 AMG Interior

The car's interior is excellent to Mercedes' standards, but at this price point a bit disappointing in some regards. I love the core design of the dashboard and was happy that the model I drove had wood interior instead of the typical cold aluminum or carbon fiber trim found in AMG models. However, I didn't notice a meaningful improvement in the way of gadgetry or fit-and-finish compared to a standard C350...and for this kind of money, I expect some higher level of refinement. If Mercedes had completed gutted the car for performance purposes (Porsche 911 GT3 RS-style), I would have understood why, but since that's not the AMG way, I would have expected more than a standard-fare C-Class interior. The front seats were quite comfortable and hugged me around turns, but the rear of the seats were covered in a cheap-looking hard plastic. The rear seats lacked significant headroom and were quite uncomfortable...not meant for long trips.

The entertainment system is perfectly capable, but it lacks the slickness of the BMW iDrive system and its more integrated connectivity with the iPhone. It was hard to believe Mercedes does not sell heads-up display functionality on any of its cars...a feature long available on BMWs and Audis.

The verdict:
Exterior design: 8.5
Engine: 10+
Handling: 8
Interior design: 8
Interior gadgets: 7
Cool-to-be-seen-in: 9
Fun-to-drive: 10+
Overall: 8.5

Mercedes CLS63 AMG
2. Mercedes CLS63 AMG: The second car I tested was the CLS63 AMG, which has long been one of my favorite cars of all time. If I'm being honest, I prefer the exterior design of the first-gen model slightly more than the current model, but both are fantastic. I wish the designers had scaled back the flared rear wheel arches, which remind me of a last-gen Dodge Charger. I also miss the L-shaped front headlights of the last-gen CLS, and the rear end looks a bit more squished than the outgoing model. Finally, in my book, simpler is better, and there are a few unnecessary embellishments on the sides of the car (the fake air vent where the V8 Biturbo logo is, and the odd concavity at the bottom of the doors). Other than that, the designers have kept the low-slung stance and sharply raked C-pillars that made the original CLS so revolutionary.

Despite its 63 moniker, the CLS AMG engine is actually a 5.5 liter biturbo V8. The CLS' engine had a similar grunt as the C63, and was just as adept at acceleration. The handling was fantastic, but as would be expected, the car felt a tad less maneuverable than the smaller and lighter C63.

Mercedes CLS63 AMG Interior
The CLS' interior is really classy - while reminiscent of the E-Class interior (which underpins the CLS), the CLS' interior is much more streamlined. The materials are tasteful - I love the leather on the shifter and the odd shape of the steering wheel. The wood/aluminum accents are well done. I also liked the yellow ambient lighting throughout the cabin (a similar feature on the E-Class). The multi-contoured seats hugged me around turns and even massaged my back. One gripe - the infotainment system, while functional, is exactly like the one found in the C-Class. Mercedes should spend some more time differentiating the CLS from the lower model lines.

Now, I know it is a bit unfair to compare the $110k CLS63 to the $70k C63, but the engines are fairly similar and I believe both cars are aimed at similar people: someone with lots of money looking for a loud engine and godlike acceleration. Of course, for someone with a family, the C63 coupe is way too small given the almost unusable backseats, and the ever-so-slightly cheaper C63 sedan would be a better fit. However, the fit-and-finish of the CLS is far above that of the C, which is large driver of the $30k price differential.

The verdict:
Exterior design: 9.5
Engine: 10+
Handling: 7.5
Interior design: 9
Interior gadgets: 7
Cool-to-be-seen-in: 10
Fun-to-drive: 9
Overall: 9

Audi A7
3. Audi A7: The third car I drove was the Audi A7, which is the Mercedes CLS' closest direct competitor. The A7 has been getting a lot of buzz recently, and was recently named the Automobile of the Year by Automobile Magazine. There is a lot to like about the A7, which looks more impressive in person than in pictures. From the front, the A7 looks like any other Audi on the road, and could easily be mistaken for an A4, A5, A6, or A8. However, the A7 has a very long side profile and a beautifully sloped back end that executes the sportback vision much more gracefully than the Porsche Panamera. The A7 has a retractable rear spoiler, an awesome feature usually found on 6- and 7-digit supercars like the SLS, LFA, MP4-12, Gallardo, and Veyron. Overall design-wise, the A7 is much more subtle than both generations of the CLS, which have more impactful visual effects that hit onlookers like a ton of bricks. I wish Audi had pumped up the volume a little more here. Functionally-speaking, the sportback design provides much more cargo room than the CLS, as the entire rear window is on a hinge. I also love the LED-lit door handles, a feature the Mercedes didn't have.

The A7's engine is a 3.0 liter 310-hp supercharged V6, which the automotive community holds in high regards for managing to juggle performance and fuel economy. On a standalone basis, I agree that the engine is fantastic. However, having just driven the two loud, brash Mercedes muscle cars, I could not help but feel underwhelmed driving the A7. I know I'm comparing apples and oranges, and when the S7 comes out next year, it will be a much better comparison to the CLS63 AMG. I also know that the A7 attempts to achieve a different purpose than both Mercedes I drove; the A7 is, first and foremost, a smooth, quiet executive car. But chances are that someone that can afford the A7 can also afford the C63 or E63 AMG or an M5, and by golly, if I'm spending that much money, I want a little more excitement! I didn't have a strong driver connection with the A7...the lack of engine noise, relatively tame acceleration and, endless grip from the AWD drivetrain took the fun out of the test drive for me.

Audi A7 Interior
The interior has its high and low points. The wood grain is beautiful and the contours of the dashboard are intriguing; they remind me of the spaceship characteristics of the last-gen 5-Series. The infotainment system stows away in James Bond fashion (sure to impress the ladies). The seats are very ergonomic, and while they do not "hug" me like the CLS, the lower performance of this car does not require such functionality. The user interface of the infotainment system was superior to Mercedes', and there was a little screen between the speedometer and tachometer that displayed night vision. Navigation and speed was also shown on heads-up display (this is an awesome feature that once you try, you will never want to look at an analog gauge ever again!)

My biggest problem with the interior is how many parts are shared with lower models, including the A3 which, as you may recall, I've driven through Zipcar and instantly fell in love. The little buttons on the steering wheel were identical to the A3, and I saw many other switches and knobs that revealed Audi's "trips to the corporate parts bin". On principle alone, for a car almost 3 times as expensive, I don't want to see anything in the A7 that I can see in the A3, no matter how good it is.

If I had driven the A7 before I drove the AMGs, I may have had a more positive review, but unfortunately, my experience with the A7 was underwhelming. Go ahead, call me spoiled. To be fair, I can't wait to drive the S7 when it comes out - if it elicits more driven emotion than the A7, it could give some serious competition to the CLS63.

The verdict:
Exterior design: 9.5

Engine: 7
Handling: 9
Interior design: 8.5
Interior gadgets: 9
Cool-to-be-seen-in: 10
Fun-to-drive: 7
Overall: 8


  1. I prefer Audi A7, because have great experience.

  2. It’s kind of hard to choose which of these two deserve to be parked in my garage. LOL! Well, both are luxurious, and there’s nothing more to ask for if you own either. From the body frame to the interior, these babies represent elegance and convenient driving.

    Erwin Calverley

  3. hello friends, i read your blog,its awesome.Buy Mercedes Benz CLS Class Tyres Online in very affordable price.