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Something wicked-fast this way comes

Overindulgence done right, Mercedes-Benz's CL63 is luxe lightning.

September 12, 2007|By DAN NEIL
(Photo by Stephen Osman/LAT )

Let's assume there's a bright side to the universe, a place where mercy and justice prevail, where the good are rewarded and the bad punished with equal alacrity. On this sunny shore, public school teachers make six figures, all stray kittens find good homes, and yard gnomes never get their little ceramic heads caved in.

Do not look for the Mercedes-Benz CL63 AMG there. This is the Car of Sauron, a black-hearted sin of mechanical seduction, an automobile to make you eat all your pretty little words about carbon footprints and warming greenhouses. A veritable neutron star of gas-burning evil, this stupendous, beautiful two-door -- the rakish coupe version of the obsidian-souled S63 sedan -- has the power to corrupt, oh yeah, absolutely. I honestly believe if you loaned this car to Ralph Nader and Ed Begley Jr. for the weekend, by Sunday night they'd be doing doughnuts in a Ralphs parking lot.

Yet another absurdly overpowered variant from the ringing anvil of AMG -- Mercedes' in-house tuning operation -- the CL63 is motivated by what is billed as the world's most powerful, naturally aspirated, production-series V8. Under the hood: 6.3 liters of hand-built art in aluminum, a dual-cammer disgorging 518 hp and 465 pound-feet of torque. This is quite enough to propel -- in the sense that dynamite is a propellant -- the CL63 to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds and, channeled through seven forward gears, adequate to bring the car to its electronically limited 155-mph top speed in less than 30 seconds, which ranks among the most euphoric half-minutes of any car lover's life. There is something oh so desperately wrong/right about a 4,599-pound, $144,000 luxury car that can out-accelerate your garden-variety Porsches.

For a variety of reasons both legal and moral, I am not going to tell you how fast I went in the CL63, but let me just say, I'm very disappointed in myself. Very disappointed. Bad Dan, bad. If I wanted to buy carbon credits to offset my round-trip to Monterey, I'd have to take out a second mortgage.

And now, the sound: It begins when you open the door of the CL63 and the door pull springs out electronically (toofff). The door is held open by a gas-pressurized strut (pffssst) so it swings open only so far as you want (meaning you can open the long coupe doors in parking lots without accidentally dinging cars next to you). Cradle yourself in the big, deeply bolstered sports seat (ooof!), put your foot on the alloy brake pedal and press the silvery dome of a start button.

From deep within the car you feel one half rotation of the massive forged crank before the engine's counterbalancing and mega motor mounts null out any vibration. The crank gets one full turn, a kind of breathless heave, before spark hits the air-fuel mix, and then it lights: a dark, oily, scintillant rumble, less sonic than seismic, traces its way from the engine bay to your nervous system's limbic pleasure centers, with a quick stop at the pre-hominid brain. Uhhhh. . . . Like. . . . Must have. Ugg.

Swing the proud hood around to a highway onramp, check your mirrors and nail the throttle. The sensation is curious, unique, even, as you feel yourself at the virtual fulcrum between the car's considerable mass and astonishing force. The engine's deep reserves of torque come on line and the car surges beneath you. Your breastbone gets heavy against your lungs and your eyes want to visit the back of your skull. It's like the car has unfurled a giant spinnaker in a horsepower hurricane. Whoa, daddy.

At full honk, the quad-exhaust note is, in a word, scary, a huge and fierce flutter, the timbre of mythology, like the beating of dragon wings or the sound of Caliban kicked in the shin.

You can't say you weren't warned. The CL63 is, I believe, the best-looking car in Mercedes-Benz's fleet, but it's also the one that makes the most sense to me as the visual correlative of its nature. Big and buff and hugely masculine, this long (200.2 inches), elegant, pillarless coupe is slightly lower than the stock CL550, and is shrouded in bold but tasteful aero add-ons, like the racy rocker panels, the quasi-diffuser in the back and the deep-breathing lower front grille. With its heavy-lidded stare and bulging muscles, this is the look Wladimir Klitschko would give you if you knocked over his chessboard.

And then there's the galling, 20-inch wheels and tires. And inside of them, on the front, is pure car porn: 15.4-inch diameter, cross-drilled, twin-caliper composite disc brakes. I was filling up the car -- get used to it -- in Monterey when some guy came over to me, his voice trembling with envy. "Those brakes are crazy!" he said. Too true.

The sum of it all is a big, audacious and elegant personal luxury coupe, but somehow deeply decadent and amoral. If you see this car in your rearview mirror, do you turn to a pillar of salt?

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