Life & Style | Motoring

Turbo wars: CLS 63 AMG versus Panamera Turbo S

500bhp-plus mega limos in a fight to the finish

  • By Imran Malik and Sony Thomas, wheels
  • Published: 00:00 November 18, 2011
  • Wheels

  • Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/ANM
  • Yes, the Porsche is quicker, but it lacks driver involvement compared with the Merc.
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Ever since Sony got back from his date with the BMW M5 in Spain, he hasn't been the same. He's gone from being the sensible one in the team, to the guy most likely to take out a massive loan and splash out on the new Bimmer. Driving that car has changed him completely. He's got a swagger about him these days. He even has a new hairstyle. For Sony, the be-all and end-all in the four-door sports saloon segment is the M5. No doubt it combines comfort, power and exceptional handling with consummate ease. He feels the closest thing to the M5 is the Mercedes-Benz CLS 63 AMG. Imran, on the other hand, was bowled over by the Porsche Panamera Turbo S he test-drove and feels there's nothing better out there. So, rather than settling the dispute with a good old-fashioned punch-up, the boys exchange pleasantries, swap keys and drive off.

Imran's CLS 63 AMG

I firmly believe there is no better sound in the world than a lazy old American V8, rumbling along at 1,500rpm. I could happily listen to that all day long. In fact, I do. I'm not ashamed to admit I have more than one app of car sounds on the phone and I always head straight to the section reserved for American muscle. There simply is no better exhaust noteout there. Don't argue…

That was until Sony handed me the key to the CLS 63 AMG. Mash your foot into the carpet and it roars like a lion onfire. I hate to say it, for it goes against everything I believe in, but this classy, German executive saloon would leave anything from across the pond quaking in its boots with just a mere touch of the loud pedal. I've driven a host of impressive machines, but most of them feel way too robotic for my liking. Sure, they boasta fabulous engine, wonderful technology, handle great and are very fast. But one thing they sorely lack is emotion. They'll pin you back into your seat and giveyou a huge adrenaline rush, but... that's about it. They don't seem to be able topull at the heart strings or leave any lasting impression. However, this is not the case with the CLS. It has heart and soul in abundance.

This four-door with a coupé rooflineand AMG Performance package isa showstopper. No doubt whatsoever that it's far better looking than the Panamera. I love this Merc's swoopy styling coupled with those muscular fenders and large wheel wells. There's plenty of eye candy here with those cool side skirts anda carbon bootlid spoiler.

The front end smiles at you while the rear, featuring four exhaust tips reminiscent of loaded guns in holsters, wears a don't-mess-with-me expression. Get used to seeing it from this angle because this thing is powered by an almighty 5.5-litre biturbo V8 that hasbeen wound up to the max. It is, nodoubt, the star of the show. Sultry looks and whizbangery aside, the powerplant hiding in the engine bay is what really matters. It produces astounding figures such as 550bhp at 5,750rpm and 800Nm of torque at 2,000rpm. And with a limited top speed of 250kph and 0-100kph over in just 4.3 seconds, it's clear to see that what we're dealing with here isn't just a fast car. It's bonkers. OK, so the CLS 63's name is a bit of a lie in terms of actual displacement, but this engine is certainly not lacking in top-end oomph. Channelling all that power to the rear wheels and onto the road is the AMG Speedshift MCT seven-speed sport tranny. And with four driving modes to play with including Sport Plus and manual, the CLS 63 AMG makes for a truly engaging drive that requires every ounce of your concentration.

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But, you'll also be thundering around with a smile on your face because you won't have a carbon footprint the size of the Burj Khalifa following you. This car boasts fabulous green credentials. For instance, it has a 32 per cent improvement in fuel efficiency and gains a stop-start system which works a treat in traffic. Press the brake at the lights and the monster ofa motor takes a little nap. It's back on the prowl as soon as you remove your foot from the pedal.

It's packing a ton of technologysuch as Distronic cruise controlwhich is smart enough to prevent you from having a forward collision thanksto a bunch of sensors, cameras anda pinch of witchcraft. But, as impressiveas this is, it's no match for the boisterous V8 sitting inches in front of you. Younot only hear it, you can feel it vibrate through your chest.

The interior does its best, unfortunately, to cosset you from the raucous exhaust but, thankfully, it's fighting a losing battle. Swathed in hand-stitched leather, burled walnut trim and Alcantara wrapped around almost everything, it's luxury personified. The seats are equipped with massage functions which round off what is, no doubt, one of the best interiors around but back-seat passengers of the taller variety might find it a bit too cosy for comfort.

For what is a large car, the CLS 63 is nimble and light on its feet, despite tipping the scales at 1,940kg. That's thanks to the multilink-based adaptive air suspension. You'll think the roads are made out of cotton when riding in Comfort. Switch it to Sport and you won't believe this is a four-door saloon. One thing is certain — you'll never want to take the quickest route home again.

Sony's Panamera Turbo S

It's always a good thing to be aware of your pedigree and be proud of what your forefathers might have done in their lifetime. But imagine if by some freak of nature one of your grandfathers' genes were so strong that every single person in your family now has his exact same face but different proportions. How weird would that be? It's one thing to have some of the family traits in you and totally another to be Xerox copies of each other. This is what has happened to Porsche. The 911 is one heck of a success story. But Porsche has become so obsessed with that particular model that its designers cannot think any further than making every other car coming out of the factory look likea stretched, squashed, or inflated 911. The Panamera is no different. In my opinion, there isn't a stranger looking saloon out there. But just like most Porsches, I knew this one too would make me forget the looks once I floored the loud pedal, more so in Turbo S guise.

By any stretch of imagination, the ‘regular' Turbo didn't need any more power and speed than it had, with its 500bhp, the 4.0-second dash from0-100kph and top speed of 285kph. But with Porsche, we all knew that if therewas a Turbo, a Turbo S couldn't be far behind. The same twin-turbocharged4.8-litre V8 churns out 50 more horsesin the Turbo S, thanks to a reprogrammed ECU and tweaked turbochargers, which now use titanium-aluminium turbine wheels in place of the heavier Inconel turbines. The 0-100kph sprint is nowdone in just 3.8 seconds, but honestly,I couldn't spot that two-tenth of a second difference. However what I couldn't miss was the stomach-churningly ludicrous acceleration thanks to 750Nm of torque that can be upped to 800 with overboost in Sport and Sport Plus modes.

The way it piles on momentum is outrageous and insane for a car that's 4,970mm long and weighs 2,500kg. To put it into perspective, the acceleration of this behemoth is the same as the GT3 RS. It's ruthlessly quick in a straight line, and the acceleration seems never-ending with the 100-200kph sweep dispatched in a tad above nine seconds. The seven-speed PDK is a treat, powering all four wheels, but it's a shame that Porsche has stuck to the steering-wheel-mounted toggle switches as in the Panameras. I found myself selecting the wrong gear many times, even on the second day I had it. If the driver is to make full use of all this extra speed and torque, Porsche must replace these stupid switches with paddle shifters. The all-wheel drive system, together with the Dynamic Chassis Control that reduces lateral roll, the Torque Vectoring Plus that applies a variable torque split to the rear wheels, and the Porsche Active Suspension Management that adapts the damping rates according to driving styles, all combine to lend the Turbo S superb road-holding capabilities.

If you're not in the mood to dart down towards the horizon, you can always leave the suspension in Comfort mode, which transforms the car into one great executive saloon that can transport four adults in utmost comfort.

All this is great, but does that make ita better car than the CLS 63 AMG? I'm still not convinced. Agreed, it's redonkulously fast and will murder the CLS in a straight line. Its sub-four second acceleration to 100kph places it in supercar territory. But to me, a difference of 0.5 seconds cannot be a deal-clincher when it comes to choosing a sports saloon. I was floored by the kind of involvement the driver has when behind the wheel of the Cayman R. Sadly, that can't be said about the Panamera. Not only does the Merc look way better than the Porsche, it's much more involving to drive and has a lot more character, which the Panamera lacks. If it's just speed that you're after, there are any number of sportscars on the market that you can buy for around Dh800,000.

Verdict

First of all, the discerning gentleman who will want to buy either (or both) of these cars will not be worrying about trifles such as cost. So, the fact the Turbo S is way more expensive matters not. With four-wheel drive, loads more power and a far better interior, it ought to be the winner here. But, the CLS proves that it isn't just about power and drags itself back into contention thanks to its stunning looks and that rumble emanating from the exhausts. With adequate go and more show, it just about edges the Turbo S as the car we'd rather rock. Unless you give us the keys for the Bimmer…

Specs & ratings

  • Model Panamera Turbo S
  • Engine 4.8-litre twin-turbo V8
  • Transmission Seven-speed auto, AWD
  • Max power 550bhp @ 6,000rpm
  • Max torque 750Nm @ 4,500rpm
  • Top speed 306kph
  • 0-100kph 3.8sec
  • Price Dh858,520 (as tested)
  • Model CLS 63 AMG
  • Engine 5.5-litre biturbo V8
  • Transmission Seven-speed auto, RWD
  • Max power 550bhp @ 5,750rpm
  • Max torque 800Nm @ 2,000rpm
  • Top speed 250kph (limited)
  • 0-100kph 4.3sec
  • Price Dh570,000

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