Roughly two decades ago, while most companies were putting out comfortable cruisers like the LeSabre, Taurus, DeVille, or Legend, two companies from Germany created two cars that re-defined how auto enthusiasts judge the sedan. They were the BMW M5 and the Mercedes AMG Hammer. They had the exclusive ability to transport 5 people as fast-or faster-than plenty of sports cars, and did a damn fine job in corners too.
Since then, the AMG and M brands have continually tried to perfect the formula of rapid transit, adding power, performance, stability, and space (sadly, at the cost of weight) for a driver with a discerning right foot and wants more than 2 seats.
Those criteria are met by the 2013 BMW M5 and the 2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS AMG; the newest re-incarnations of the originals. The M5 name has as much cache as “Tom Cruise”, which means expectations are extremely high. The CLS is one of several AMG sedans available, but is without a doubt the best looking (and most expensive). Realistically, you can’t pick a bad car here. But, despite having almost the exact same measurements and performance, they aren’t the same.
The 2013 BMW M5 starts at $92,000, but can easily reach almost $120k with a few options (our test car was about $97k). The 4.4-liter V8 has twin-turbos routed through a very quick 7-speed Dual Clutch transmission, producing 560HP at 6K RPM, but torque (502ft-lbs) occurs at a sea-level-like 1,500RPM. Lag? What’s this lag you speak of?
Likewise, the CLS’ 5.5-liter V8 is force-fed by turbos, but that extra 1.1 liters raises torque significantly. Our car had the optional “Performance Package”, raising power from 516 to 550, and giving it 590 torque. If you need to run from stoplights like a kid from a clown, check that option box.
Both have 7-speed gearboxes, but the BMW’s DCT (dual clutch) is faster and smoother than the Merc’s 7-speed MCT auto. The M5 responds to paddle shifts like Pavlov’s dogs, but it’s best to let the CLS shift itself in Sport +. Both have adjustable suspension and throttle, but the M-to me-has too many options. I don’t want to engineer the car myself. I prefer the CLS’s simple “Comfort”, “Sport”, “Sport +”, and “Manual” modes.
The Mercedes-Benz CLS AMG wins the contest for highest sticker price: $110,000 (up from $95k) vs $97K for the M. Both reach 60 in under 4 seconds (M5 in 3.7s, CLS in 3.9s). Both rip the ¼ mile in about 12 seconds; fast enough to make a 6-figure numbers-matching ‘cuda cry Fast? Sweet merciful marshmallow Peeps yes, so fast. From zero to infinity, these cars charge ahead like horses on HGH.
Likewise their cornering and braking abilities practically mirror each other. What all that means is that these 4,300lb sedans, go, turn, and stop as well as many 3 year-old sports cars. They feel big, they are big, but my word the things they do on the road defy Newton.
So, they’re the same size, make the same power, cost about the same, and are practically relatives. What separates them?
Attitude. To me the M5 is the GTR of the uber bratwurst. Driving it around Fontana raceway it was very fast, predictable, and felt smart. But something lacked. Maybe it was the knowledge the engine sound comes from the stereo, not the engine (sacrilege). Maybe all the sound deadening that makes it a road-going Leer jet removed me from the experience? But I wasn’t laughing. I was impressed, extremely. This is an exceptional car. Its design is like a BMW Clark Kent: clean, true to the brand, strong, without giving away its hidden powers.
But the CLS is Willy Wonka with assault weapons. Like other AMGs, it’s a mischievous stallion from the fun part of hell. It was sent there for letting out the sheep and lifting the farmer’s daughter’s dress. Though its technically 4 dBa quieter than the M5, it sounds like the exhaust tip is in the cup holder. It snorts, barks, and snarls at other cars. Move aside! This is a muscle car that went to Yale and became an Olympic power lifter. It’s bolder looking on the outside, standing apart from its common S, E, and C-class cousins. Less room in back (by 2”)? More expensive? Fine. Don’t care. Though the M5 feels more track-worthy, likely owners won’t ever race them, so pedestrian roads is where they live. Why live with Clark Kent, when you can hang out with The Joker.