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Test-Drive: A Mercedes-Benz Debut at the Goodwood Festival of Speed

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Our visit to this year’s Goodwood Festival of Speed, held in late June in England, was a bit like going on a date only to discover that you prefer the unavailable sibling more. Mercedes-Benz used the occasion—Goodwood is a posh automotive garden party on the massive estate of Lord March in Chichester, West Sussex, a few hours drive south of London—to debut its 2015 CLS 63 AMG 4matic Coupe, which will be priced north of $154,000.

The main event is a race that is unusual by American standards: Instead of competing on an oval circuit, vehicles of varying stripes—Formula 1 racers, expensive supercars, Mini Coopers, motorcycles—speed up a squiggly, one-and-a-half-mile hill road. The fastest time (generally under a minute) wins. The race isn’t without its hazards, as Olympic-cycling-gold-medalist-turned-driver Sir Chris Hoy discovered when he crashed a Nissan GT-R Nismo through four hay barriers, emerging unharmed from a total wreck.

Our drive was less harrowing but exciting nonetheless. The 4matic Coupe has a revised front end highlighted by a new grille and front bumper with larger air intakes. The car also has a number of technical improvements, led by LED headlights with a longer reach and the ability to make minute lighting adjustments as traffic and circumstances warrant.

Roads around London make a strong argument for autonomous driving (or self driving), as major highways like the A3 are clogged with traffic and lesser roads are assigned speed limits of 30 miles per hour or less and are so narrow it’s not uncommon to get stuck behind a bicycle. We departed the city’s highly recommendable Rosewood Hotel (252 High Holborn; 44-20/7781-8888; and managed to find a few spots on the way to Goodwood where we could let the horses out, so to speak.

The CLS Coupe is an excellent car, and a new 9-speed transmission, married to a 577 horsepower V-8 engine, performs admirably. But our eyes wandered toward a sexy shape we hadn’t seen before: the CLS 63 AMG Shooting Brake, sister of the CLS Coupe, which was also on hand for testing. “Shooting brake” is simply a more romantic term for what Americans call a wagon. AMG, the performance arm of Mercedes-Benz, elevates it to 585 horsepower of V-8 muscle-car strength in an all-wheel-drive vehicle featuring a large cargo area with teak flooring.

It’s as beautiful inside as it is out. It roared. It purred. It seduced us so thoroughly we didn’t even ask about the price. It also broke our hearts. The Shooting Brake will not be coming to America; the Germans believe that Americans aren’t interested in high-performance wagons. They’re right, but it’s so wrong.


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