Cupid's arrow struck the moment Sean O'Grady first set eyes on the Mercedes-Benz CLS

I can still remember my first time. The moment I set eyes upon the strange beauty that is the Mercedes-Benz CLS. It was dark in The Independent's underground car park, and the CLS a lustrous black, but its tasteful chrome detailing picked out its lines sufficiently for me to see this luscious creature for what it was; the nicest looking new Merc in decades.

It was love and "my" Merc handled as nicely as she looked. "Something in the way she moves me...", I started to hum to myself. I wasn't sure who might buy this banana-shaped machine. People who want an E-Class saloon (on which the CLS is closely based) but who don't want the world to suppose they drive an airport taxi, perhaps. In any case, I didn't really care whether DaimlerChrysler made money out of them. I was just glad she was there for me.

However, there is really only one way to get to know a new love in your life, and that's to take them somewhere romantic for a weekend. Hence it was that the CLS was an easy choice for me to drive on the latest posh people's rally I had been invited to, called the Londino.

It runs from London to Portofino on the Italian Mediterranean coast. And hence the name of the rally. Actually you don't have to be plutocratic for this one, as it costs a relatively modest £2,000 for which you get some nice hotel accommodation in Geneva and Portofino, lavish lunch stops, free Shell V-Power petrol and pleasant company. (And, in my case, the loan of a fancy de Griso-gono watch.)

You also get a gruelling schedule: you should only do any of these cross-continental rallies if you're quite sure you've got superhuman stamina. I didn't have it. However, despite a disappointing finish, I didn't allow that to get in the way of my enjoyment of the CLS. This is a very special CLS. This is the tuned "63 AMG" version, with adaptive air suspension, crazy alloys and extra bits of bodywork, which I'm not sure add much to the CLS's curvy lines. The bigger special bumper/rear spoiler they add also means you lose the rear parking sensors, and that is not an acceptable swap. (Especially as rear visibility is so badly hampered by that swooping low roofline). It looks dull in silver.

The "63" bit in the car's badging refers to its 6.3 litre engine, the new V8 unit. This, Mercedes-Benz is proud to claim, is the fastest-revving V8 in the world and it certainly delivers, all the way up to 8,000 rpm.

If you want an airport taxi you just use the first eight tenths of the accelerator travel. If you want raw supercar you just press your toe that last inch into the carpet and hold tight. The automatic transmission copes well and the alternative sequential paddle-shift is scarcely less smooth.

Through La France profonde, the Alps and Piedmont it stayed faithful. Only in very greasy road conditions did it lose traction and wiggle its rear. The CLS was plenty able to keep pace with the Bentley Continental GTs that attracted most of the attention on our cross-continental run. It was a bit of a hypochondriac; constantly begging me to check its engine oil and the tyre pressures (both always fine). So, as I discovered, the CLS has its flaws. I still love it.

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