We put the new Merc through its paces in snowy New Zealand; the lat­est from BMW.



T“Young guys do it ev­ery time,” says to­day’s race driver-cum-in­struc­tor. “They get full of hor­mones and go too hard.” It seems faintly ridicu­lous that we can make any progress at all. There’s me­tre-deep snow on both the flat, open ar­eas and bowl-shaped ring that make up this sec­tion of the South­ern Hemi­sphere Prov­ing Ground, an ex­pan­sive fa­cil­ity where in­ter­na­tional man­u­fac­tur­ers test cars to their frigid lim­its. We’re the only civil­ians any­where near the place, which is filled with pro­fes­sional test driv­ers and en­gi­neer­ing pro­to­types. In­cred­i­bly, snow has more grip than a dirt road – should you have proper snow tyres and can find a juicy layer of flakes – with pro­fes­sional rally driv­ers con­sis­tently clock­ing faster times on snowy sur­faces than on loose soil and rocks. Still, on this day, there are a cou­ple of is­sues with putting that the­ory into prac­tice. One: the soft win­ter sun has melted much of the del­i­cate, sus­cep­ti­ble snowflakes, which quickly re­freeze as ice in the sub-zero tem­per­a­tures. It’s not that it’s hard to get grip on the mir­ror-smooth ice – it’s that over-eager and un­der-ex­pe­ri­enced driv­ers soon find a way to punch Amg-sized holes in the em­bank­ments. But they’re not the only ones finding in­no­va­tive new paths through the frozen play­ground. One of the driv­ers comes back from his run, vis­i­bly shaken. While he’s learnt enough not to be spooked by a spin, he wasn’t quite pre­pared for the busi­ness end of a Porsche that was sup­posed to be on an ad­ja­cent track. It turns out that a pro­fes­sional driver, test­ing an up­com­ing Panam­era, lost it into a cor­ner with enough speed to launch him­self back­wards up the me­tre-high snow that sep­a­rates the two tracks, com­ing to rest on top of the snow­bank like that bus at the end of The Ital­ian Job. With whoops and cheers that can only come from those with a com­pet­i­tive, race-bred men­tal­ity, the in­struc­tors dis­patch a GLS 63 to aid the stuck car and stricken pilot. It’s easy to see why they are in such a good mood to­day – be­cause re­gard­less of the fail­ings of a com­pet­ing brand’s driver, there’s a cer­tain ela­tion that floods the body, from feet to fin­ger­tips, in

pulling off a suc­cess­ful pow­er­slide on snow. “I swear, I’ve just grown so many chest hairs,” says Si­mon, bound­ing from an SL 63 af­ter slid­ing it, roof down, through a grace­ful arc. “I’m run­ning on adren­a­line, testos­terone and en­dor­phins. I feel like I could knock out George Fore­man with one punch.” Si­mon, and brother Nick, won a com­pe­ti­tion to be here. They’re suit­ably pumped. Nick’s phi­los­o­phy to life has al­ways been to say ‘yes’, which he says is the rea­son he used to cast pornog­ra­phy and why he’s also banned from Las Vegas. We’ll leave it at that. Be­yond the broth­ers sit two sets of AMGS – ma­ni­a­cally pow­er­ful rear-drive V8s and ma­ni­a­cally revving turbo fours with all-wheeldrive. It’s no sur­prise they re­quire se­ri­ously dif­fer­ent driv­ing styles. And while Si­mon prefers the for­mer – and per­form­ing big, lazy drifts – Nick’s firmly at­tached to the lat­ter. “The rear-drive cars take such fi­nesse to get right,” he says. “You can re­ally wres­tle the all­wheel drives and re­cover from mas­sive slides.” His words ring true given we’ve just righted an ex­tended slide that’d have a pro­fes­sional sweat­ing sheets – a back­wards cor­ner en­try at more than 100km/h, all four wheels spin­ning as the 2.0-litre turbo bounced off the rev lim­iter. But it goes deeper than that. Each car has a dis­tinctly dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter, even if they share the same engines in sim­i­lar lev­els of tun­ing. The com­pact A 45 hatch, for in­stance, is eas­ier to mas­ter than the CLA 45 shoot­ing brake (a sta­tion wagon in the real world), but the in­con­gru­ous thrill of a four-wheel drift in such a lengthy beast more than makes up for it. The V8-pow­ered op­tions, mean­while, are even more di­verse. The C 63 coupé of­fers a hard edge lack­ing in the sedan and wagon, let­ting it carry more speed into each slide. But it’ll also bite more quickly and with more force than those with four doors. The larger E 63 rests on the other side of that coin, with a long wheel­base and plenty of weight to throw around. Mis­takes tend to cre­ate a pen­du­lum ef­fect, eras­ing all mo­men­tum and in­duc­ing wor­ry­ing in­testi­nal rum­bles. The CLS 63, even though it’s based on the E-class, is a much more for­giv­ing an­i­mal, quickly be­com­ing an un­ex­pected favourite. For a truly knife-edge ex­pe­ri­ence, though, the mer­cu­rial SL 63 is in a class of its own. Laser­pre­cise in the right hands and in­stantly un­for­giv­ing in the wrong ones, it takes a cer­tain masochis­tic bent – and dogged per­fec­tion­ism – to try and make it behave. Most tend to choose some­thing more ac­com­mo­dat­ing. We don’t. As for the low-slung AMG GT – well, it lends an al­most Bond-like air to pro­ceed­ings. Nat­u­rally, it’s in high de­mand. But, as we get braver (and per­haps more reck­less), it’s qui­etly re­tired be­fore we can do six fig­ures’ worth of dam­age. As the day draws to a close, an in­cred­i­ble Zen washes over the group. It’s a dif­fer­ent ra­tio for each driver, but is made of the same cock­tail of emo­tions and hor­mones. There’s the sleepy come­down that fol­lows main­lin­ing adren­a­line for hours on end. There’s gen­uine fa­tigue, too – wrestling supercars in the snow is both phys­i­cally and men­tally tax­ing. Then there’s the warm af­ter­glow of sat­is­fac­tion, a dopamine hit that fol­lows a job well done. In any case, it’s a com­bi­na­tion no less po­tent than some fairly ded­i­cated in­ti­macy, fol­lowed by a cou­ple of Val­ium and a whisky chaser. And it’s ar­guably more ad­dic­tive. mercedes-amg.com

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