Hitting the sweet spot
Hard to miss it, especially when an entire fleet of Mercedes-AMG are your toys
There are, broadly speaking, only two ‘types’ of people: non-car guys (or girls) and car guys. For the former, driving is just a necessity—or, given our abysmal traffic conditions, a necessary evil, something done because you have to. The latter type, on the other hand, views driving as an end in itself. If you fall under that category, chances are you dream of a purebred, mid-engined exotic. Probably Italian. Preferably red. But then the sound of your wife’s voice reminding you to do the groceries and pick up her mother from the airport brings back you back to reality, and to far more modest dreams of a vehicle that does it all: something fast yet practical, and won’t require winning the lottery.
If this sounds familiar, then the nice folk over at Mercedes-AMG may have something just for you.
AMG stands for Aufrecht, Melcher, and Großaspach, named after founders Hans Werner Aufrecht and Erhard Melcher, and Aufrecht’s birth place. Started in 1967 as an independent firm specializing in performance improvements for Mercedes, it has built a reputation as the must-see guys if you want to go faster in your three-pointed star. Its big break arguably came in 1986, with the introduction of the AMG Hammer. Here was an almost-stock-looking E-class, packing an extensively modified 5.6-liter V8 producing a mind-warping (at the time) 360hp. It would prove to be the world’s fastest sedan, and as quick, if not quicker, than a contemporary Lamborghini Countach. To put that in perspective today, it would be like having a modern four-door luxury sedan blow the doors off a Lamborghini Aventador.
The automotive world took notice, as did Mercedes-Benz, because in 1999, the Stuttgart-based carmaker purchased a majority share of AMG, before completely acquiring the company six years later. Today, AMG is the German marque’s well-known high-performance division responsible for their hottest, most enthusiast-focused models, and is to Mercedes as the M division is to BMW.
In 2017, the AMG range spans almost the entire spectrum of Mercedes models. From the A45 hatchback with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-pot, the lineup goes all the way up to the AMG GT R supercar, with stops in between at the C,E, S, and many other mainstream models, each of which gets the AMG 63 treatment featuring the family of thunderous twinturbo V8s. In fact, even the G-Wagen, a model that began life as a 109hp utility vehicle for the German military, gets breathed on by AMG, resulting in the range-topping G65 with a borderline absurd 612hp twin-turbo V12!
As the AMG 43 line is the entry-level offering for the staple C- and E-Class platforms, there are six body styles initially available: the C- and E-Class sedans, the GLE-Class SUV, the C-and GLC-Class coupes, and the SLC roadster. With the new 43 range, Mercedes clearly addresses the gaping hole in AMG’s lineup: The full-fat 508hp C63 AMG coupe costs over P8 million, whereas the C250 coupe costs a much more reasonable P4.35 million, but has to make do with 300hp less.
The AMG 43 cars are designed to slot in between. The C43, for example, may not have the steroidal sheetmetal of its bigger V8 brother, but there are enough changes to the bodywork to subtly set it apart from the garden-variety C250. And, at P6 million, it splits the difference nicely, price-wise. All the new variants get the 9G-Tronic nine-speed automatic; the regular cars make do with the older seven-speed units. With the exception of the rear-driven SLC 43 roadster, the entire range comes the 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system. And as is almost de rigueur in any modern car with sporting ambitions, there are driver-selectable suspension modes via AMG Ride Control: Comfort, Sport, and Sport Plus.
Of course, the most significant change resides under the hood. The newest AMG-badged motor is a 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 that freely spins to 7,000rpm, while producing 367hp and 520Nm along the way. Power
figures are identical in all applications, except in the E-Class, which gets a 34hp hike to 401hp. So, if you’re the type to tune your car, there could be something left on the table if you own one of the other models. The new motor may not be as fierce as the monster 4.0-liter V8 in the AMG 63 cars, nor does it proudly wear a plaque with the name of its builder. But it shares much in terms of character with its bigger, more famous sibling, and has the grunt to back up the 43 models’ understatedly aggressive looks.
Typical of high-performance variants of bread-and-butter models, the AMG 43 line follows the tested recipe of larger wheels, subtle trunk lip spoilers, deeper front bumpers, sporty quad exhausts, and various other unique trim pieces. The changes are just enough to differentiate it from non-AMG versions. It is the C-Class coupe that’s my hands-down favorite. Even the regular car is already a head turner, so the C43 AMG’s well-judged visual tweaks make it the pick of the range when it comes to looks.
Mercedes have made big forward strides with its current interiors, in my opinion virtually closing the gap to Audi, whose driving environments have been the class of the field for many years. Surfaces both look and feel expensive, and build quality is as you would expect for something in this segment. To this already solid base, AMG mixes in body-hugging perforated leather seats, and sportier materials such as alcantara, piano-black surfaces, and brushed-aluminum trim. Contrast stitching on the dash adds tasteful accents of color. And if you’re feeling particularly flamboyant, you can get red contrast stitching to match your red seatbelts. Of course, there’s a thick-rimmed, f lat-bottomed steering wheel. The AMG ethos has always been luxury with performance, and here it has certainly nailed the luxury part.
What, then, about the performance? Such is the march of progress that at 362hp, these ‘entry-level’ AMGs have as much power as the legendary Hammer of 30 years ago. Though the new motor doesn’t generate OMG power levels by modern standards, none of these are slow cars. The C63 sedan, for instance, dispatches of the 0-100 dash in 4.7sec, with throttle response that gives no hint of turbo lag.
That acceleration is accompanied by a throaty exhaust note that, while lacking the fire and brimstone bombast of the mighty 63 motors, is nevertheless exciting in its own right, and perfectly suited to the cars’ characters. Mercedes has generously made Malaysia’s famous Sepang International Circuit available for this test drive, which means we can probe the cars’ dynamic abilities to a degree that would be socially unacceptable on public roads. While not a dual-clutch unit, the new nine-speed does quite well for circuit driving, even though most buyers of these cars are unlikely to track them. For street use, there’s little doubt that the 9G-Tronic will be nothing short of excellent.
For cars intended to hit that sweet spot where performance meets practicality and (relative) affordability, these machines acquit themselves admirably well on track. And a hot lap with one of Mercedes’ professional racers behind the wheel leaves little doubt that the 43 cars live up to their status as proper AMGs.
This range is at once obvious and bold. Arch-rival BMW doesn’t have an obvious contender. The M2 is a great package, with a keen price, and it soundly beats these AMGs in pure performance. But being based on the 2-Series and coming only as a two-door, it fails the practicality test. Audi has an S5 that slots between the C63-rivaling RS5 and the regular A5, but it isn’t imported locally. Finally, there’s Lexus with the 467hp RC F coupe. At P6 million, it’s a lot of car for the money, with a higher level of performance than the AMGs tested here. Like the M2, however, it only comes as a two-door.
Which leaves the question as to whether the hole that the AMG 43 line intends to address is one that needs plugging in the first place. Judging from the popularity of ‘AMG-look’ kits (both from the aftermarket as well as optional accessories officially sold by Mercedes), AMG is clearly a highly aspirational (sub) brand. There are many who wish they could afford a full-on AMG 63, but that price point is simply rare air for all but the most fortunate. Make no mistake: The new AMG 43 cars still come with a serious price tag. But this new range brings the dream of genuine AMG ownership to a broader market segment.
And just because you can’t afford the A5 Wagyu steak in no way means that the Angus sirloin isn’t a mouthwateringly delicious meal in itself.
‘These ‘entry-level’ AMGs have as much horsepower as the legendary Hammer from 30 years ago’