Hit­ting the sweet spot

Hard to miss it, espe­cially when an en­tire fleet of Mercedes-AMG are your toys

Top Gear (Philippines) - - Top Read - WORDS BY JV COLAYCO

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’

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