Why AMGs feel like racing cars for the road
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Mercedes-AMG is great at making road machines that feel like racing cars. Or more accurately, road cars that conform to expectations about what a racing car might feel like; because we’re not all competitive works drivers, right?
AMG has downsized and turbocharged its powertrains just like every other performance brand, but drive any of the marque’s latest V8 models and the overwhelming impression is that they are still rorty, a little raw and even a teeny bit dangerous.
That’s all by design, of course. Mercedes-AMG makes sophisticated, state-of-the-art cars loaded with active safety equipment. A lot of the really fast ones are all-wheel-drive as well.
The genius lies in having all of that, but retaining the noise and raw sensation that makes you want to pop on a racing suit for the morning commute.
Mercedes-AMG is really good at making its customers feel like they’re part of a team. The engines in the V8 production models are still hand-built by one person, signature included. Just for you. Special.
That goes as much for the ownership experience as the actual cars. The Bathurst 12-Hour race held in Australia earlier this month is a case in point. Every year Mercedes-Benz Australia books out the seventh floor of the Rydges Mount Panorama Bathurst hotel, which sits below Conrod Straight and offers great views of The Chase and down towards Murray’s Corner.
If you’ve purchased an AMG in the last two years you can join the party to watch the Mercedes-AMG GT3 and GT4 racers do their thing. It’s not even that expensive: A$275 per person for three days of full corporate hospitality, including pit tours, transport up the Mountain and even the opportunity to mix with a few racing drivers when they’re not out on the track.
For owners, it’s a chance to feel good about their purchase. For the motoring media this year, it was also an opportunity to enjoy some of that flavour in a range of AMG’s new production models, on road loops from Rydges around the Bathurst area.
The rorty flavour comes in all shapes and sizes. Like the just-updated GLC 63 S, a humble medium-sized SUV. Kind of a school-run thing.
That’s if you like your school-run vehicle to pack 375kW/700Nm, active engine mounts, a limited-slip rear differential and a front apron that its maker describes as a “jet wing design”. On most SUVs that would sound a bit silly; but this $182,400 wagon really does kind of fly.
A bit perverse? On paper it makes no sense for a high-riding vehicle like this to have such extreme performance potential. But if your first priority is to have an SUV (and it seems to be for most people), then maybe you want the loudest, fastest and most circuit-capable model in the range. This is it.
The GLC 63 S is a hoot whichever way you look at it – hugely sophisticated with a hint of irresponsibility. That sophistication takes another step up in this facelift model with Mercedes-Benz’s User Experience (MBUX) cabin, which looks quite similar to the previous model but now includes larger digital screens and the “Hey Mercedes” intelligent voice assistant.
And it’s still practical, because all that Mercedes-AMG firepower is packaged in an upright family-friendly vehicle. Arguably right on brand value for a maker that astonished everybody on track in the 1970s with a bluff four-door sedan known as the Red Pig.
There’s a fair bit of CLS/E-class underneath the GT S 4dr, but the GT/coupe naming combo is supposed to link it to the GT two-door. As does the interior styling: the centre console has the same cockpit-style row of buttons that sets it apart from other AMGs. They’re not actually buttons at all, but tiny touch-sensitive controls. Swish.
It’s truly a family supercar and you can emphasise whichever of those two things you want. Like most AMGs, the GT S 4dr can downplay its abilities in city commuting. But the technology and level of powertrain and chassis configuration available to the driver is dazzling.
But if you want the AMG that has the closest link to that on-track action it has to be the GT R. That’s the flagship version of the GT two-door, by the way; all this “GT” stuff does get a bit confusing.
The $331,800 GT R looks most like the GT3 and GT4 racers you see on the circuit. It’s not quite up to the sheer poke of the GT S 4dr, with 430kW/700Nm and 0-100km/h in 3.6 seconds, but it’s undeniably the most technologically impressive and involving of the AMG road machines.
The GT R boasts dynamic engine and transmission mounts and a specific state of steering tune to match the bespoke suspension setup, including rear-wheel steering.
Sure, you’ll go faster in a straight line in the GT 4dr coupe-sedan-hatchback thingy – and arguably around some corners too, with that trick fully variable AWD system.
But for the purist, nothing matches the feel of sitting in a proper coupe, right back towards the rear axle, with an enormous bonnet stretched out front. And it’s rear-wheel drive of course.
It’s the favourite road car of most Mercedes-AMG racing drivers as well. Ask them if you’re in the lounge.