Whether you want a hot hatch, high-speed highway hauler, an SUV with a rumbling V8, or an old-school rear-wheel-drive speed machine, your best bet will be to visit the fine folks at Mercedes-AMG.
They really do have something for everyone, and I had the exciting opportunity to test a variety of offerings as part of the AMG Performance Tour. An event that’s been going on in various different venues around North America, it has found a home in Western Canada at the fairly new Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit. The AMG Performance Tour allows prospective and current customers to experience the AMG lineup and learn the capabilities of the vehicles.
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High-performance cars seem to be a dime a dozen. You can get hot Hondas and fast Audis, so what makes AMG so special? We got into a few key cars to help understand what makes Mercedes such an appealing high-horsepower brand.
CLA 45 AMG
We started off in the most accessible Mercedes-AMG product, the CLA 45 AMG. The engine in the CLA 45 is the most powerful production four-cylinder engine on the market. Making 375 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque, it can rocket to highway speeds in about four seconds, which is insane considering that other cars this quick tend to have twice as many cylinders (the Mustang GT or Camaro SS, for example).
The engine is paired to a seven-speed dual clutch transmission that swaps gears with serious speed and without a second thought about doing it softly. It’s harsh and quick, just like you’d want in a sporty compact like this. All four wheels are powered in this car with the rear wheels getting up to 50 percent of the power when the front wheels are overwhelmed. Not that the front wheels were ever too much of a headache, as the car sports a limited slip differential to help ensure every bit of that class-leading engine is making it to the tarmac.
The suspension in our model could also be dynamically adjusted, but the chassis is already so stiff and responsive I didn’t think it was necessary.
I’ve always been unimpressed by the performance of the more sedate CLA 250 4Matic, but in AMG form, this car is nothing like the normal model. Putting it on the track helps highlight what there is to like about it.
The CLA 45 is the perfect CLA, but it does carry a pretty hefty price tag of more than $50,000. But though it was surrounded by cars with more power and more cylinders, it never seemed out of place at the Performance Tour, which is high praise.
E 63 AMG S 4Matic+
For another take on the AMG way of doing things, we got into the new E 63 AMG S 4Matic+. Its engineering is as complex as its name and somehow, the maniacs over at AMG stuffed over 600 horsepower into this hand-built engine. A 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 lurks under the hood and it sounds otherworldly. The folks were quick to point out that all that noise is real, meaning there’s no fake amplifying going on.
All the E’s power is fed to an all-new completely variable all-wheel-drive system via a slick multi-clutch transmission. The V8 has a massive amount of power, but what’s remarkable is how much of it is actually usable on track. The transmission is never stalled by the prospect of having to manage a powerplant that can practically power a small city.
It’s fast in a way no four-door has a right to be. Highway speeds occur in just over 3 seconds but on the track, the car was so fast that you never have a moment to breathe on the straights between each corner. The sedan is also surprisingly responsive. Credit should be going to the dynamic engine mounts, which can stiffen up and improve the car’s reactions.
Perhaps what was so interesting about the E-Class AMG is that around the office, we all consider the standard model to be one of the best cars in its class, providing an excellent combination of style, luxury, technology, and value. In AMG form, it adds pure exhilaration and performance to that, but can still be driven like a sedate executive sedan when it’s time do school runs instead of make skid marks.
This Jekyll and Hyde personification is the perfect definition of the E 63 AMG, but it’s worth pointing out that it costs nearly as much as two cars on its own, ringing up at around $106,000.
Mercedes-AMG GT R
Lastly, the automaker brought out the AMG GT R, which is the most hardcore production car it makes and perhaps the best representation of AMG’s motorsports efforts over the past years.
Without exaggerating, everyone agrees that it looks angry, like the sort of thing that you wouldn’t want to piss off or meet face-to-face in a dark alley or bar brawl. And although it looks so angry, it’s done in a beautiful way. Muhammad Ali used to call himself too pretty to fight. This AMG might be the closest automotive representation of the heavyweight boxer.
And it has the voice to back up that claim. Fire it up and it’s yelling, “the champ is here!” As you start driving it, it’s trash talking each time you prod the throttle. It gets in your head, it wants your best, and it can handle everything you throw at it.
That’s the highlight. It’s intimidating and pure. Fast track cars are supposed to be twitchy, feral things that require training and practice to even approach their limits, but once you started on the course in this car, it never fought back too hard. Don’t get me wrong, however. A few hamfisted, unfocused maneuvers will have it coming back at you demanding respect. So you begin to respect it, get your inputs smoother, and it rewards you with more and more speed.
Under its long snout lurks a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 engine that makes 577 hp and allows for a zero-to-62-mph sprint of three and a half seconds. Yes, that’s actually slower than the bigger, all-wheel-drive sedan we had earlier, but the GT R is far more capable around the track.
Incorporating aspects of the GT3 race car like a nine-mode traction control, it has an incredible list of go-fast equipment. There’s also rear-wheel steering, manually adjustable rear suspension, dynamic motor mounts, and loads of carbon fiber to keep the weight down. Maybe I shouldn’t actually liken it to a heavyweight boxer because it’s within 100 lbs of the CLA 45 AMG compact.
And like the CLA 45 AMG, this car also uses a dual-clutch transmission, but obviously a different unit that can handle the massive power of this car. Like the other cars we tested, there are paddle shifters that allow for more precise control over the gear changes, but the car seemed its fastest when left to its own devices. It changes gears so satisfyingly and each shift is met with more noise and fury than the last.
The AMG is very special and feels quite different from other cars it competes with. The 911 or Nissan GT-R, which are amazingly fast, can be a bit dull. Instead of letting you feel like a badass behind the wheel putting down blistering lap times, these cars feel like they’re doing all the hard work.
But the AMG GT R never steals the spotlight from you. It feels like it’s working subtly in the background, allowing you full control to make you feel like the true hero for wrangling this growling, angry car. When the car allows you to go fast while also teaching you to handle its immense powertrain and speed technology, that’s a huge success.
The Verdict: AMG Performance Tour
The AMG Performance Tour has other models on hand, and each one demonstrates what makes the performance brand stand out among other high-powered sporty luxury cars. These cars have a lot of personality, and while each one is slightly different from the next, they’re each capable of putting a smile on your face. There’s an AMG for any type of driver, and that’s an amazing accomplishment to achieve over a whole range of vehicles. For more information check out the page at Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit
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