Celebrating 50 years of AMG at the Buddh International Circuit
270kmph in the Mercedes-AMG GT R at BIC
I can’t hear myself think. In normal circumstances that wouldn’t be something to write home about but, at over 270kmph, it can be slightly worrying. My eye is peeled for that horrid bump at the end of the main straight that I use as a braking marker but this car is so quick, and I’m carrying so much speed, I should probably brake 100 metres earlier. Should I ease off before the bump and start shedding speed? I try to do the math but I can’t hear myself think and all the while the Mercedes-AMG GT R is accelerating savagely. How is it still accelerating north of 250kmph?I remind myself about the ceramic brakes. I remind myself of the nasty things that happen when you brake into the bump. Let’s stick to our usual marker then, the car should be able to sort itself out. Bump. Jump on the brakes with all my might, boom-boom-boom-boom down the gearbox, eyes peeled for the apex, boom, another downshift, turn in and I immediately have to unwind steering lock. The last car I drove with such hyper-alert and hyper-quick steering had a prancing horse on the nose. Here I am waiting for the understeer characteristic of big AMGs, have apexed early to give myself room to deal with it, but the GT R takes such a big bite of the apex, my line looks like that of a track novice.
Unwind lock. Reach out for the yellow traction control knob. I’ve heard of race drivers trimming traction settings for individual corners to get that perfect qualifying time (don’t tell me you didn’t know race cars now have ABS and traction control!). But on a road car? This is a first! Apparently Christian Hohenadel altered the traction control intervention at every corner to set a new BIC lap record in this very same GT R – more intervention for the faster corners (tail out at 250kmph can beat atheism out of anybody), all the way down for the slower corners and parabola to get the tail out and nose pointing earlier at the apex. No harm trying it out then, even though in my case it is purely showboating for the cameras.
Second gear, floor it on the exit of Turn 4, the tail swings out
Of course it will swing out, there’s 577bhp and only rear-wheel drive but what’s surprising is that the tail swings out, not snaps sideways as one would assume when boost overwhelms grip and everything goes to hell. The chassis generates so much grip, aided by the electronically-controlled limited slip rear differential, that the GT R slides while still gripping and building serious forward momentum. Ease off ever so slightly and play with the throttle, dial in steering lock, power oversteer to a standing ovation. Oh well, there would have been a standing ovation had the grandstands been packed.
“At 270kmph, I assume, it generates the downforce equivalent to a baby elephant sitting on the boot. At 0kmph it makes my inner four-year-old go wheee“
Welcome to the hardest, most focussed, loudest and most luridly green car AMG has ever made!
This is insane! What were the Germans drinking! You just look at it and go, ‘oh shiiiiit’. The colour is nuts as are all the carbonfibre addenda tacked on to it. Check out that rear wing! Modern sports cars no longer have tea trays drilled onto the boot, instead men in white lab coats solve complicated equations to clean up the underbody and blow the diffuser. But AMG have given the GT R a big ol’ rear wing, which you can adjust yourself if you’re so inclined. At 270kmph, I assume, it generates the downforce equivalent to a baby elephant sitting on the boot. At 0kmph it makes my inner four-year-old go wheee.
Then there’s the so-called Panamericana grille whose vertical fins look like a shark baring its fangs. The tracks are wider – 46mm at the front and 57mm at the rear – and the wheelarches are flared (carbonfibre at the front, aluminium at the rear) to accommodate enormously wide rubber. But it’s not just greasy-nailed hot rodders who have had a go at the AMG GT R. The lab-coat guys have given it active aerodynamics; a section of the underbody beneath the engine bay automatically lowers by 40mm at 80kmph in Race mode, or 120kmph in the other three modes (Comfort, Sport and Sport+) to give it ground effects and suck it to the ground. The assumption is that it won’t be flying over speedbreakers at 120kmph so the lowered ground clearance is okay. And if you want numbers, here’s what I have – 40kg reduction in front axle lift at 250kmph and 155kg more downforce at 300kmph than the regular AMG GT we have on hand.
Regular? It’s all about perspective, isn’t it?
A VXi Maruti is better than a regular LXi, is it not? By the same yardstick the AMG GT is ‘regular’ when lined up against the AMG GT R. No carbon bits and bobs, no flared nostrils, no tea tray on the boot. And a sane colour! This is the Roadster and with the top down it looks like the perfect car to go touring across Europe with. We really need to lock up the GT R for a bit to get our bearings right, to look at the GT Roadster in isolation – because in isolation it is a proper piece of thunder. This too has the toothy Panamericana grille. This too is an old-school hot rod kinda car with a hairy chest and lairy rear.
Drive settings that can be customised
With adjustable drive programs you can tweak the throttle, suspension, gearbox, exhaust and steering, swinging from grand tourer to BIC lap record chaser in the 15 seconds it takes for the canvas hood to power up. The steering is hydraulically-assisted. And with 630Nm available from an astonishingly low 1700rpm, the torque comes in tidal waves in any gear at any speed, all overlaid by a delicious soundtrack from the V8 roaring under full gas and crackle and banging on the overrun. But the god almighty of soundtracks is the GT R.
The soundtrack from the V8
How they do it god only knows. The V8 is a turbocharged motor and we all know turbo motors are all muted and muffled. This V8 is anything but. It shouts at the top of its lungs. I blipped the throttle on the starting grid and the pops and bangs from the exhaust reverberating through the grandstands made the photographers go deaf. You want instant gratification? The GT R delivers it. The instant you get out of the pitlane and floor it you scream what the f*@k. You instinctively lift off and the explosions from the exhaust inspire even more f*@ks. Forget the R, this is the AMG F. And I love it so much I want to make babies with it.
For now let’s stick to lapping the BIC. The twin turbo V8, hand-built of course, is familiar from the yellow GT S I have blasted round both the BIC, as well as our favourite roads outside Pune but there’s an additional 74bhp to be had, bringing the total to 577bhp. Revised turbos, reworked exhaust ports, lighter dual mass flywheel and other detail improvements mean improved throttle responses. It is lighter, the carbonfibre propshaft and torque tube, magnesium in the front structure and lithium-ion battery knocking off 15kg over the GT S. But I’m afraid that figure is kind of negated by the butter dosas I had this morning.
The GT R gets AMG’s first application of four-wheel steering.
It can alter the rear toe angle by up to 1.5 degrees, turning in the same direction as the fronts at speed to improve stability and in opposite directions at low speeds to improve agility by virtually shortening the wheelbase. There’s that yellow knob on the centre console for the nine-way traction control system. Don’t worry, you won’t go spinning down MG road when your girlfriend gives it a twirl. It’s only accessible once you disable the regular three-stage ESP and you’ll love it even more after I tell you that it is very similar to the knob found in the AMG GT3 race car! The brakes? Ceramic-composite brakes with 402mm front and 360mm rear discs. Quoted times? 3.6 seconds to 100kmph and 317kmph top whack. The reality? Savage performance.
“There’s no lag, no stretchiness, no plateauing of torque after which it feels pointless revving the engine – only a relentless and exponential surge in acceleration”
Out of corners and down the straights it is as quick as the bullet fired out of that aforementioned rifle. There’s no lag, no stretchiness, no plateauing of torque after which it feels pointless revving the engine – only a relentless and exponential surge in acceleration. The twin-clutch gearbox snaps as hard and fast as a Rottweiler. And there’s a charging battalion’s worth of small arms fire from the exhausts. It charges all your senses, all at once. The pace is absurd. There’s no let up, no time to catch your breath. Each upshift awakens the bad lands of Uttar Pradesh with an unsilenced pistol shot. The pop on the downshift is a country bomb going off. The theatrics itself are worthy of an Oscar.
The astonishing handling of the Mercedes-AMG GT R
AMGs have always had that inbuilt hot rod character, an intoxicating appeal but a bit messy at the limit. With the GT S there was a sense that the tail struggled to keep up with the aggressive front but the GT R is connected; everything is instantly reactive. It finds amazing traction in corners. It resists understeer brilliantly and there’s exceptional grip from the standard Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres. Let off mid-corner and you won’t go spinning like a top. Slacken the traction control via that yellow knob and you can have a degree of tail-out attitude that won’t bite if you run out of talent. The breakaway, when provoked, happens progressively, oversteering at a modest angle while maintaining really high corner speeds as you point it down the straight. The savagery of the performance is breathtaking. It reaches into your bag of expletives and exhausts it all. The GT F, sorry GT R, stuffs racetracks into a blender, squeezes it into a sausage and has it for breakfast. Not for nothing is it the beast of the green hell.
Race Start. It dials in full stiffness on the electronically controlled dampers. The gearbox bangs in its most aggressive shifts. The steering gets heavy, throttle responses are sharpened and you get perfectly measured launch control. Pull both the paddles, acknowledge launch control by tapping the right paddle, left foot on the brake, right on the gas, wait for the lights to go green. The complex algorithms drawing inputs from a whole host of sensors meters out just enough power to chirrup the rear wheels without wasting time by lighting a bonfire in the rear wheel arches. It is the fastest way to the quarter mile, as I discovered last year when I went drag racing with the C 63 S and finished second overall – in a car with nearly worn tyres and a drag race novice behind the wheel. A fellow competitor in a GT-R, not the AMG GT R but Nissan’s Godzilla, got so rattled he jumpstarted, promoting me up the podium.
Mercedes-AMG C 63
No trophies are being handed and no quarter mile times are being recorded. I have the BIC, a choice of C 63s in two colours – white on the cover, red out here to contrast with what’s coming next – and back in the pits, tyres piled up to the roof. I don’t need to be told twice. ESP all the way off, stay well away from Race start. Floor it. A moment’s hesitation as the turbos spool up, the C 63 S gets going and an instant later the rears light up as 700 torques overwhelm 265-section tyres leaving thick black strips of very expensive Michelins as return gifts to the BIC. This is not accidental, I’m well aware that 503bhp will wreak havoc, but even I am taken aback by the C 63’s appetite for tyre destruction. Wow! What a hooligan!Any fears that the C 63 S will deliver a softer and less emotional experience than the AMG GT is dispelled as soon as you fire it up. It rips and snorts into life and every blip of the throttle sounds truly magnificent. The twin-turbo V8 is closely related to that of the AMG GT, an engine we’ve come to realise is one of the finest turbo motors in the automotive world. There’s 503bhp between 5500 and 6250rpm and 700Nm from just 1750rpm going all the way to 4500rpm. There’s a seven-speed automatic – not a twin-clutch ’box – driving the rear wheels allied to an electronically-controlled locking differential that responds quicker than a mechanical LSD. And it’s the latter that is the big enabler; enabler of big smoky drifts.
The chassis feels so unbelievably easy to tease and hustle that it makes the C 63 the consummate entertainer. Full gas at the exit of any corner and the tail comes out –progressively – and then you can play with the throttle to carry big smoky drifts accompanied by a wall of noise. I’d like to tell you that I’m a super-gifted driver, but I’m not. With a little fooling around anybody will be able to get the C 63 S sliding dramatically. If you had to own just one AMG this should be it; you might not even complain (too much) about the price of petrol.
How can two cars that look so similar be so different?
Here we have two go-faster C-Class’, both have AMG badges, but the difference in the 63 and 43 is day and night. Where the C 63 S is the wild, unhinged child easily goaded into lighting another one up, the C 43 sends its power to all four wheels in a calm and composed if still rapid fashion. This is the C-Class worked upon by engineers who haven’t had one too many pints of the Weissbier. And with the exotic V8 swapped in favour of a 3-litre V6 at least now things should go downhill. Erm, no. The sheer speed of the C 43 AMG round the BIC is remarkable. The 4Matic all-wheel drive system contributes to an incredible amount of grip that means you can throw it into and fire out of corners at a crazy pace. You can throw anything at the C 43 and it remains unruffled. Step on it mid-corner, lift off mid-corner, do anything stupid and the C 43 will remain unruffled. It just grips and goes.
362bhp, 520Nm and 0-100kmph in 4.7 seconds
The twin-turbo V6 makes 362bhp, backed up by 520Nm of torque (from as low as 2000rpm), resulting in a 0-100kmph time of 4.7sec. That’s just seven tenths slower than the V8-engined C 63 S! Of course, down the straights the V8 pulls harder and faster opening up more car lengths than the difference in 0-100kmph times would suggest but you’d still be surprised by just how quickly the C 43 can lap the BIC. Keep the engine, gearbox and suspension in their sportiest settings and there’s almost no slack in any of the controls. The nine-speed auto is quick, with sharp, crisp changes that better those of a lot of double-clutch systems. The C 43 changes direction instantly, the chassis more than capable of keeping up with the quick steering. It’s taut and responsive but it is on the road where it makes even more sense than the C 63 S. There’s the safety net that all-wheel drive provides so no matter what you do, no matter how lead-footed you are, the C 43 will not be provoked; will not give you a seizure. Crucially though, in the context of our Indian roads, the more acceptable ride quality makes it more usable on a daily basis. And let me remind you that the C 43 costs nearly half as much as the C 63 S. But all this incredible competence does come at the expense of a few laughs.
“The C 43 may be fast, it may sound fruity, but the C 63 S turns the knob all the way up to ‘are you insane’. The engine, a hot-vee with the turbos nestling in the vee, is a truly mighty thing. It is thunderously quick”
By now the red car’s tyres are finished but I still have to remind myself what a C 63 S on proper tyres can do, so we park the red and jump into the white one featured on the cover. With a fresh set of Michelins we now have the grip to exploit the engine’s potency and the way its 1655kg is hurled down the main straight is borderline bonkers. The C 43 may be fast, it may sound fruity, but the C 63 S turns the knob all the way up to ‘are you insane’. The engine, a hot-vee with the turbos nestling in the vee, is a truly mighty thing. It is thunderously quick. There’s bottom-end, mid-range and top-end. You just hold tight as the tacho swings round to 6000rpm. There’s no way you can crave for more raw performance.
From what you’ve read till now you might infer that the C 63 S is incapable of going round corners but that simply is not true. Keep the ESP in the mid-way AMG Sport mode and you can trim the cornering attitude on the throttle without having to worry about dialling in big armfuls of opposite lock. Also with a fresh set of tyres you really can deploy all those 503 horses towards setting a new BIC lap record for four-door production cars, if such a record existed. And while we are setting records that don’t exist, how about one for the longest drift? And another one for the longest rolling burnout? Just remember to turn off Race Start and long press all the hero buttons.
Wind in the hair
Remember the SLK? It was the first hard top convertible to be launched in India and the SLC is its replacement. It isn’t the name change that’s significant though; the SLC debuted AMG’s new 43 range of V6 engines, a halfway house between the turbo-fours and the turbo-eights. And this 3-litre V6 drops just 20Nm of torque compared to the wild SLK 55 AMG. With 362bhp and 520Nm, it is only a tenth slower to 100kmph but it does sound less maniacal though, less of a hooligan. The new name is meant to suggest it’s the C-Class of Merc’s convertible range so it’s safe to assume it feels like a C 43 AMG without the roof. Well, no. The cabin, even though updated in the SLC 43, feels more like the last gen C-Class and the drivetrain is significantly different in that it remains rear-wheel drive. So unlike the all-weather, all-wheel drive capability that the other 43 cars and SUVs use to such great advantage, the SLC 43 still wags its tail (a bit) on corner exits. Most of all though, by knocking nearly 50 lakh rupees off the SLK 55’s sticker price, it makes the wind-in-the-hair AMG experience that much more attainable and that will remain the SLC 43’s key USP.
Many years ago I had an entertaining chat with a big cheese from AMG. “Yes we did have such motors… for our wipers,” he winked, referring to the then new M133 motor. This was the start of a new era for AMG as they began their push for volumes and market dominance against the likes of BMW M and Audi RS. The M133 was big news not just for the fact that new AMG motors come once in a decade; it was more to do with the displacement. Two litres from four cylinders. From a tuner who had only just jumped on to the downsizing bandwagon, weaning themselves off the legendary M156 6.2-litre V8 to the M157 5.5-litre twin-turbo, a four-pot sounded suitable for wiper motors.
What we weren’t ready for were the numbers
The specific displacement was the highest we had seen for a 2-litre motor. 335bhp, from just two litres was ridiculous. And two years ago they turned up the wick to massage even more horses from the same displacement, now totalling 375bhp. Shoe-horn that into the nose of a really small car, tie it down with 4Matic all-wheel drive, slap on a fruity exhaust and you have your entry point into the wonderfully raucous world of AMG. 100kmph takes 4.2 seconds – that’s five tenths quicker than the C 43 AMG and just two tenths slower than the bonkers C 63 S. It flushes any thoughts one might have of the CLA 45 being unworthy of the AMG badge down the toilet. This is every bit as quick, as noisy, as ‘oh my god’ as any of the other AMGs, with the nice safety net of all-wheel drive. Had it been pouring at the BIC, the CLA 45 AMG would have passed its V8 uncles and gone looking for the GT. On a wet road few cars will be able to keep it in sight.
Benchmark for 2-litre turbo four engines
When the CLA 45 AMG first came to India, we did a cover story with the Evo X, till then the benchmark for 2-litre turbo-fours. We got into a lot of trouble with Mercedes for that – how dare we even mention Mitsubishi in the same breath as AMG! – but we weren’t being silly. I’m not sure if this magazine is named after it but the Lancer Evolution road-rockets still gives us wet dreams. Before we launched evo India we bought ourselves an Evo X. That AMG had used the tried-tested-legendary Evo formula and added much-needed doses of desirability that made us very, very happy. Heck the CLA 45 AMG even has Recaro seats, much like those rally monsters we grew up idolising. And thanks to Race Start the CLA 45 AMG is a lot quicker off the line. Today the Evo X is dead. And if not for the M133, so would be the AWD-turbo-four formula. Unlike the pioneers who couldn’t keep up with the times AMG has taken the old recipe and added today’s spices. There’s luxury. There’s usable space. There’s an interior that hasn’t been glued together by children. In relative terms it is also sensibly priced. I have no hesitation in recommending this to performance car enthusiasts kicking off their performance car ownership.
Well actually I’m a bigger fan of the GLA 45 AMG
This has nothing to do with my soft spot for the GLA (the regular diesel!) in which we drove from Stuttgart to Pune and then put in 50,000km across five continents over a year. It’s a more practical reason that reflects my greying hair – ride quality. The inherent softness in the GLA’s suspension compared to the CLA means you can deploy more of that power, more of the time without worrying about being knocked about by bumps in the road. Don’t ask me how but it is claimed to be two-tenths quicker to 100kmph. The (ever-so) slightly higher driving position gives you better visibility without feeling like you’re sitting on top of the car. The cabin is more accommodating than the CLA’s. And you get that big ol’ wing tacked on to the roof, to remind you of the time that big-winged turbo-fours killed it on the rally scene.
Of course you will point out that a sedan is more playful than an SUV and in most instances you’ll be correct except in this case, both the CLA and GLA are variations on the A-Class hatchback. And the AWD drivetrain is primarily FWD with torque going to the rear when it senses slip. You drive it then like a powerful front-wheel drive car with precision and to its limit, never over the limit. Over drive it and it descends into squealy understeer, and forget about making the tail wag. Of course it can be provoked into a slide but that really is no fun and besides, it isn’t the point of these 45 AMGs. These are cars that make AMG ownership accessible and, dare I say it, practical. Even if their motors are no bigger than wiper motors of big ol’ AMGs.
“It’s hard to imagine something with two turbos and 563bhp being a complete track no-no but the G 63 AMG takes to a racetrack like water takes to petrol”
If there ever was a car less suited to a racetrack, the monster I’m driving is it. It’s hard to imagine something with two turbos and 563bhp being a complete track no-no but the G 63 AMG takes to a racetrack like water takes to petrol. They do not mix. The G doesn’t turn. Doesn’t corner. Doesn’t ride kerbs. You sit seven storeys high and apply a two and half million turns lock to lock. It cleaves the air with all the enthusiasm of a colonial-era stone wall. Oh the gnarly, decades-old 5-litre V8 does thunder down the straight at a fairly absurd pace making the noise of very angry gods. The 760Nm of torque threatens to rip up the asphalt. But then it leaves you wide-eyed when you start braking at the end of the straight. One lap and you pull into the pits and wonder if the GLE 43 AMG Coupe will be similarly enthusiastic at killing you.
Mercedes-AMG GLE 43
1970. Meet 2017. Where you need a step ladder for the G, you walk into the GLE. You adjust the seat nice and low. Even though you have an elevated view out front, you still sit within the car. Everything is all thoroughly modern, if a bit too pandering to today’s fashions. Like, really, what’s with the coupe-like roof? Do you really think the GLE Coupe will live a life as long as the classically-styled (or not styled!) G has had? You buy an SUV for space, why compromise that on the altar of style? These are deep questions best answered by guys wearing architectural eyewear.
I stick it into Sport+ and give the twin-turbo V6 a proper caning
With 362bhp and 520Nm – identical figures to the C 43 AMG – it takes 5.7 seconds to get to 100kmph, times that won’t shock you if you’ve just experienced the G 63 accelerating to 100kmph in 5.4 seconds. But then you turn into the first corner and, wow, it grips. There is no finesse or delicacy, I’ll admit that to you straight away. But the wide tyres and all-wheel drive mean there’s grip to spare and massive speeds to be carried through bends. I did not expect the GLE 43 to excite me but I have to say I am wrong. Anything that can carry indecent speeds through corners while having you sat on the second storey is grin inducing, if only for the sheer incredulity of the proceedings.
You can feel the slight bit of body roll, you can feel the forces you’re exerting on the outside wheels, you can even feel the push on the outside rear – a push that never converts into a slide, but a push nevertheless – and you hear the exhaust pop and crackle. The latter is another surprise. The C 43 AMG doesn’t do it. The GLC 43 AMG – which you will read about on the subsequent pages – doesn’t do it. The GLE 43 AMG does it. What’s the deal, I do not know. What I do know is that it adds up to a lot of fun. This is an SUV built in the 21st century with everything you’d expect a 21st century car to have – great grip, great poise, great acceleration and a great sound track. Once upon a time the G 63 AMG was the best-selling AMG in the country (true fact!) but I can clearly see why the mantle has passed on to the GLE 43 Coupe and why it will definitely pass on to the GLC 43 Coupe. It’s time they retired the G 63 AMG.
Mercedes-AMG G 63
Good thing manufacturers rarely listen to automotive journalists. If Mercedes had listened to us, the G-Class would have been retired a long time ago. And the world would have been a poorer place. I stand by everything that I’ve just said about the G 63‘s track prowess. It is useless, except for pulling out cars stuck in the gravel trap. But in the real world, this is The Most Charming Vehicle Ever. It has character. The doors slam with a loud metal clang. The locks drop like the bolts of a swiss vault. The tyres even hop on smooth tarmac as they struggle to contain Five Hundred and Sixty Three Break Horse Power! In a chassis designed in the late seventies! It’s a recipe for disaster yet it fills me with deep joy. This is a throwback to an era where things were simple. Where you added more horsepower and dealt with the consequences later. Where you marched into countries and left future generations to deal with the aftermath.
The draw of a G 63 AMG is the hardest thing in the automotive universe to explain. The harsh truth is that it went past its sell-by date when you were still in short pants. It’s so out of place on a race track that by the third lap you will get lapped. By something with half the power.Yet there is nothing like it. It is the OG. Original Gangsta. And there is no other AMG I’d want to call my own.