AMG, SRT, M, Nismo and TRD mean very little to the casual consumer, but to automotive enthusiasts, just spotting a vehicle with any of these combinations affixed to the body is enough to get pulses racing.
Each group of letters represents a manufacturer’s performance division. SRT is Fiat Chrysler’s “Street and Racing Technology” division. M is the “Motorsport” group at BMW. Nismo stands for “Nissan Motorsport,” and TRD is short for “Toyota Racing Development.” I’d be lying if I didn’t acknowledge that every one of those designations makes me smile, but for this discussion, I want to focus on Mercedes-Benz’s high-performance division, AMG.
In 1967, Hans Werner Aufrecht and Erhard Melcher hunkered down in an old mill in Burgstall an der Murr, Germany, with a mission to create and test racing engines for Mercedes-Benz. It was then that AMG was born. These initials combine the first letters of Aufrecht’s and Melcher’s surnames with the first letter of Aufrecht’s home town, Großaspach.
Less than four years later, in 1971, their efforts would start to pay off. An AMG-powered Mercedes 300 SEL would finish first in class and second overall in the Total 24 Hours of Spa, a punishing endurance race that would put the new division on the map. The victory would further propel the brand with consumers, forcing the team to eventually move to a larger facility in Affalterbach, a municipality in Southern Germany near Stuttgart.
Over the years, AMG has become synonymous with some of Germany’s greatest performance vehicles. From the 1986 300E AMG 5.6, often referred to as “the Hammer,” to today’s wide assortment of race cars for the street, the AMG badge is affixed to vehicles that host hand-built engines, custom-tuned suspensions and performance-designed exhausts.
I recently spent some time reviewing four Mercedes-AMG vehicles. Each high-horsepower vehicle has a unique personality and charm, but all share AMG’s inspiring performance and subsequent fun factor.
The Ultimate Flagship: 2016 Mercedes-AMG S65
Evidently, the team that dreamt up AMG’s flagship sedan was advised to ignore budget constraints, performance limitations and any shortcuts or hints of compromise. The resultant AMG S65 is a sports sedan that obliterates existing benchmarks for luxury and performance. With a starting price of $224,650 (more than the cost of many new homes) the S65 is a twin-turbocharged race car pretending to be a nearly perfect full-size luxury sedan.
The handcrafted biturbo 6.0-liter V12 engine generates 621 horsepower and 738 pound-feet of torque. Connected to a seven-speed automatic transmission, the massive engine can propel the nearly 5,000-pound sedan from 0 to 60 mph in 4.2 seconds.
Perhaps what is even more amazing than the raw performance of AMG’s rocket ship is the fact that the S65 cradles the driver and three passengers in opulent luxury, completely buffering the world outside of its oversized cabin. Thanks to Mercedes’ brilliant chassis tuning, sound deadening, and over-the-top fit and finish, the driver will need to look at the speedometer to realize just how fast they are going. As quick as the S65 is, it feels sedate even at high speeds.
The New Kid: 2017 Mercedes-AMG SLC43
Buying an AMG doesn’t necessarily mean breaking the bank. Newer AMG-inspired vehicles by Mercedes can be found in many price ranges and with varying amounts of standard equipment. Case in point: the 2017 Mercedes-AMG SLC43. This new convertible packs a twin-turbo V6 with 362 horsepower and 384 pound-feet of torque. As a result, Mercedes’ smallest roadster jumps from 0 to 60 mph in only 4.6 seconds.
The SLC43 varies slightly from the original AMG formula by including a non-AMG specific power plant under the hood (Its engine can also be found in other Mercedes-Benz vehicles that don’t wear an AMG badge.) Still, the SLC43 features increased turbo boost that helps it accelerate more quickly and at lower engine speeds.
Like the engine, the SLC43’s transmission has also been massaged by the AMG engineers to deliver quicker gear changes over the already excellent standard Mercedes counterpart. The programmable drive modes range from Comfort to Sport+. The Sport+ setting results in some of the most pronounced downshifts of any automatic transmission vehicle I’ve reviewed to date. When braking off a highway exit ramp, the SLC43 runs from ninth all the way to first gear in a rapid, grin-inducing succession that makes you feel like you’re driving an open race car.
The SLC’s interior lives up to the Mercedes-Benz reputation for quality. The design is fresh, yet inspired by decades of AMG tradition.
Pricing for the SLC43 starts at a surprisingly low $60,300.
The New Boss: 2017 Mercedes-AMG SL65
If the SLC43 is the everyperson’s AMG, the SL65 rules the high-brow roost. Starting at $219,850, the AMG SL65 is as expensive as it is powerful. The handcrafted biturbo V12 engine produces an outrageous 621 horsepower and 738 pound-feet of torque.
While the AMG Performance suspension with two-stage adjustment – basically Comfort and Sport – does an excellent job keeping the SL65 in check, the 738 pound-feet of torque have very little trouble overpowering the chassis to the point that inexperienced drivers could easily find themselves in a ditch. Pro tip: Don’t mash the SL65’s throttle unless the front wheels are straight. And even then, you need to realize you are essentially pointing the SL65 versus steering it.
That isn’t to say the power is too much. When referring to an AMG-badged car, statements that imply excess amount to blasphemy. The SL65 is everything you can imagine in a rear-wheel drive roadster and a lot more.
The All-Time Favorite: 2016 Mercedes-AMG GT S
Very rarely do I review a vehicle and award it a perfect 10 out of 10 score. But when I had the chance to spend a fun-filled and unforgettable week with the 2016 Mercedes-AMG GT S, the perfect 10 didn’t seem perfect enough.
Powered by a handcrafted 4.0-liter biturbo V8 engine and seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, the GT S produces 503 horsepower and 479 pound-feet of torque. Those performance figures are absolutely dialed in for the vehicle. As impressive as the numbers are, it is the wide power band and instant on-demand power that truly make driving the GT S inspirational. Zero to 60 mph scorches by in 3.7 seconds, and the sounds emanating from the dynamic performance exhaust are music to the ears of any petrol head.
At the same time, a perfectly balanced suspension and razor-sharp steering provide the GT S with handling qualities that are normally limited to all-wheel-drive sports cars.
The AMG GT S has a starting price of $131,200.
While the high-performance aspects of Mercedes-AMG may be overkill for many consumers, the models made by this performance division are perfect for the driver who wants a vehicle that is at once beauty and beast.