Diwali is the festival of lights; a celebration full of lamps, diyas, rangoli and waistline expanding mithai. The spirit of Diwali, in fact, is so infectious, it nowadays gets carried over to the workplace. Lanterns decorate our halls, the staff are decked out in their finest traditional wear and the mood in general is so upbeat, everyone’s busy celebrating, and passing boxes of sweets around. So last Diwali, we in the edit department decided to hold our own little celebration. Thing is, we wanted something a bit more exciting, something a bit louder, more flash. Yes, fire-crackers would have nailed it, but since we didn’t want to choke the neighbours or scare the wildlife, we got on the howler and asked AMG if we could borrow some of theirs. Amazingly, they agreed! And boy, did they lay it on. They put everything on the table; regular sparklers, loud atom bombs and some genuine rockets too. Ten of Affalterbach’s finest, almost the full deck, every single AMG sold here! Wow; this was shaping up nicely.
The plan was simple – we’d drive up from Mumbai in a few of the cars, enjoying the wide open expanse of the expressway with some ‘right-foot-down’, and then catch up with the rest of the pack in the town of Lonavala. The next few hours would be spent howling up and down the 20-odd kilometres of winding ghat roads that lead up to Aamby Valley. And we even booked Aamby Valley’s airstrip for the afternoon, so we could shoot and hoon around without attracting too much unwarranted attention. Fireworks – yeah, we were gonna get some.
Dawn is still a few minutes away, but we are already on the road. I’m behind the wheel of the recently washed C 63 S. And what a ride it is. The Nascar-like ‘brap’ from the exhaust is crisp and tight, and the Speed 97 I’ve brimmed the tank with last night seems to be coursing through its veins like 50 cans of Red Bull, and though it is currently running in ‘comfort’ mode, it still feels primed for action. An empty stretch of road pops up and I briefly squeeze the right pedal; the C 63 just goes ape. The rump of the car does a mini jig before the wide 265mm rears find traction, and the C is then shot down the road with an energy only previously experienced in a supercar. The real head scratcher is that this motor hasn’t crossed 5000rpm yet: there’s another 2000rpm to go! The ability of this car to slingshot you forward from anywhere in the powerband is just unreal. It’s simple; flex the throttle after 2000rpm anywhere in the powerband and it’s instant whiplash — whack. Now Mumbai’s streets aren’t the ideal playground for this car, far from it, but once I get to the roads that lead out of town, I squeeze down a bit harder and let the motor scream all the way to the redline. Performance is biblical, off the charts. There’s even a playful friendliness to the way it handles. The ride is quite hard and unforgiving over poorly surfaced city roads, even in comfort, and the steering is quite light, but the car does give you plenty of confidence to press on and slide it. And then to top it off, it’s a four seater with a big boot and decent ground clearance, so it is pretty practical too. You don’t get a spare tyre though; just a puncture repair kit.
The car I swap to next, the S 63 Coupé, is much more comfort-oriented. And it sweeps me off my feet before I so much as get a leg in. This just could be one of the most attractive looking Mercs ever. The lines are achingly gorgeous. The big protruding nose sets the tone, the long elegant bonnet and the ‘slammed’ roof merge perfectly together, and don’t you just love those muscular haunches. The warm embrace of the seat is also several times more comfortable after the seat of the C 63 S. It’s much wider, sinfully comfortable, and this coupé rides so much better over broken roads on its soft and supple suspension, it feels like the roads have improved. It can amp it up too when you want to go chasing Bentleys; and properly too. The 5.5-litre twin turbo V8 motor under the hood is the same as that on the E 63, but in this car, power delivery is more cream than thunder. And though the big turbos take their time to spool up, the whoosh and rush of power in the midrange is so strong, you seem to feel every one of those 577 horses every time you so much as brush the accelerator. The first part of the expressway passes in a blur as I keep my foot down and power through the many long, fast corners. And the car has so much grunt, it even feels bullet train-fast when I drive it in a relaxed manner. This big, 2.1 tonne barge doesn’t feel its weight either. The simply absurd 91kgm of torque comes steamrolling in from just off idle and then there’s the Active Body Control system which uses electronics to keep the air suspension to prevent body roll. Being thrown around corners isn’t its thing, but the S 63 Coupé still corners flat and will hold its line with demonic grip. What a car.
Mercedes-AMG C 63 S - Best for being a hooligan.
I decide to go all the way down the price band next, from the Rs 2.62 crore S Coupe to the also very attractive CLA 45. Based on the front-wheel-drive CLA and powered by only a four-pot turbo engine, this car doesn’t promise much. AMG has, however, extracted a mad 355bhp from just two litres, and it has added four-wheel-drive to help with traction. Sure, after the bigger engines, this turbo four feels like a bit of a letdown. Still, once the V8 hangover wears off, I find myself enjoying the urgent shot of power from 3000rpm on. And there’s a fair bit here; it can rip through to 100 from rest in just 5.43seconds according to our test figures, and that’s plenty fast. And it hangs on gamely in corners too. Handling isn’t great, there’s loads of sudden understeer and some oversteer, and comfort isn’t great either as the cabin is a bit cramped in the back. The real problem, however, is that ground clearance is very poor and that discourages owners from making the plunge.
The GLA 45, the CLA 45’s sister car is much more practical and useable on an everyday basis.
It lacks the sex appeal of the CLA’s low rider stance and over bad roads, the ride is a bit stiff, but otherwise, the GLA AMG strikes a nice balance between practical and fun. It gets basically the same engine as the CLA and as a result, performance is quite strong, especially on these tight, twisty roads. The best way through a corner is to brake nice and early and then get on the throttle early as well, once you’ve stabilised the car, so you can engage the car’s four-wheel-drive system. What’s nice is that after a bit, you find that the GLA 45 starts to feel like a large, fleet footed hatch. And this allows you to enjoy the road because it does have that 355bhp engine that rockets you down the road post haste.
Mercedes-AMG GLA 45.
The car that catches my eye next is the lime green brick; the G 63. Now G stands for Gelandewagen or Cross Country Vehicle, and that’s exactly what it is, with three individually lockable differentials, a stiff chassis and amazing wheel articulation. This loony tune also has a 536bhp version of the 5.5-litre V8 under the hood, 20-inch wheels and a side exhaust system that sounds like an enraged Grizzly. As if by magic, a dirt track appears out of nowhere, and I take full advantage, throwing the G at it. Needless to say, it takes to it like a duck to water, but what also gets me to mumble expletives under my breath is how manically it pulls forward, all four paws raking the surface. The board-stiff chassis underneath me feels strong enough to recycle and use on your next G Wagen, and I can feel the Speedshift gearbox rifling through the gears like a machine gun and the smooth manner in which the tidal wave of power comes in. It even rockets from 0-100 in 5.42seconds according to our trusty V-box, which is as quick as most sportscars. It’s half decent around corners too, which in itself is a mini miracle, especially when you consider that the original G, designed for the Shah of Iran, first saw the light of day in the ’70s. Of course, the biggest advantage with the G is that even ten years from now, you should be able to go into an AMG dealership and get yourself one. Which, of course, makes it timeless; no wonder it’s the most popular AMG of them all; a veritable biplane with a jet engine strapped on.
Stub side exhausts help deepen the growl further on the Mercedes-AMG G63.
In contrast, the GL 63 AMG is almost characterless. A big bus of an SUV that seems large enough to have a speed restriction pasted to its windscreen, the GL is yet another AMG that brushes off stereotypes. Eyebrow-raising performance is extracted here by dint of brute force and clever gearing, and because the chassis is nicely tightened up, the GL drives like a car less than half its size. There’s a nice rumble from the rear under light loads and the kick in the back is quite strong too, every time I ladle on the power. What’s also quite different from all the sportier cars here is that the GL rocks back gently onto its rear wheels when I really gas it, gently reminding me not to mess too much with 2.6 tonnes of Swabian steel. If you don’t pay attention, this massive SUV also has the ability to take you to the wrong side of 200kph before you think it has got to 160kph. On the right road, this is quite alright, as the long wheelbase, wide stance and wide 300-section tyres give it masses of grip, and AMG has to be credited with giving it impressive poise; there’s almost no unnecessary body movement at high speeds. What’s unique is that this is an AMG that can be enjoyed by seven passengers, and in real comfort at that.
The E 63, the car I walk up to next, is the AMG that can do almost everything. And that’s just as it should be, considering the E-class is what Merc considers to be its seminal product. It steers so sweetly and smoothly, and has so much grip in the front axle, it instantly gets me comfortable behind the wheel. What also has the desired effect is the 5.5 V8 motor. It is so strong, it causes a sharp intake of breath as soon as I step on the gas and what also gets my attention is the fact that there seems to be an unlimited supply of power from under the bonnet. The powerband, however, feels a bit too narrow, possibly due to the gearing, and you do miss that long lusty pull through the rev band you normally experience on a car like this. It’s in the higher gears that the E 63 comes into its element. The surge from 180kph to 220kph feels so quick on the Aamby Valley airstrip, I quickly glance at the speedo to double check. And initial performance is really strong too. The E 63 vaults to the 100kph mark in just 4.86sec, and by the time you count to 15, it’s well past 200kph. The best bit on the E, however, is just how fluidly it drives when you are really pressing on. The steering is light but communicative, the car always feels well in control of its mass and there’s such a nice balance here, it goads you into pushing it harder and harder. All that and a very comfy rear seat and practical boot.
Mercedes-AMG E 63.
The S 63 AMG is two cars in one, the ultimate dichotomy; a sporting sedan based on a limo. But let’s be clear, while many fail at being two things at the same time, the S 63 comes down the crease and ‘hoicks’ it into the grandstand. On the one hand, it is the ultimate limo, with almost no compromise on comfort — sinfully luxurious seats, the best trim around and more systems and functions than a space shuttle. And let’s be clear, this isn’t First Class, this is your own 39 metre-long Boeing Business Jet. It changes, chameleon- like, when I put it in ‘Sport’, and has the ability to warp speed, time, distance, and the road ahead. There’s an aggressive rumble from the pipes at the rear, just to remind you that there’s something nasty under the hood. The S-class shoots forward like an express train when I flatten the throttle and once I’m used to juggling the mass of the car, it even enjoys being tossed around a few corners. The front end lacks the bite of something like the E 63 and a bit of roll is still present, despite the ABC anti-roll system, but this still is a car you can really enjoy from behind the wheel. Mass, rapid, transport? Well, in a way, it is.
The SLK gained notoriety, as many underpowered convertibles do, of being a car for ‘hair-dressers’ only. But no self-respecting hair stylist would drive this car. Put the top down, hit the gas and you can be sure your hair will be a mess in no time at all. The SLK 55 does feel a bit old school from behind the wheel. A quick drive up the ‘ghat’ is quite revealing. The steering feels relatively lifeless and wooden, the ride is a bit harsh, as it has been stiffened due to all the extra power coursing through the rear wheels, and it isn’t too eager to attack corners either. What does lift the overall experience is the non-turbo 5.5 V8 unique to this car. It sounds sensational without the turbos on overrun, especially with the roof down, and throttle responses are so crisp and quick, it feels a bit like an American muscle car as it lunges forward every time you draw out the 416bhp. Mercedes build, a slick folding hardtop and a sensational motor; there’s a lot here. Still, this is one of the weaker cards in the AMG deck; and this engine definitely deserves a better chassis.
5.5 litres of V8 muscle help raise SLK game.
I leave the most attractive car for last. The GT S is a car I remember swooning over at the Paris motor show when it was first revealed. And it’s no different here, standing in the afternoon sun; that impossibly attractive rear end, the SLS-like long bonnet, the tight-fitting cabin; this car has it all. Okay, the gull wing doors are missing, those practical, practical Germans, and they are missed for the drama they provide, but the GT more than makes up in other areas. I get behind the wheel in close proximity to the best 10km stretch on this road, and what immediately hits me like a tonne of bricks is just how lithe, agile and well planted this car is. I’m immediately up to speed around the corners, with the crisp new chassis providing huge amounts of grip and traction. And unlike the SLS, that seemed to be steered by the nose, the new GT turns into a corner with the front and rear wheels perfectly in sync.
“To race is to live; all the rest is just waiting.” We take Silver Arrow racer Rudolf Caracciola’s advice seriously and run an impromptu drag.
All you need to do to change direction is introduce the car to the corner, and the GT seems to do the rest, seemingly steering from the hip as you dive in fully committed and perfectly in balance. It’s a clear, well-defined step up from any of the other sedans here, and what truly endears me to the car is that the faster you go, the more it seems to come together. Brilliant. But why is the steering oh-so-quick? As the sun goes down on our Diwali celebrations, we decide to conduct a few spur-of-the-moment drags. And that’s when I experience the full power and traction of the GT; launch control feels like someone has actually lit a rocket behind me; we run 0-100 in 3.82seconds. What a Day!