AMG’s history is a storied one. Right since 1967, the mad hatters at AMG have been fettling big-on-luxury Mercs to make them big on power too. AMGs today? They come in all shapes and sizes, like the GLE 43 Coupe I’m with today. It’s an SUV that thinks it’s a sportscar. The way it builds speed, and even the grace with which it turns-in belies the GLE 43’s size and weight. But as much of an AMG as it is, it’s an SUV too. And that’s what brings me to Katni in the mining belt of Madhya Pradesh. The task at hand is to see if and how the GLE 43 Coupe leverages its off-road ability and performance when things get down and dirty. I mean that quite literally so, because I’ve just looped my way down 200ft in a limestone mine. This is a setting far removed from the performance car gatherings you’d typically find a GLE 43 Coupe at.
The drive down turns out to be a journey of discovery. It’s not the rock as much as the path down that interests me. Battered and bruised by constant dumper traffic, the path makes the worst of Mumbai’s roads back home feel like expressways. But I really can’t say I have it bad – drive mode dial set to ‘Comfort’, air suspension set to full height, the Merc makes it all seem easy peasy. There’s also confidence in knowing that the Merc’s 4Matic all-wheel-drive system has my back on the shale-strewn path. On the first of the short, straight stretches, I give in to temptation and floor the big pedal. It’d be rude not to, right? It’s over these short bursts of acceleration that I start to work a rhythm with the big GLE 43 Coupe. Forward thrust is just as strong on the kuchcha raasta as it is on the tarmac. Amazing. Powering out of the hairpins is great fun too. I’m grinning. Never had I imagined that a limestone mine could double as a play pen for a big performance SUV.
We have company
I get a glimpse of a water body every few corners and see it in its entirety when we’re at the base of the quarry. The lake is an impossible shade of turquoise which, as I learn, is due to the scattering of light by calcite crystals. I’m awed by the setting but just as I reach out for my phone to click the Merc, I hear the buzz of an engine in the distance. Right. That’ll be my friend and colleague Rahul Kakar, who’s promised to show up in something special to keep the GLE 43 Coupe honest. I see a streak of green and as he gets closer, I think I know his weapon of choice. Yup, it’s a hopped-up buggy. Think midway between an ATV and a rally car, and you’ll get the idea.
You’ll feel like a rally god in the buggy. It’s immense fun.
Rahul’s in MX gear and something tells me he’s taking the competition that’s on the menu for today really seriously. It won’t be a timed run or a lights-to-flag sprint – all that I need to do is keep up with the buggy on the quick blast up. A hill-climb with a difference, you could say.
I can’t see Rahul’s face under the helmet to gauge what he makes of the GLE 43 Coupe but I’m sure he sees a bit of trepidation on mine. The buggy is no toy. It’s got a torque-sensing limited-slip rear differential, a fly-off handbrake, 13 inches of suspension travel, racing buckets with four-point harnesses and off-road tyres – and it weighs all of 540kg. The 70hp power doesn’t sound all that bad, suddenly.
The Merc? It’s like bringing a bazooka to a gunfight. The 3.0-litre, bi-turbo V6 has to cart 2,280kg of SUV so the numbers are on my side. I have Sport+ mode to bring out the best of the engine and of course there’s all-wheel drive to help put all the power down. This should be fun.
We line up side by side. This could go either way. Cameraperson Shreyans gives us the countdown. “3…2…1, Go!” I see the buggy take off like a scalded cat. The Merc lowers on its haunches and launches forward too. It’s a short path to the first hairpin, and that’s where Rahul engages the fly-off handbrake to swivel into position. The big Merc is more elegant in its ways, and I quickly understand the fastest way through is to ease in, line up and power out. And power out I do. The elevation change goes by unnoticed and the Merc closes the gap to the pesky buggy on the long-ish straight that follows. I’m bouncing all over the bumpy and rocky track and the blares and baarps from the AMG’s exhaust only add to the drama.
You slide the buggy into corners. The Merc eases into them.
I don’t know if Rahul’s checked his mirrors but the disclaimer that objects in the mirror are closer than they appear would surely apply. I’m in hot pursuit now and the Merc’s ready power makes good on every advantage the buggy has on the turns. From the corner of my eye I sense we’ve climbed a lot so the end won’t be too far. The higher we go, the smoother (relatively speaking) the surface gets, giving me a change to unleash all of the Merc’s might. I’m firmly on the buggy’s tail by the end of it; and what follows is a dash to the designated finish line. It’s a photo finish. Did someone say this wasn’t a race?
Calm as it may appear, the cabin sees frantic activity.
The Merc’s splattered with all sorts of specks and spots thrown up by the buggy. At least I’m all clean! I can’t say the same about Rahul, who looks like he’s been sand-blasted. He gives me an appreciative thumbs up but it’s a few moments before he can work his way out of the buggy’s roll cage. And that’s precisely when it hits me: Here’s a Merc with all the trappings of a modern-day luxury vehicle that just kept pace with a purpose-built buggy in a setting suitable for the latter. And a quick wash is all it’ll take to get the GLE 43 Coupe ready for a red carpet event – or a car meet, if that’s your thing.
It’s something that an SUV with an AMG badge can do.
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