We really should have listened to Ashley. I can see him in the camera car in front of us, shielding his lens from the downpour, his face a mixture of annoyance and disappointment, the words ‘I told you so’ clearly being muttered under his breath. He told us it would rain, that we should get some photos in the bag while the sun, quite literally, still shone. But no, we just kept driving around the track, harder and faster, lap after lap. And now it’s too late; all our photos will have to be shot under a blanket of rain. Can you blame us, though? We have two, incredibly fun new performance cars and the Madras Motor Race Track (MMRT) at our disposal, which can all too easily result in a friendly game of ‘catch me if you can’ between colleagues.
An AMG C 63, the one with the barking mad V8, these days costs an equally mad Rs 1.3 crore. Sure, the sound, the performance and the drama are all there, but it does start to seem kind of ludicrous when you consider that, at the end of the day, it’s a C-class. That’s just how the cookie crumbles though, and yes, there are still takers for it. However, if you do want a fast Merc, but want to be a bit sensible and don’t want to settle for the ‘baby’ AMG (the CLA 45), there’s now another option. The ‘43’ series is Mercedes-AMG’s new sub-species of sporty vehicles and this is the AMG C 43. It’s a confusing naming system, I know, but what it translates to is 367hp from a 3.0-litre, twin-turbo V6 and all-wheel drive.
Coincidentally, Volvo now also has a very similar car in its arsenal. It’s called the S60 Polestar, and it too has 367hp and AWD, but it makes that power from a turbocharged four-cylinder motor, rather than a six. In case the name sounds alien to you, ‘Polestar’ is Volvo’s equivalent of AMG, but unlike the German brand, which is celebrating its 50th birthday this year and has a vast range of models in its line-up, Polestar was founded in 2009 and has just this one model. There were a few concept cars, but the only one to be put into production was this S60 and its wagon counterpart, the V60. And it will also be the last of its kind – the kind without any electrification. From now on, Polestar cars will only be hybrids, ◊ ∆ and soon, all electric, so this car has somewhat of a ‘unicorn’ status.
Flashback to sunnier skies and drier tarmac, and the Volvo feels delightfully old school at my fingertips. That is to say the steering wheel feels heavy, in the best way possible, of course. It’s hydraulic, which is almost unheard of in these days of milling out every last drop of fuel, and the result is feedback and confidence through corners that only such a steering can provide. This isn’t to diminish the Merc’s steering in any way. In fact, it’s the AMG’s steering that’s quicker and sharper, making it fun and easy to dart into corners, and though not quite as communicative as the Volvo’s, it offers up plenty of feel. Neither car feels overtly AWD at first, and it’s not until you start pinning them up hard against a kerb that the ‘other’ set of wheels starts to make itself felt, filling up gaps in traction. Of course, here on the track, it’s the AMG’s rear bias that feels more rewarding and fluid than the Volvo’s front-biased layout that’s a bit more prone to understeer.
The other crucial difference is that, though their power outputs may be the same, the AMG has a greater swept volume and, crucially, quite a bit more torque. Not for a moment did I feel the S60 was lacking in oomph, but the C 43 is just so much more effortless in its power delivery. Where the Volvo is a sledgehammer, the Merc is a water cannon with a pressure regulator. A nicer-sounding water cannon too, at least to these ears. The Merc also has the superior gearbox, with the 9G-Tronic shifting quicker and smoother than the Volvo’s eight-speeder. However, the Volvo gearbox responds better to paddle shifts. Now we didn’t get a chance to drive them on the road, but on the track, it’s the Volvo that felt a bit more focused, whereas the Merc felt easier to access. It showed in our track data too, where the Volvo was consistently quicker in corners, the Merc kept making it up on the straights.
Because this isn’t the ‘maximum’ AMG – that’d be the 63 – the styling isn’t as wild as it can get. Sure, the air intakes at the front are a bit swollen, the grille is speckled with ‘diamonds’ (steel pins) like the A-class, and there’s some hint of a diffuser between the sleek chrome tailpipe casings at the rear, but that’s the lot. The Volvo is as hardcore as Volvos can get, but there’s nothing in the bodywork that really shouts this fact out to you. It’s bright blue, and here too there’s a bit of undertray and some chunky tailpipes at the rear, but, otherwise, it’s not too different from the ‘R-Design’ pack you get on the regular car. Except for the wheels; this aggressive-looking set of 20-inchers is standard and boy, do they fill out those arches nicely.
On the inside, it is of course the newer, vastly more modern, Mercedes that makes the better first impression. It’s pretty much class-leading in its standard guise, and it’s even better in the AMG 43. There are thick lashings of dull black wood grain, brushed aluminium galore, a thick AMG wheel, and red contrast stitching just about everywhere. The Polestar is no shrinking violet either, with loads of Alcantara, blue contrast stitching, digital dials and a cool glass-covered gearlever. It’s just that the S60 itself is positively ancient by segment standards now, and that shows in the dashboard, the switchgear and the tech. It does have the better front seats, though. They’re big, and superbly supportive, and though the C 43’s gives you more adjustability, it’s the Polestar’s that hold you tighter.
BOLTS FROM THE BLUE
After a while, there’s no point fighting Mother Nature, so we slink back into the pit lane and hope the torrent doesn’t last too long. Nice time to sum these two up. There’s no doubt the Mercedes is the better luxury car – mostly by virtue of being so much newer a platform than the ageing S60. The cabin ambience, quality, space and equipment are a fair bit ahead, and we suspect, out in the real world, it’ll be more comfortable too. But these are specialised performance cars, right? In this respect too, the Mercedes is pretty incredible, but then so is the Volvo. The AMG makes it easy for you to extract performance, while the more focused Polestar feels more challenging and, ultimately, rewarding. The thing is, performance cars come at a premium, and for the Mercedes, the price tag weighs in at a not-inconsiderable Rs 75.09 lakh. The Volvo? Well, that’s Rs 53.10 lakh! As a car, overall, the C 43 might have a small edge, but when you can have the same performance for a good Rs 22 lakh less, it’s hard to walk away from the S60 Polestar.