Mercedes-Benz held their annual AMG Driving Academy event yet again, at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi. It is that one night of the year where we get to thrash the heck out of various new AMG models, and the slightly new format for this year was better than ever. They packed in so much track-time under the floodlights that several of the others in our media bunch were quitting out of exhaustion by the middle of the evening. We carried on, of course. With cars like the A 45 AMG, the E 63 S AMG, the SL 63 AMG, the C 63 AMG 507 Edition and the SLS AMG GT, we’d be suckers to give up the free wheel-time on a racetrack.
For the first couple of hours, the entire racetrack was set up as a series of exercises, with cones marking out slaloms, drag strips and emergency braking activities. We basically had to drive from activity to activity around the track, and stop to change cars as we pleased in front of the empty grandstands after every couple of laps. After a long break, the next hour was basically convoy-based hot laps around the open track with every car, and thankfully the instructors leading the ducklings didn’t hold back too much.
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz A 45 AMG is made available in the GCC with a gaudy appearance package involving stickers, black wheels and body-kit, but if any car should be allowed to look racy, it’s this one. Without those optional upgrades, we would be hard-pressed to tell the difference between it and the lesser A250 hatchback. It’s the same story with the interior, as the AMG upgrades are limited to fancier seats and badges. We even drove two versions, one with power-adjustable seats and one without, so don’t expect all the toys to be standard if you’re only buying the already-expensive base version of the A 45 AMG.
Powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that produces 360 hp and 450 Nm of torque, it puts down the juice via an all-wheel-drive system. It doesn’t feel particularly fast on the track — a side-effect of its middling torque delivery at lower revs — but as the speeds rise, it doesn’t fall too far behind in straight-up drag-races against the heavy AMG sedans. It also holds its own in the corners, but can be slightly squirrelly under hard braking and sharp turns.
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz E 63 S AMG builds upon the recently-facelifted E-Class, and as such it’s an amalgamation of new rounded design elements slapped onto the older angular body. Our test car still looked interesting, with the aggressive AMG bits and the matte paint, while the interior was purely old-school E-Class, all buttoned-up with leather and ambient lighting, aside from the glove-like AMG seats with robotic bolsters that hug you tighter as you turn.
With a 5.5-litre twin-turbo V8 under the bonnet, the standard E 63 AMG produces 557 hp, while our E 63 “S” AMG variant bumps that up to 585 hp with 800 Nm of torque, mated to an optional “4Matic” all-wheel-drive system for the first time in the supersedan’s history. Expectedly, the car is a rocket in the straights, and while the electronic safety nannies are still too aggressive for our liking, even in “Sport Plus” mode, it corners noticeably harder than the old model before the ESP puts a cap on the power. Under heavy braking, even into turns, there’s no drama whatsoever.
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz SL 63 AMG feels a lot like a mildly-upgraded version of the previous-gen SL-Class, but this new one seems to be inspired by the SLS AMG from behind the wheel. Retaining that folding hard-top with the glass roof that can go partially-opaque at the touch of a button, the SL-Class cabin is extensively trimmed in leather, with delicate circular a/c vents straight out of the SLS.
On the track, the car drives like a grand-tourer rather than an all-out sports car, at least in “Sport Plus” attack mode, with its excellent grip, minimal tail-waging, immense power and not-overly-sharp controls. Just like in the sedans, the steering is light and lacks feel, but is decently quick, while the brakes are massively powerful. The SL 63 AMG comes with a 5.5-litre twin-turbo V8, upgraded from 537 hp to 564 hp thanks to the optional Performance Pack that also bumps up the torque to 900 Nm. Yep, it’s a fast car.
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz C 63 AMG is, oddly enough, the “oldest” car in our distinguished group aside from the SLS, in its final year before a completely new model takes its place next summer. Available in both coupe and sedan form, the AMG design cues are subtle on the outside, with our test cars sporting black wheels, lip spoilers and bonnet vents. On the inside, it loses little to the E-Class in terms of ambience, aside from a bit of elbow room.
It is one of the last AMG models to offer the venerable 6.2-litre naturally-aspirated V8 that gave the “63” cars their names, and the special “Edition 507” models we drove were upgraded by 50 horses to make 507 hp and 610 Nm of torque. It’s a fast car, it sounds good, and its drive is just as sanitised as the E 63, braking straight and forcefully staying in line on sharp curves with the aid of ESP even in “Sport Plus” mode.
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT is the marque’s crown jewel, even as it’s slated to be put out of commission in a few months in favour of an all-new sports car in the near future. The car that revived gullwing doors can be a pain to get in and out of, with a cramped cabin inside an oversized body, but at least it’s trimmed very nicely with leather and metal, offering up a premium ambience once you’re snugly shoed in.
The SLS AMG “GT” is equipped with a recently-upgraded 6.2-litre naturally-aspirated V8 making 583 hp and 650 Nm of torque. With the help of electronic nannies, the rear-wheel-drive platform puts down that power cleanly to deliver what is easily the best driving experience in this crowd. The engine wails relatively louder and the exhaust sounds like a race-car on downshifts. The steering is light but very sharp. The throttle and brakes feel way more responsive than the slightly-dulled controls of other AMG cars. Body roll is unnoticeable from the driver’s seat, but little swings of the tail can definitely be felt on sharper corners, making it way more playful at the limit than the forcefully-understeering sedans and coupes we drove earlier. And the limit itself is higher as well, at least in the curves, since the E 63 S AMG 4Matic can actually keep up with the SLS on the straights.
As midnight approached, we did some timed drag runs at the proper drag strip, complete with staging lights, using E 63 and CLS 63 AMG “dragsters” while having a track-side barbeque dinner before retiring for the night at Yas Viceroy hotel. Having been off the track for close to a year, I really needed this racetrack refresher, and the intensive lap after lap of piloting powerful cars in a semi-controlled environment did not disappoint. Too bad you’d have to be an actual AMG customer — and a preferred one at that — to experience this cars-and-tyres-included speedfest.