First drive: 2012 Mercedes-Benz C63, CLS63 and SLS AMG in Abu Dhabi
As part of our re-acquaintance with the Mercedes-Benz brand, we were invited to the UAE leg of the 2011 AMG Performance Tour, held at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi. The deal was that we get to stay overnight at the fancy Yas Hotel, but before that, we were subjected to a brutal assault of the senses by a variety of Mercedes-Benz AMG models.
Of course, we’d be exaggerating if we called AMG cars “brutal”, considering they are designed to be cocoons of luxury with a big engine and some suspension bits thrown in. The line-up for the day included the 2012 editions of the C 63 AMG sedan, the C 63 AMG coupe, the CLS 63 AMG and even the SLS AMG. They even had Continental as a tyre sponsor, hinting at what’s to come. We also got a brief look at a parked SLS AMG Roadster which is set to debut soon in the GCC. And there were rides offered in the SLS AMG GT3 race-car as well.
The event was held in the evening as the sun was setting, and into the night. The idea was that this year’s feel would be different compared to last year’s morning event to give journalists some variety. Of course, we weren’t invited last year, but hey.
We started off by driving in a convoy of C 63 AMG cars to a big piece of tarmac, a skidpad if you will, where one section was flushed with water, and the rest of the area had a little course made up of cones. To complicate matters, we had to drive towards the big puddle at above 50 kph, and just before hitting the water, the rear wheels suddenly get hit by a “kick-plate”, making the car’s rear slide sideways as we entered the watery area.
After the first try where I was going sideways nearly 90 degrees before straightening out, the rest of the rounds were rather easy to get the car back into control. The trick was to leave the throttle completely while letting the stability control do its thing, so all I had to do was steer into the slide. Getting the steering angle right was easy too, because everything happens in slow-motion on the water. The coned part was fun too, as the rear of the car steps out ever-so-slightly when zig-zagging on the damp surface, although most of the turns were purely understeer.
The next event involved a few laps around part of the race-track with the C 63 AMG as well as the CLS 63 AMG. Out there, it’s hard to tell the difference between the two cars. Both offer up limited body roll around corners, good body control on S-curves, and great all-out power on the straights. The steering was sharp but not particularly full of feedback, while the brakes were competent but the pedal felt too light. The automatic gearbox seemed smart enough. We didn’t go all-out screeching around turns, mainly due to the instructor’s lead car keeping us in check. But even then, the cars made their weight felt.
To get the blood going even more, the pro-driven SLS AMG GT3 was driving on the same track as us, giving rides to other groups of journalists. So at times, we found ourselves being chased by an ear-splittingly loud racecar, only to be overtaken on the straights. Amazingly, the CLS 63 AMG almost seemed to keep up with the GT3 using sheer power.
The event after that was designed to highlight the strengths of the CLS 63 AMG and the C 63 AMG, literally. It was all-out drag-racing, two cars at a time, with both cars fitted with the optional “Performance Package” that boosts power. We had to floor it along a set distance, and then brake as hard as possible to stop within a marked box. It’s always nice to stretch the legs on such big engines. But despite the C 63 and the CLS 63 hinting at having the same engine, the former is powered by the excellent 457 hp 6.2-litre V8 (boosted to 487 hp with the Performance pack), while the latter gets the new 525 hp 5.5-litre twin-turbo V8 (boosted to 557 hp here). So naturally, the CLS 63 was faster, though not by a whole lot.
Interestingly, this session also included a tight cone-laden course to drive through after the drag race. It highlighted the weight of the cars even more, as the cars understeered copiously, but with some carefully-timed braking, it was possible to minimise these effects and keep the cars within the cones. I managed to figure out the handling because we got to do it over and over, with no obvious wear-and-tear on the cars.
The last driving event was the one I was waiting for. We went out for a couple of laps in the 571 hp 6.2-litre SLS AMG, chasing an instructor’s C 63 AMG. Getting into the car was an experience in itself, required a certain technique to avoid pulling a muscle. Wearing helmets, my head barely cleared the gullwing doors once closed. The snug minimalist cockpit was impractical, as are all sports cars, but the SLS proved to be in a league of its own once on the track, compared to the “regular” AMG cars we drove earlier.
Even though it’s the same 6.2-litre V8 as in the C 63, it’s tuned differently, growls louder, and lets out a racecar-style “pop” on its super-quick automatic downshifts. I also felt immediately more confident on the turns with the SLS than I did with the heavier C 63 or CLS 63, as the exotic was much lower to the ground and had oodles more grip. It was point-and-shoot all the way, even if we drove nowhere near the limit. It’s unfortunate our time with the SLS was so limited, as it was easily the highlight of the day.
Our taste of the AMG cars reminded us of what happens when traditional luxury carmakers go all-out on the engineering front to create lightning-fast cars that double as luxury commuters by day. It is a speciality that the Germans seem to excel in.
Some event photos by Salma Sultana.