It’s all very confusing, this Mercedes-Benz numbering taxonomy. At one stage, 200 used to mean a car is fitted with a 2.0-litre engine. Nowadays, 200 can mean anything from 1.3, 1.5-litre or well, 2.0-litre engines, with the numbering instead referring to the spec-level and relative power the car has on offer. This is not the case at the Mercedes-AMG division, though, with the numbers sending a clearer than daylight message.
Take the AMG 63 designation for instance: It used to, and still does, invoke fear in the hearts of any would-be traffic-light crusader looking to get their ego-kicks with traffic-light to traffic-light performance comparisons. See, at the heart used to be a 6.2-litre V8, then it was the 5.5-litre V8 bi-turbo engine. And then, along came the new generation of engine technology that aimed to increase efficiency, reduce weight and bump the power outputs well into the ‘hold-on-for-dear-life’ performance sphere. All from a relatively small 4.0-litre V8 bi-turbo. Essentially, the number 63 didn’t seek to confuse and confirm stitch-count. It was a warning; “this Merc bites”.
To make the Mercedes-AMG nameplate more accessible, however, the Affalterbach-based carmaker brought about the AMG-43 performance designation and its intention, too, was clear: to provide buyers with most of the thrills you’d expect in a 63, but wrapped up in a more “the-missus-will-approve” package what with a 3.0 bi-turbocharged V6 engine that produces nearly 300 kW.
So, while the 63 designated nearly 400 kW (with the G63 surpassing this) and the less meaty, but still thrilling, 43s edged close to 300 kW, a gap formed. Logically, Mercedes-AMG had to close this performance gap and as mathematics would have it a new model designation, namely 53, would be called to action and its intention too is crystal clear.
THE 53 TWINS
To showcase just how clear the intentions of the 53 range is, Mercedes-AMG used the backdrop of the Kyalami Grand Prix Circuit to launch what is two revolutionary models for the marque.
Fitted to both the new CLS and the E-Class Coupé and E-Class Cabriolet derivatives, the 53’s in-line six-cylinder bi-turbocharged engine not only produces 320 kW and 520 Nm of torque, it also delivers an additional 16 kW and 250 Nm thanks to the EQ Boost starter-alternator that is fitted between the engine and the AMG Speedshift 9-speed gearbox.
While this signal the hybridisation future of the AMG nameplate, this system also helps to virtually eliminate turbo-lag altogether in these futuristic models. Similar to the immediate high-torque delivery of electric cars that is possible thanks to direct power delivery on the wheels, this system bypasses the mechanical cycle for a brief period and delivers the power to the driven wheels up until such time that the Internal Combustion Engine is ready to take over operations.
Since we were at Kyalami, it was an opportune time for Mercedes-AMG to introduce the fresh-faced Mercedes-AMG C63 S as well. And while it features new trims like the AMG-specific ‘Panamericana’ grille that now becomes a mainstay feature on the C63, it boasts a full suite of performance-related upgrades to shave a few milliseconds of your previous best lap times.
Some highlights include the newly-tuned 9-speed AMG Speedshift gearbox that allows for faster upshifts, and an electronically controlled rear-limited-slip differential that takes care of better cornering traction.
But speaking of traction, a personal highlight on the updated C63 S is undoubtedly the variable traction control system that can be fine-tuned according to driver preference and, of course, experience. Where a more primitive traction control is either on or off, the AMG Traction Control takes care of the grey areas in nine stages of activation for instance; 10, 20 or 50% traction control availability.
AMG TRACK ATTACK
A day at Kyalami with a series of high-performance AMG models would be wasted if not spent on the track. And that’s exactly what we did, testing several performance aspects of the launched vehicles’ capabilities.
First, though, the pull away prowess of the 53s were put to the test and it was immediately obvious that Mercedes-AMG didn’t just address hot air with its EQ Boost hybrid system. While a millisecond-sensitive computer might disagree with me, from where I was sitting the car responded immediately off the line during several countdown starts. A job well done then I’d say.
Under tight cornering conditions, it was the CLS 53 that impressed me most with a reasonably undeviating approach to corner-taking, while the E 53 Cabriolet did feel ever-so-slightly less responsive.
We even put the C63 S through its paces around the high-speed circuit and while its corner-taking ability still lives up to the legend, we especially focused on the variable traction control by swapping between different levels of electronic caretaking. Doing 180-degree corner simulation slides, the rear-end (it is rear-wheel-drive) was catchable at every turn with the system essentially regulating your preferred amount of electronic input.
There’s no mistaking the intent behind the Mercedes-AMG product portfolio. It’s a matter of going fast, with the only question remaining how fast, and exactly how much theatre you’d like in the process. And, while many might deem the new 53 addition to the range as a compromise of sorts between baby and full-fat AMG, driving the derivatives on offer, I’m confident in saying that it would be an uninformed opinion.
Report by DEON VAN DER WALT | Images © MERCEDES-BENZ SA