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On The Road

AMG models offer top-of-the-line performance

Photo By: Gary Anderson/Special to the Town Crier

The SLS AMG GT is considered Mercedes-Benz’s supercar from its “tuner” division.

Many automobile manufacturers have a “tuner” division that takes the best models and makes them better – more horsepower, faster acceleration, improved handling and better braking. For example, Toyota has its Toyota Racing Development and GM has its GM Performance Division.

No company produces more of these specially badged models than Mercedes-Benz, with its AMG models. Nearly every model has a counterpart in the AMG lineup, from the smallest A-Class (coming to the U.S. in 2014) to its largest SUV, the G63 AMG, and its supercar, the SLS AMG GT.

We recently drove four of these AMG models.

We started with the SLS AMG GT gullwing coupe with the optional performance package – top speed of 186 mph, 583 horsepower and 479 pound-feet of torque, stickered with options at $225,255 – appropriately, at a track event in Monterey.

On a trip to attend Gary’s 50th high school reunion in Tulsa, Okla., we tested the SL63 two-seat hardtop roadster. Its performance package produces 557 horsepower and an astounding 664 pound-feet of torque from the AMG-built 5.5-liter biturbo V-8 engine. With options, it is priced at $171,225. It was quite the stylish and exhilarating ride.

Our third and fourth test-drives were our standard one-week rotations at home, the first being the beautiful, sleek coupe-styled CLS63 four-door sedan. Again, another powerful and expensive vehicle with 550 horsepower and 590 pound-feet of torque, priced with performance package, premium options and custom interior at $113,715.

We rounded off our test-drives with the huge military-style, ultra-competent off-road G63 SUV – 536 horsepower and 551 pound-feet of torque, and priced, with custom paint and interior, sound system and exterior trim options at $137,505. We used the GWagen for our everyday errands around town.

Even with this extensive sampling of AMGs, we still missed the small SLK55 sportscar, the compact C63 sedan, the executive-sized E63 sedan and the medium and large SUVs – the ML63 and GL63. That makes nine models in the U.S.

AMG was established in Germany in the 1960s as an independent company specializing in modifying Mercedes-Benz cars for racing and rallying. By 1990, it was cooperating with Mercedes on a formal basis and by 2005 had become a wholly owned subsidiary, based in Affalterbach.

Today, AMG plays two major roles within Mercedes. The group develops drivetrain, suspension and body modifications to upgrade each of the cars within the Mercedes range to high-performance standards and hand-builds the engines that become the heart of the cars that carry the AMG insignia.

Unusual for any automobile company, each exemplary engine is assembled by one technician. We’ve toured the large assembly room in Affalterbach where most of this work takes place, and it is an impressive process.

Technicians use a computer-equipped, self-propelled engine stand on which the engine is assembled, and moves from workstation to workstation. At each task-specific station, the parts and tools are ready to use. A computer tracks the use of each tool, and measures each specified movement to assure that each step is done to specification.

When all tasks are completed the finished engine is plugged into a test stand and examined. When the engine has passed all check-tests, the technician affixes an AMG label engraved with his signature to the top of the engine. While we were there, several new AMG owners were meeting the techs who assembled their engines. We were told that happens frequently, encouraged by the company as a motivator for assuring that high quality and individual responsibility become an integral part of building the engines.

After our experience with the cars, we concluded that they offer more performance than anyone could need in normal driving. Mercedes probably would not argue with that. The only time we’ve observed an AMG model driven near its limits was by professional drivers on a closed course.

But when regular road traffic requires quick acceleration to get out of a tight spot or equally quick braking to avoid a sudden problem, that extra margin of performance is reassuring.

After debating which test car we’d most love to own, we opted for the CLS63. It has four doors and four passenger seats, plus ample luggage space – even without putting down the rear seats. And this car has beautiful styling. The CLS63 is a great all-around car.

As with a fine hand-assembled watch or a beautifully carved piece of furniture, it’s satisfying to contemplate the satisfaction of owning the best version of a high-quality car like an AMG.

Longtime Los Altos residents Gary and Genie Anderson are co-owners of Enthusiast Publications LLC, which edits several car club magazines and contributes articles and columns to automotive magazines and online services.

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