Is AMG dead?
Big changes are afoot in Affalterbach, even if it's all about perspective.
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Mercedes-AMG is releasing a slew of new models. On the surface this of course seems like a good thing. More snarly, raspy, oversteering, German muscle cars on the streets for the one (or maybe two?) percent, and more sleek Autoblog photos and YouTube videos for the rest of us plebes.
Now let's say if up until recently you counted yourself au courant with Affalterbach and their dealings, you might say, "but Willy, almost every Mercedes-Benz model already has an AMG version. What new models could they possibly make?" Indeed. And that's just it! These models largely aren't new.
The first sign that trouble was afoot was at the release of the renamed and facelifted SLC-Class recently. Out was the SLK55 AMG with its naturally-aspirated 5.5 liter V8 pumping out 415hp and almost as much torque, and in came the SLC43 with a bi-turbo 3.0 liter V6 engine with 362hp and 384lb-ft. Even more brutal is that the new GLE43 Coupe uses that same engine. It's a gigantic coupe-shaped SUV that somehow gets to be an AMG when equipped with its base engine in the US - an engine that, in a car that big, honestly should be its base engine.
These new AMG models use the powerplant that's generally been the mid-range option in regular Mercedes. It's the engine upgrade between the most common Benzes on the street, and the big-boy AMGs on top. In MB's current lineup, this is the bi-turbo 3.0 liter V6. Not a bad motor by any means, but let's be honest here. This thing is a plain-Jane, reasonably-displaced, designed for ease-of-packaging V6. In an AMG! They're an awkward sounding, minivan-being-in, well, you get the idea. Couldn't AMG have at least soiled their reputation with a sweet, balanced inline-6?!
When the W205 generation C-Class debuted for 2014, the non-AMG engine upgrade from the baseline C300 was a 328hp bi-turbo 3.0 liter V6 in the C400. In the first year of W205s on the road I saw exactly zero C400s, which may or may not have been the reason behind Mercedes-Benz adjusting their offering after just one year on sale. They bumped the power by about 10% to a 362hp version of that same engine and re-christened it the Mercedes-Benz C450 AMG. See that? Those three little letters slapped there on the end? This was the first sign that the marketing department was sneakily- nay, tastelessly- encroaching on the beautiful traditions of AMG.
Now that these marketing folks had gotten their first sweet taste of titillating buyers with AMG scribbled on the back of (and about 20 other places on) regular old Benzes, personally I think they just couldn't help themselves. Just as Cadillac has V-Sport, BMW has M-Sport, Lexus has F-Sport, and Audi has the letter S, Mercedes marketing too had crossed over to the dark side of badge-fluffing.
At this point, I've accepted that the number on the back of a Mercedes (or BMW for that matter) doesn't have anything to do with displacement anymore. Even if it's faster, Joe Shmoliano doesn't want to upgrade from an E320 to an E200, does he? And AMG too, has followed-suit, using the 63 and 65 monikers for their full-fat tire-shredders even though they don't align with the displacements of their models' respective engines. The genesis of those two numbers admittedly is a bit screwy, but they're here and they're accepted as the V8 and V12 AMG cars' official titles. A C63! Ooo, aaahh... An S65! OOOOO, AAAAHHH!
Even the little hatchback and its associated variations get an AMG engine of their very own, complete with yet another unique moniker, 45, as in the Mercedes-AMG A45. It's a turbocharged 2.0 liter inline-4 with 376hp and frankly, it's a bit of a beast. (Just a lil' bit.) But 43? The SLC43? That's less than 45! That's, like, 2 less(!), even for an engine with 50% more cylinders and 10% more torque (and 4% less power...)! Well, not everything in the world makes sense, does it. Maybe it's a callback to the super-cool 1998 C43 with its super-awesome 4.3 liter V8. Who knows, man.
The thing is, one of the defining features of these AMG powerplants has always been the one man, one engine concept. In the AMG engine factory, a single master engine builder assembles your engine from beginning to end, adorning the final product with a small plaque engraved with his name. Not only is that very cool, it also connotes an old-world environment where a man took time with his craft, laboring over and mastering each detail of his creation before presenting the customer with whichever fine good was his trade. After all, these are the engines Signor Pagani chooses to drive his creations, and he seems to care about these sorts of things.
So what about this "AMG" 3.0 V6? This engine is not painstakingly assembled by some Hanz or Franz from a 30th-generation AMG master engine builder family. This is the same engine that one year ago sat around in countless dealer lots inside of those Mercedes-Benz C400s. This is the same heart-of-a-minivan that drove the renamed C450 AMG, and now, it's powering what's being advertised as a full-blooded AMG! That's right. At the time of writing, with no boost in power, the C400 has completed its metamorphosis and will officially be titled the Mercedes-AMG C43.
So, back to the histrionic headline question then. Is it? Well, whatever you end up thinking about that, yeah, you know, well, that's just, like, uhh, your opinion, man. But still, let me hear it.
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