Can a mid-tier peformance label from Mercedes tempt new buyers into its sporty AMG fold?
SEPANG, MALAYSIA — If you want something German and properly sporty you should choose a BMW or Porsche. So goes the conventional wisdom, anyway. But a special label from Daimler intends to give driving enthusiasts here a family of muscular Mercedes models to think about, too.
Several new cars belonging to the 43 series from Mercedes-AMG made their debut yesterday at Malaysia’s Sepang F1 Circuit. While a Mercedes-Benz is usually considered a premium car with all the usual connotations of success and comfort, the Mercedes-AMG models are aimed at buyers who want something more, especially under the bonnet.
“These are cars for the aspiring, younger generation of customers,” says Wolfgang Huppenbauer, the chief executive of Daimler Southeast Asia. They’re for the ones who like a sporty vehicle with enough power to play around with. They live in a sporty, inspiring world.”
MADNESS TO THEIR METHOD
Mercedes-AMG began life as something of a motorsports madhouse. It was founded 50 years ago by two Mercedes engineers who started out by tuning engines for racing — the “AMG” initials come from the founders’ names (Aufrecht and Melcher) and the town name Grossaspach, where Aufrecht was born.
The business expanded to build custom cars, and AMG eventually offered high-performance parts to make Mercedes cars go faster. After keeping a watchful eye on the company for decades, Mercedes parent Daimler bought 51 percent of its shares in 1999, renamed it Mercedes-AMG, and then scooped up the rest in 2005 to turn it into a wholly-owned subsidiary.
The division hires its own own engineers, and up until recently has been most famous for a “one-man, one-engine” philosophy, maintaining a team of 50 builders who painstakingly assemble engines by hand, and then attached a nameplate to each one with their signature.
Signature stuff from Mercedes-AMG
That still happens, but Mercedes-AMG has set its sights on broader things now. Which is where the new range of “43” badged models come in.
The line-up comprises eight models at the moment, seven of which were present at Sepang: C 43 and E 43 sedans, the slinky C 43 Coupe and Cabriolet models, the SLC 43 Roadster, and a GLC 43 sports utility vehicle, along with a more sportily styled version of that car in the form of the GLC 43 Coupe.
A C 43 Estate (a station wagon version of the car) was not at the launch event but is also on sale.
“For me, the 43s are, like we say in Germany, a wolf in sheep’s skin,” says Huppenbauer (below). They are powerful and fast without looking too obvious about it, he says, and there is a group of customers who appreciate such subtlety. “A 43 has all the attributes of a sportscar but doesn’t show it in the first second that you see it”.
Other carmakers have tried a similar strategy. BMW’s most sporty cars wear an “M” badge (an allusion to the company’s motorsports subsidiary), but slightly slower and less costly versions are sold as “M Performance Automobiles”.
MIND THE GAP
While the top AMG cars (that is, the fastest and most expensive ones) continue to be powered by hand-built engines, the mid-tier “43” models are all propelled by a 3.0-litre V6 that is mass-produced.
The twin-turbo engine is a development of a standard V6 Mercedes engine, but AMG’s engineers extract more power from it by reprogramming the engine computer and raising the turbo boost pressure. The cars all have 367 horsepower (34 more than standard), except for the E 43, which has 401 horsepower.
Most of the “43” cars also have a four-wheel drive system, albeit one that usually sends 69 percent of engine power to the rear wheels, to keep the handling from feeling nose-heavy.
Visually, the cars whisper about their high performance potential, but don’t scream it.
Subtlety begins at 43…
A typical “43” series car has a subtle wing on the bootlid, black wing mirrors and brake calipers painted grey — the full-power “63” models have them in red.
Inside, they have red seatbelts, and the main instruments have a subtle chequered flag pattern.
But if there’s a noticeable difference between a “43” model and its more powerful “63” sibling, it’ll be the price.
A C 43 4Matic costs $323,888 with COE, while the C 63 starts at $435,888. That’s enough of a savings to give “43” sales a boost. The C 43 has been selling well compared to the C 63, says a manager from Daimler. Without giving exact figures, he says that the cheaper car sells by the dozen, while only a handful of buyers have picked up the C 63.
“I think we’ll have a good run with these cars,” says Daimler’s Huppenbauer. “The 43s are really hitting the target group of people who like to have more than an average car but don’t want to go all the way to a top-end AMG.”
There may be a performance gap between a top AMG car and the new “43” models, but ultimately it is the price gap between them that seems to matter that most.
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