For the longest of time, we Mercedes-Benz fans have had to live with one hard fact and that fact was that Mercedes-Benz products couldn’t quite offer the excitement, or entertainment (as drivers’ cars) when compared to their Munich rival, BMW. Admittedly these two manufacturers have never really appealed to the same type of buyer, but the rivalry is far too blatant to be hidden. Fans of both of the iconic manufacturers have been at ‘war’ (so to speak) for a long time, but that over-used cliché that Mercedes-Benz only makes products for the elderly seeking a vehicle with lush ride and no driving experience is fading away – extremely fast.
As Bob Dylan once said, “The Times They Are A-Changin'’”. They most certainly are for Mercedes-Benz and affiliates who are currently gaining a reputation for developing ‘sporty cars’. Now I know what you’re thinking, aren’t the words ‘Mercedes’ and ‘sporty’, a contradiction? Contrary to what some may believe, such a combination is not a contradiction and the recent flood of complimentary magazine reviews confirms this to be the case.
However, before we move onto to the actual praise of the newer AMG models, I think it’s only fair to mention some of Mercedes-Benz’s greatest drivers’ cars. People often label Mercedes-Benz as a manufacturer with no sporting intent, but excuse me, that’s just rubbish.
Mercedes motor sport-inspired road-going models actually hark back as far as the 1950’s - the most notable of them being the 1954 300 SL “Gullwing”. The iconic 300SL Gullwing was one of the Mercedes’ first road-going automobiles which was labelled as a ‘road-legal race car’ – evidenced by the fact that it was loosely based upon the company’s 1950 race car, the W194 300SL.
The following years saw a steady trend of Mercedes road-going race cars, but none that made as much of an impact on enthusiasts as the release of the 190E 2.5-16 ‘Evolution’ models – the first of which was released in March of 1989. Aside from an obvious body make-over (inspired by Mercedes’ own DTM vehicles, allowing a drag coefficient of just .29), the Evolution took Mercedes to a whole new level by settling itself firmly in the sports sedan section. This was achieved through the addition of such equipment as a: short-stroke engine with a bigger-bore (thus increasing the flexibility and revv band); an adjustable suspension with adjustable ride height; and just about everything thing else you could think of that was available at the time. And to top it off, the 190 Evolution was a homologation special, and that alone secured it a place in Mercedes history.
Wait just a minute! Before you go and utter words such as, “Mr. McCulloch, have you forgotten about the supercar that McLaren motorcars co-developed with Mercedes-Benz? What about the eye catching, carbon fibre-bodied 626bhp monster that is the SLR McLaren?”
No, I haven’t forgotten about it. The SLR may be superbly fast and an amazing performance car, but truthfully, it’s just a big GT (no pun intended). What you should be aware is that even Mercedes themselves doesn’t advertise the SLR as a sportscar, but rather a high performance GT and having said that, it’s clear that various magazines agree with their analogy. British magazine EVO was quoted as saying that they’d rather own the CLK DTM than the SLR, mostly because it boasted a level of driving excitement which the SLR could not match.
This particular vehicle was brought to life in mid 2004 when Mercedes-Benz motorsport division (in connection with AMG), decided to produce a homologation special with no marketing logic whatsoever. Mind you, the words ‘homolgation’ and ‘logical’ have never gone hand in hand, but let’s be honest – 236,060 € for a vehicle (and a Mercedes, after all!) which shared the same base 5.4 litre supercharged 8-cylinder with a number of lesser AMG models and a body style loosely based on the road-going CLK doesn’t fare too well on paper. In fact, most enthusiasts questioned the need for such a vehicle - often implying that it was no more than a standard CLK with a power boost. Nevertheless, such an intial reaction did not affect Mercedes who managed to sell the entire production line (100 units), before any automotive journalists got their hands on the vehicle.
572bhp CLK DTM
Furthermore, the performance figures which this monster eventually turned out surely shocked the majority of sports car enthusiasts. The CLK DTM easily broke the 8-minute barrier on the famous Nurburgring Nordschliefe and matched the best from Italy, Germany and America when it came to slalom courses, braking tests, etc. Once the word spread, those familiar with Mercedes history soon knew that something was a little different this time around. After all, this vehicle had a few advantages which no other Benz could offer, like semi-slick tyres and a stripped out interior full of lightweight bits made of materials such as alcantara and carbon fibre. Far from being the answer to a question no one asked, as auto enthusiasts originally conjectured, the CLK DTM is instead the answer to the prayers every Mercedes-Benz enthusiast had uttered for years.
Thankfully the wonderful CLK DTM has paved the way for a new generation of AMG and Mercedes models. Since the release of the homologation special, the magic has been passed along to other AMG models. They include the SLK55 AMG Black Series; CLK63 AMG Black Series and the recently released, M3 fighting, C63 AMG.
Black Series models, CLK63 (top), SLK55 (bottom)
And yep, you guessed it; all three of these vehicles have Mercedes being considered in a much different light. With respect to the C63 AMG, British magazine AutoCar recently made the claim,"I can’t remember a more entertaining, a more dynamically rounded Mercedes model since the original 190 2.5 Evo." Big claim, wouldn’t you say?
Make no mistake; both Mercedes and AMG are evolving and what makes this achievement even all more impressive is that it appears they been able to do this without any compromises – without alienating the large group of customers that has always known and respected Mercedes for luxury motorcars.
BMW and Audi - watch out! Fair warning is being given right now. Stuttgart’s driving enthusiasts’ models are back and heading your way, at high speed, real soon.