2013 AMG Performance Tour Hits Las Vegas

Posted by: Shelton Kwan onNovember 7th, 2013

This article is contributed by Bernard W, who joined me in Las Vegas for this year’s event.

Lonestar Mercedes-Benz was kind enough to send me to the year-end preview of the 2014 AMG fleet at the AMG Performance Tour in Pahrump, Nevada. Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch was the venue of choice this year. It is touted as being the largest track facility in North America and is aiming to be the largest in the world. They have recently purchased an additional 500 acres and intend on building more and more track facilities. Pahrump is also famous for being in Nye County where prostitution is legal. There are a number of other “Ranches” that are in the area.

AMG set themselves up on the newest part of the facility. It is so new that when the car carriers showed up, the meeting facility was completely empty that the AMG performance tour team was afraid that they wouldn’t be able to run the event. Driving on a freshly paved track is an experience like no other. The eastern most track is an awesome track with some great elevation changes that you don’t normally see in “track” only facilities. SMMR does not hold any races. It is strictly a member only track facility.

The tour starts the night before with cocktails and dinner. You get to meet some of the other invited drivers and of course some of the instructors. Everyone is put up in the Vdara hotel and meals happen in the Aria which is all part of the City Center Complex right on the strip.

The following morning, we were up bright and early and boarded a bus to take the drivers out to the track. I have never left Vegas in a way that wasn’t either through the I-15 corridor or by plane. The scenery was impressive and you got to see where all the people you tip everyday live. There is actually more to Vegas than the airport and the Strip.

Upon arrival, we were greeted by the instructors and the vast array of AMG vehicles in production today. Missing were the G63, GL63 and S63. The G63 and GL63 are hot sellers for Mercedes Canada and the S63 is sitting in Germany built and waiting for Carbon Fiber. Boeing and Airbus control all of the CF production in the world and provide small amounts to other industries. Formula 1 is also taking a large chunk to build next year’s cars and so there is a shortage for car manufacturers. I do know a few people with E63s on order with the CF package that have had their build dates pushed back due to the lack of CF. The S63 should be added to the fleet in the next month or so. In attendance were the brand new CLA45 (that wasn’t even registered and plated yet), the SLK55, the C63 507 Coupe and sedan, the E63S sedan and wagon, the CLS63S, the SL63, the SLS63 GT and the ML63.

The morning session included a full breakfast while Danny Kok and his team went over some basics. They covered cornering, trail braking, looking ahead, full brake application (using the dead pedal), the history of AMG and a little about the cars we were going to drive. Danny also covered how to setup your mirrors so that you never have to shoulder check. I think this is something that should be taught properly in drivers ed. So many rear enders could be avoided in merge lanes if people would setup and trust their mirrors.

For the first session, we went out and drove cars through the slalom. We were partnered up and switch after 1 run each and then switched cars. The purpose of the session was to get us to look ahead while using our peripheral vision to navigate the cones. When the instructor lifted a cone at the end of the slalom course, we were supposed to skip a cone before resuming the back and forth. It was a slow exercise that was carried out in mostly 1st or second gear. On the way back to the slalom start line, we did a braking exercise. We were supposed to accelerate to 70 km/h and then when reaching the first cone, apply the brakes with full force to get maximum braking. ABS goes off like crazy and it feels like you are standing on the brake with your right foot. I know I went more than 70 km/h on most runs but then was asked to slow down. These cars accelerate so hard that you have to let off about half way down the run to keep it even close to 80-90 km/h.

Next up was the cornering exercise. The purpose was to initiate braking early and abruptly and then ease off while trail braking after the turn in point. In our morning classroom session, Danny brought up Jackie Stewart and explained why he was so good in his era of F1. Jackie didn’t think he was a better driver than anyone else at the time, but he used trail braking to get ahead. Trail braking is all about a trade off in grip of the front tires. If you are using 100% of the grip to brake the car, there is nothing left for turning. If you turn the wheel, you will understeer out of the corner. If you however gently let off the brake to say 75%, you then have 25% to use for the turn. Trail braking allows you to carry more speed into the apex before hitting it and then rolling on the accelerator. It effectively makes you faster.

The afternoon session was all about driving the cars faster and faster. The first lapping session, the instructor drove the lead car and people rotated through the selection of cars. The instructor gave individual tips about the course and answered questions. The next lapping session the instructor was in the passenger seat of the lead car and gave real time feedback about the laps. The last session was the same as the second, but the lapping got faster. I did see 200 km/h by the end of the straight in some of the more powerful cars. One of the drivers was so anxious to hit 200 that he forgot about the braking zone and went off the end of the track in a big cloud of dust.

We finished up the day with some hot laps with the instructors going full bore. I took a ride in the two cars that interested me the most, the CLA45 and the E63 Wagon. The SLS and the C63 coupe was also being hot lapped. What was interesting about the hot lapping was that it showed the difference between an amateur like me and the professional instructors. Even at 7 / 10ths, I would get the tires squealing around many of the corners and have the traction triangle light up as I pushed the accelerator coming out of corners; signs that I was doing something wrong. Even with 3 heavy guys in the car, Melanie, driving the now 5000 lbs. E63S wagon drove a squeal free lap faster than I could imagine doing myself and with all the traction control nannies fully on. I was sitting behind her and didn’t see the yellow triangle blink once.

Now the cars:

CLA45: When I heard that this car was going to be available for the Performance Tour, I was even more excited about the event. I truly was looking forward to driving the car, but kept my expectations low due to the power it had, a paltry 355hp from a Turbo 4 cylinder 2.0 motor. Its power to displacement ratio makes it the most powerful production 4 cylinder in the world today and the second most powerful in the L / hp ratio. In retrospect, I should have kept my expectations high as they would have been blown away anyway. The power is adequate. The handling is superb. The value proposition is excellent. The interior is better than the photos make it out to be. The car is attractively styled. It is a great package for $50K. The CLA45 is a FWD car that has the ability to send 50% of the power to the rear wheels as required. When you drive it, you don’t notice that it is FWD biased. There is no torque steer, no understeer like the AWD cars that come from the company with 4 rings, there is no oversteer either. It is a great package. One thing the CLA45 had that I can’t explain was a crazy sense of urgency when power out of a corner. The transmission is a highlight for the car. It shifts when you pull the paddle and with speed like no other transmission in the AMG line.

SLK55: When it was my turn to drive one, I was bracing myself for disappointment. I have always wondered why AMG didn’t put the 6.2 in the SLK. Truth be told, it doesn’t really need it. The SLK is like a go-cart. It handles great, has by far one of the best sounding exhausts and has more than enough power. Turn-in on the car is exceptional and it lays down the power with authority on the corner exits. The SLK is lacking in one regard: the transmission. It needs an update badly. Next to the MCT and DCT equipped cars, it felt downright sluggish. Pull the paddle, wait what feels like an eternity, experience the shift and move on. In S mode, it was a little better, but it still felt like everything was delayed. AMG, please give the SLK the MCT at the very least.

C63 507: I don’t have much to say about the 507 coupe or sedan. I know the 2012+ cars have revised suspension, but I really didn’t notice it. I also didn’t really notice any extra power. Having a tuned 2010 C63 of my own, I can say that the power of the Eurocharged tune pretty much matches what comes from the factory in the 507 package. Don’t get me wrong, the 507 is an awesome package.

CLS63S: Something I didn’t’ expect was that the 2014 CLS63S is more like an E63S, or maybe the E63S is more like the CLS63S. The CLS63S didn’t make an impression on me that was any different than the E63S. So I will move on to that.

E63S: There was an AMG event in 2011 at Race City where they previewed the 2012 cars. In attendance were the new Bi-turbo E63 and CLS63. The two cars couldn’t be more different. The CLS felt sporty, the E63 felt more grandpa. The biggest change for 2014 is the addition of 4Matic. These changes made both the CLS and the E feel the same to me. The E63S has stiffened up and lost roll in the corners. The CLS feels like it has been tamed a little. What amazes me is how nimble these 4200+ lbs. machines feel. I think the E63 Wagon is over 4500 lbs. Power delivery is incredible. 577 hp and 590 lb/ft of torque make these cars some of the fastest production vehicles in the world. In fact, the E63 is probably the fastest production sedan and the wagon is the fastest production Wagon in the world. We are talking about super car power and acceleration. Speaking with the instructors, everyone is sure the cars are really making well over 600hp at the crank and AMG have lowered the number for insurance purposes in other places in the world. AMG builds world cars. It is the same spec no matter where you buy it. Cornering was the highlight of the drive. Turn-in was very good and with the brake torque vectoring in the rear, it was easy to go around the corner while on the gas and not worry about understeering. The 4matic is unobtrusive. It doesn’t pull you into understeer under power. I think AMG found the perfect balance in the fixed 33:67 power distribution. In fact, with very little effort (but more than a RWD) drifting these new 4matics is very possible. Although somewhat muted, the exhaust is tell-tale AMG. I think that AMG makes the best sounding cars in the world.

ML63: This is a great truck if you love SUVs. Given that it is the same price as the E63 Wagon, I am not sure why you would take the ML63 over the E63. The ML63 has the 5.5 Bi-Turbo motor, but tuned with less power. It has plenty of get up and go and keeps up with the rest of the cars in a straight line. The corners are another story. The sheer weight of the ML is evident with the body roll that occurs. Don’t get me wrong, the ML63 will run circles around so called “performance cars” from other manufacturers, but you can’t get away from physics. The other part that I was disappointed in was the seats and the gas pedal. I felt like I was sliding around in them every corner and the pedal aren’t hinged on the floor like all the other cars. Weird. Other than ground clearance, I would get the Wagon over this every time.

SL63: As Jezza says from time to time, What a Machine! As I was growing up and even up until I drove one this week, I never understood why Mercedes asked for Supercar dollars for a super heavy hard top convertible. I know it was the range topper at one point, but it still didn’t click. This new SL63 is incredible. The power delivery is like a jet taking off. It pulls like a freight train. I can’t say enough about why I now know why they ask the type of money they do for this car. When you push the go pedal, the massive weight of the car all but disappears. This car is F*&#ing fast. It handles great as well. It might be slightly under braked, but most people who buy this car won’t be tracking it. When I am older, I think I will pick up a lightly used one for doddling around.

SLS GT: A beast. Nothing more to say. The exhaust is incredible. The transmission is incredible. The handling was one of the best of the group, with more than enough power. If you ever get a chance to drive or ride in one, you won’t be disappointed.

So, what stood out? What would I buy? If I were in the market for an AMG, I would be all over the CLA45 and the E63S Wagon. The CLA45 in a bargain for what you are getting if you compare it to the likes of the STi, EVO, Golf R, etc. The E63S wagon is the sleeper that no one will expect, delivering supercar power and acceleration in an everyday driver. It does it all in one car. No need to look at your Aston Martin, Porsche Turbo, or any other car depreciating in the garage because you can’t drive it anywhere.

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