Mercedes-Benz invited us out for a day to drive three of its AMG models, the 2007 E63, the 2007 ML63, and the 2008 CLK63 AMG Black Series. AMG was started by a couple of former Mercedes-Benz engineers as an independent tuning shop in 1967. Now, 40 years later, Mercedes-Benz owns AMG and uses it to produce high-end performance versions of its standard models.
The Black Series AMG, introduced at this year's New York auto show, represents a step up from the already elevated CLK63 AMG. The Black Series gets extensive use of carbon fiber as well as a 500-horsepower engine, up from 481 in the regular CLK63.
In our quick drive around the Santa Cruz mountains, we came away impressed with the raw power and handling of the CLK63 AMG Black Series. The thick steering wheel gave precise response to our inputs, and the acceleration, rated at 0 to 60 mph in 4.1 seconds, pressed us back into our seats.
The CLK63 AMG Black Series uses the same engine, a 6.3-liter V-8, as its standard AMG counterpart. It gets its extra horsepower from a redesigned exhaust system. Each AMG engine is affixed with a small plaque showing the signature of the AMG engineer who built it.
The four exhaust pipes mark this car as a product of AMG. Black Series elements include a limited slip differential, a carbon-fiber trunk-lip spoiler, and a carbon-fiber enclosure holding the differential cooler located underneath the rear bumper.
Beyond its carbon-fiber stylistic components, there is very little differentiating the exterior of the Black Series from the CLK63. This subtle Black Series edge is added to the standard AMG badge. It will be interesting to see what other AMG models get this edge.
The interior of the Black Series gets some unique features over the CLK63. For starters, the Black Series is more honest, in that it doesn't have a back seat, rather than pretending someone can actually fit back there. Instead, it has felt-lined depressions suitable for luggage or Gucci bags.
The steering wheel is very sport oriented, with a flat bottom and sculpted grip spots just above the lateral spokes. It is very tightly tuned, with lots of oversteer. The car also has the full Mercedes-Benz electronics package, including navigation and Harman Kardon stereo. Unfortunately, the interface to the electronics package doesn't get an upgrade.
This carbon-fiber surrounded shifter is particularly unique. It's very easy to pop into place, but it doesn't offer a convenient place to rest your hand. That's OK, though, as the transmission is Mercedes-Benz's seven-speed automatic. You put the shift in Drive, push the button at the top of the gate to put it in Sport mode, and the transmission does an excellent job of finding the gears you need. You can also use the paddle shifters on the wheel for manual gear selection.
This car served as the prototype for the CLK63 Black Series. It was built by AMG as a pace car for European F1 races. It sports such features as carbon-fiber components and the limited slip differential that made their way into the Black Series.
Unfortunately, the very first AMG car was taken apart, but Mercedes-Benz had this technically accurate replica built about five years ago. Both the original and this replica started life as a 300 SEL. The rear fenders are flared to accommodate the wide racing tires.
This car is one of the first AMGs sold in the United States. The base AMG model started life as a 1987 300E and was tuned up by AMG with a 360-horsepower, 5.6-liter V-8. This particular car was tricked out even further, with the AMG engineers boring out the engine to 6 liters, giving it 375 horsepower. This model's nickname is "The Hammer".
Among the AMG cars we got to drive, the E63 was a favorite due its sleeper characteristic. It started life as a standard E-Class and doesn't look particularly different from the outside. But it moves fast when you want power.
As a four-door sedan, the E63 sticks closest to AMG tradition. We found that it didn't lack in speed, although its handling wasn't quite as good as the Black Series. Although its air dam is lower than that of the standard E-Class, we negotiated broken pavement and one particularly nasty ridge without scraping anything.
Just like with the Black Series, the E63 gets the Mercedes-Benz seven-speed automatic, although on all AMG cars it's modified with AMG SpeedShift, tuning to make it more responsive during sport driving. The button at the top of the gate lets you cycle between Sport, Manual, and Comfort modes. This car also has three levels of suspension control--with both lights next to the button lit, as in this picture, it is set for maximum sport.
We also had a chance to drive the ML63, Mercedes-Benz's small SUV that's modified by AMG. It also uses the 6.3-liter V-8, in this case producing 503 horsepower and taking the vehicle to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds.
Although we don't favor SUVs for sport driving, we were able to push the ML63 fairly hard along a winding mountain road. It didn't feel particularly top-heavy, and the engine and steering were very responsive.