Considering it’s the least powerful car you can drive at Phillip Island’s Mercedes-Benz AMG Performance driving event, the C63 AMG 507 Coupe certainly packs some serious wallop.
Under the bonnet sits a 6.3-litre naturally aspirated V8 with 373kW of power and 610Nm of torque driving the rear wheels –that’s up 37kW/10Nm on the standard C63.
Bury the throttle, and this factory-tuned C-Class will go from zero to 100 kilometres per hour in 4.2 seconds flat in the dry.
Stepping up, there’s a fleet of Herculean-powered AMG sedan and Shooting Brake models to pilot, including the E63 S and CLS63 S, both of which use AMG’s monstrous 5.5-litre Bi-turbo V8 engine that puts out 430kW, and a tyre-frying 800Nm of torque.
For sports car fans, there’s also the opportunity to get behind the wheel of the magnificent looking SL63 AMG with the same 5.5-litre bi-turbo powerplant, though with a slightly less 395-kilowatt output.
These are some of the most powerful production cars in the world, capable of speeds in excess of 300km/h – though electronically limited to 250km/h – and believe me, you’ll use every bit of that grunt as you’re hurtling down the main straightaway here at the iconic Phillip Island race circuit in Victoria.
Nevertheless, with such stratospheric levels of power on tap, knowing how to properly unleash it is not only mandatory for one’s own self-preservation, but also key to the core safety values pushed by the Mercedes-Benz brand.
While Benz offers a range of driver training courses across all driving levels (from as little as $95 for the First Gear program), these AMG Performance days are exclusive to AMG owners and an absolute ‘must-do’ experience for drivers of such blindingly quick, high-performance vehicles.
After the mandatory driver’s safety briefing by Peter Hackett, the chief driving instructor of the Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy, it’s time to don helmets and pair up with any one of the specially prepared AMG cars, as well your very own professional driving instructor.
Hackett currently competes in the Australian GT Racing Circuit in one of the few Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3s in the Southern Hemisphere, but each and every instructor on his team has racing experience (around 47 championships between them).
More importantly, by day’s end you’ll be an appreciably more capable driver than you were at the start of the day. You’ll also have a mighty appreciation of what your AMG vehicle is truly capable of when fully unleashed.
Phillip Island isn’t for the faint hearted. The speeds here can be huge, so it’s scary enough with a dry track, but if your drive day happens to include torrential rain as it did on our day, the level of difficulty in piloting one of these AMG monsters goes up by a factor of 10.
“Please leave the Electronic Stability Control system on for today’s drive program,” is the plea from the instructors, before we roll out of pit lane, and onto the main straightaway. There’ll be no argument here, as the surface looks and feels about as grippy as the local ice rink – and that’s without the 800Nm of torque going to the AMG’s rear axle.
Straight up, my instructor points out the dry line – an important observation if you want to avoid aquaplaning, which is a terrifying experience caused when a layer of water builds between the tyres and the road surface, leading to a complete loss of traction and control of the vehicle.
The remedy is less speed and the smooth application of throttle and steering inputs if you want to avoid a potential catastrophe on track, or worse, on the road.
After several laps, you start to become familiar with what are simply appalling conditions. The instructor urges me to push a little harder. Mind, it’s still frightfully slippery, but if you’re smooth, and follow the correct line, it’s surprising just how much grip these cars have.
More good advice comes in the statement, “only brake in a dead straight line”. Brake while you’re turning in, and the car’s balance can be upset and before you know it, you’re sliding uncontrollably towards Bass Straight.
Do it right though, and you can still carry decent speed through relatively tight sections, with the AMG entirely well behaved.
Confidence grows, and by lap 20, I’m finding the perfect balance between grip and power levels. There’s the odd rear-end slip, but that’s where the stability control comes in and right’s the car’s line before it all goes wrong. Still, it’s a constant battle to resist the urge to give it a tad more throttle, given these newfound skills in the wet. Better to be safe than sorry, I guess.
It’s a pity Mercedes-Benz doesn’t offer their AMG Performance drive days to owners of any high-performance vehicle – such are the invaluable lessons learned in car control, particularly in the wet.
The one-on-one driver instruction is without peer, as is the patience and professionalism of each and every instructor on Hackett’s team.
They also put on one of the best gourmet lunch experiences you’ll find at any racetrack in Australia – but go easy on the rare beef (it is simply superb) if you’re heading back out on track for the afternoon session for some hot laps with the pros.