When you think of ultimate driving destinations, New York City is probably one of the last places to come to mind.
Anyone who has been to the Big Apple, or even seen it on television, will probably know that even in a taxi it can be an extremely frustrating experience: the traffic is deadly, and stop-start cues can last for hours.
Yes, the traffic was brutal at times. And yes, it was too cold for any sensible human to want to drop the folding top on the German brand’s big convertible flagship model. But boy oh boy, was it still a lot of fun… And who said we were sensible?
Our drive was mainly focused around seeing some sights, scouting locations for the photographs you see in this piece. As such, we hit up Times Square, one of the busiest and most brand-laden stretches of road anywhere on Earth, before cruising towards DUMBO (Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass) and then back towards Wall Street and the World Trade Centre sight.
Our hotel was on Madison Avenue and 5th
Avenue, a great spot down near the Flatiron building and opposite Madison Park with its ridiculously popular Shake Shack store.
Having never driven in New York, but having walked the streets a lot, I was looking forward to seeing just how bad it could be. And I wasn’t let down…
First, we headed down Park Avenue, through the tunnel, which allowed us to experience the aural excitement of both of our AMG models. He started in the SL63, with the roof down despite the fact it was 3 degrees Celsius outside, while I opted for the G63, heated seats ablaze.
My roadtrip partner Sam undoubtedly had the better surround sound experience, with the SL63’s 430kW/900Nm 5.5-litre bi-turbo V8 emitting a cacophony of sound from its tailpipes. My G63 didn’t disappoint, but you simply can’t have the full noise experience with a roof, no matter whether the windows are down or not.
As we made our way around Grand Central Station we got plenty of looks (and honks from impatient cab drivers) as we crawled along with our photographer, Daniel, trying to get a couple of moving shots.
We headed then towards Times Square, that iconic strip of light and action that people associate with New Years Eve as much as they do with New York City. It spans from the junction of Broadway and Seventh Avenue and stretches from West 42nd to West 47th Street. The island of Manhattan is about 263 blocks long.
There were buses and cabs all around us, not to mention trucks and pedestrians, and even NYPD traffic cops.
The shots, we think, tell a great story of NYC. There’s a buzz – you can feel it, even through these pictures.
Daniel was happy with the shots we snapped after two laps of Times Square, and so we moved on. The plan was to go down towards Wall Street via the FDR expressway, and we decided to swap cars before heading down there.
The SL63 was such a different – and more pleasant – experience than the G63, which also has a turbocharged 5.5-litre engine but with 400kW and 760Nm. Paltry, really…
The big old SUV has an archaic steering system and firm suspension, the combination of which means it is a bit of a chore to drive around urban environments. It just happens to be the sort of car that looks and sounds great at lower speeds.
The SL63 with its more supple suspension and lighter electric steering was considerably more user-friendly. And after less than 60 seconds at the wheel I had adjusted the seating position and mirrors, dropped the roof and buckled up.
We drove the few blocks towards the 15-kilometre-long FDR expressway, but found that it was not living up to the ‘express’ part of the name. So we rerouted, heading through the Queens Midtown Tunnel towards Brooklyn.
There we aimed to get some shots of the cars with the iconic Manhattan skyscape in the background, but Daniel’s previous favourite location was blocked off. Still, we found a great spot to snap a couple of shots of the cars, and I couldn’t resist posing for a couple of keepers, myself.
I stayed in the SL63 as we moved on towards DUMBO, but with the roof down and cruising through some of the back streets of Brooklyn, I came to appreciate just how cool the car was that I was driving.
I had hollers from road workers (“Yo man, you look like you need a professional driver – I’ll be that guy for you man!”); a well-dressed businessman (“Nice ride”); and a couple of families (teenage boy: “Man, I want that car”; father: “That is one sweet Benz”).
The best bit was that with the roof and windows down, I could hear the compliments and reward them with a prod of the throttle as our convoy kept moving.
We literally went to a point down under the Manhattan Bridge overpass, and the location was stunning. With lunchtime approaching it was time to quickly investigate the food situation where we were.
One of the most New York things you can eat is a slice of pizza, and so when we stumbled upon a place called Front Street Pizza, where the lines were out the door at 11.30am, we knew we’d struck gold.
With sustenance sorted, we headed back to Manhattan over the Brooklyn Bridge (another awesome photo opportunity) and downtown to the financial district.
The crowds around the famous bull statue, which signifies a strong market that is charging ahead, were massive. We tried to get a shot there, because opulent cars and Wall Street go together like bread a butter, but the masses of people and the insistent police prevented us from getting the shot we wanted.
Still, it was great to see this sight, and even though I’d just had one-eighth of an 18-inch pizza, I found a dirty water ‘dog stand to indulge in one of the city’s delicacies. It was gross – don’t believe what people say about New York’s famous hotdawgs.
Then it was time to say goodbye to our photographer and his team, as they had somewhere else to be. But it wouldn’t be the last we’d see of them…
No, we got an email the following day saying that we’d need to re-shoot some of the images because the first memory card was corrupted. We would have to do it Friday morning, before we went to the airport to fly home.
After some car wrangling by Mercedes-Benz’s Aussie PR guy Jerry Stamoulis, and with the intention of having a quiet Thursday night in one of the world’s greatest party cities, we rocked up on Friday morning, bleary-eyed, extremely hungry and very much on the tired side of the spectrum. Still, who could turn down another opportunity to pilot $750,000 worth of AMG models through the streets of one of the best cities on the planet?
The weather was warmer that day, and as we hit Times Square for a third and fourth loop, we spotted the not-so Naked Cowboy busking and, not surprisingly, posing when we asked.
As excellent as the sights were, and as many compliments on our whips as we got, the highlight of the drive came on the Friday on the way back to our hotel when we happened to come across viral internet bike-riding menace RRDBlocks.
As we drove back to our hotel down Park Avenue, we saw RRDBlocks (real name Donnell) popping a five-block-long wheelie in bumper-to-bumper traffic, dodging cars, buses and pedestrians. You won’t know him by name, but a video of him in action went worldwide last year.
Our cameraman was in the back of his tracking vehicle and asked if we could get some photos, and, being a bit of a lover of free publicity, RRDBlocks obliged.
What happened next was something I’ll never forget. I pulled over in the G63, jumped out and watched RRDBlocks pogo on his back wheel, as if puppeteer was bouncing him around.
And while he has a bit of reputation for not obeying road rules – he often runs red lights, scares pedestrians and pushes off moving cars with his feet – he’s really not a menace. Truly.
“I just ride bikes,” he said, before showing us an app on his phone that tracked his movements that day – 22 miles (35 kilometres) and counting, and he said he often cracks more than 120 miles in a day (193km).
Most of the time he’s on his phone, too, with headphones in and speaker in the edge of his mouth, staying in contact with his crew CycleSquadManiaccs, one of which showed up just a minute later.
MohammedBloxz rolled onto our temporary set on one wheel, the other high in the air in front of him, with his back straight at 90 degrees to the ground. He’s known for his laid-back wheelies, and wow, the balance and core strength to pull himself out of the positions he gets himself into is amazing.
He and his pal were eager to have their skills captured on camera by a professional shooter, and we were keen to see what they could do on the spot. RRD was rear-wheel hopping on a dime, while Mohammed looked like he was almost upside down.
Unfortunately time was running out – our photographer and the Maniaccs had to get moving, and we had an airport to get to.
This road trip was no epic of a hundred curves and corners, and we were left with a limited impression of the cars, other than to say they were both headturners. But there’s one thing I can say about New York City: it’s a place you should try and drive in at some point in your life, because being a part of the organism is a truly unforgettable experience.
Click the Photos tab above for more images of the Mercedes-AMG G63 and Mercedes-AMG SL63 in New York City.