Mercedes Moving to All-Wheel-Drive with AMG
Focus on performance – but opens doors to Snowbelt markets.
by Paul A. Eisenstein on Apr.05, 2013
The new Mercedes-Benz CLA45 helps usher in a new AWD strategy for the German maker's AMG brand.
With the launch of its updated 2014 E-Class, CLS and CLA performance models, Mercedes-Benz will begin a dramatic shift at its AMG brand-within-a-brand. Going forward, virtually all of the performance division’s products will come with standard all-wheel-drive.
The strategy should help expand the appeal of models like the 2014 E63 AMG and new CLA45 AMG in snowy northern regions where all-wheel-drive has become a virtual must for buyers.
But by putting as much emphasis on performance as cold weather traction, Mercedes is betting it will also further enhance demand for AMG models in their traditional “smile state” markets.
“It should widen our footprint,” suggested Rob Moran, manager of the AMG line for Mercedes-Benz USA.
The highest-performance models within the expanding Mercedes model-mix, AMG products have a strong and loyal following in the U.S. – in fact, half of the world’s production winds up somewhere in the States and, in turn, about half of those are sold in Southern California alone, with other strong regions in Florida and other warmer regions of the country.
Like most of its luxury competitors, Mercedes has discovered a major shift in demand among luxury buyers in recent years. Whether a Benz, BMW or Lexus, customers in Snowbelt regions increasingly demand all-wheel-drive, Moran noting “in New York, it’s pretty hard to find” a conventional Mercedes product on a dealer lot that wasn’t equipped with the maker’s 4Matic system.
Competitors, notably Audi, have been promoting all-wheel-drive as a way to deliver both improved winter traction and performance, expanding their sales of high-powered models in places like New York and the Midwest. And Mercedes will adopt a similar strategy.
It already offers 4Matic in its crossover AMG models, such as the ML63 AMG. But the launch of the 2014 E63 AMG, CLS63 AMG and CLA45 AMG marks the first time the technology is paired with the performance division’s passenger car models.
While sharing its name with the traction system in more conventional Mercedes models, the AMG 4Matic technology has been revised to “emphasize performance,” stressed Moran. For one thing, there will be a fixed power ratio that delivers more power to the rear wheels on the E63 and CLS63, he notes, only 33% of the torque of those engines going to the nose wheels. Meanwhile, AMG’s 4Matic system will feature what is known as “torque vectoring.”
With traditional all-wheel-drive, both front wheels receive the same amount of power. That can result in an understeer situation, where the car tends to push into a corner. But torque vectoring shifts power to the outer wheel in a turn, helping the vehicle corner more aggressively.
The exact torque split will vary according to individual AMG models. The new CLA line, for example, is Mercedes’ first model to start art as a front-wheel-drive vehicle. With 4Matic added, the CLA45 AMG will still launch with 100% of its torque to the nose. But depending upon road conditions and driver input, explained Moran, as much as 50% of that power can shift rearward.
Looking ahead, only the Mercedes-Benz SLS supercar is not expected to adopt a standard 4Matic strategy. The maker is still deciding whether to add the all-wheel-drive systemonto a future version of the SL roadster.
As much in demand as 4Matic may be in the Snowbelt, all-wheel-drive has significantly less appeal in sunny climes, though it is gaining traction for its performance benefits. And to enhance the appeal of the new 4Matic strategy in traditional markets like Southern California, the 2014 models will add a lot more pep.
The outgoing, rear-drive E63 AMG currently makes 518 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque. The 2014 4Matic update jumps to 550 hp and 531 lb-ft. That haves 0.6 seconds off its 0 to 60 times, at 3.6 seconds.
Meanwhile, the old E63 AMG performance package is now spun off as a separate model, the E63 AMG S 4Matic. It gains 27 horsepower, now rated 550 hp and 590 lb-ft, and comes in at 4.1 seconds 0 to 60.
The 2014 version of the “base” E63 will go for $92,770, about a $3,000 increase, though that figure includes a number of new standard features, including 4Matic. Meanwhile, the new CLA45 will become the lowest-priced AMG offering in the U.S., at $47,450. That’s about $13,000 less than the prior AMG starter model, the C63.