posted on June 7, 2019

Sorting through Benz’s AMG branch

Mercedes-Benz is renowned for their subdued approach to luxury: smooth and quiet, with a focus on cosseting driver and passengers. However, their AMG performance branch takes all that and turns it on its head. AMG cars are defined by muscular engines which possess a savageness unbecoming of standard Mercedes’ relaxed nature. When combined with the plush appointments of Mercedes models AMGs are based on, the result is a blend of luxury and speed that’s equal parts stately and hooligan.

AMG started in 1967 as an aftermarket Mercedes-Benz tuner. The name stands for the founders and their hometown: Aufrecht and Melcher, of Großaspach, Germany. It operated independently until 1990, when it began to co-develop cars with Mercedes for sale in corporate showrooms. In 1999 Mercedes purchased controlling rights to AMG and officially integrated it into their lineup, placing AMG models at the top of each vehicle’s range.

From the beginning, AMG has focused on optimizing standard Benzes for higher performance, using aerodynamic body kits, modified suspension, bigger brakes, and transmission upgrades. But the centerpiece of any AMG is the engine, and over the decades they’ve created motors in a variety of configurations to fit nearly the entire Mercedes product range. AMG engines are distinguished by the two numbers in a vehicle’s badge.

For example, “55” badged cars used a supercharged V8. Produced in the early 2000s, these were the first models after AMG’s full integration into the Mercedes corporate structure; perhaps the beginning of AMG’s modern era. Supplemented by a “kompressor,” these engines produced up to 510 horsepower, a nearly unbelievable amount for the era.

Simon’s 2007 Mercedes-Benz SL 55 AMG (Renton, WA)

“63” badged cars followed, but it gets confusing here. The number has no relation to the displacement or power output of three completely different engines that have been associated with the badge: first a 6.2 liter naturally aspirated V8, then a 5.5 liter twin-turbo V8, and most recently (and simultaneously) a 4.0 liter twin-turbo V8. Regardless, each is a mighty powerplant with its own unique character, and in the case of the turbocharged units, capable of over 600 horsepower.

Jeffrey’s 2017 Mercedes-AMG C 63 S (San Jose, CA)
Shy’s 2018 Mercedes-AMG E 63 S Wagon (Santa Monica, CA)
Erika’s 2015 Mercedes-AMG CLS 63 S (Chicago, IL)
Alexander’s 2016 Mercedes-AMG G 63 (Portland, OR)
Eric’s 2017 Mercedes-AMG S 63 (Los Angeles, CA)

V12 engines are the pinnacle in smooth power and luxurious refinement, which is why AMG reserves them for its absolute highest-end models. “65” badged cars feature a hand-built 6.0 liter twin-turbo V12 that generates over 600 horsepower and 700 lb-ft of tire-shredding torque. While on paper these numbers might seem close to V8 AMGs, the driving experience of a 65 is truly unique. The V12’s intoxicating wave of power must be experienced from the driver’s seat to be fully appreciated.

As Mercedes’ lineup has expanded so has AMG’s engine development, and it’s created some interesting powerplants to supplement various models. “45” badged cars pack a turbocharged 2.0 liter four cylinder that’s known for being slightly rough and laggy — but that’s part of its charm.

Zuhayr’s 2017 Mercedes-AMG C 43 (Toronto, ON)
Chris’s 2018 Mercedes-AMG GLC 43 (Miami, FL)
Daniel’s 2018 Mercedes-AMG E 43 4Matic (Los Angeles, CA)

“43” AMGs may be the entry level, but that doesn’t mean their turbocharged six-cylinder engines are any less fun to drive. “53” cars have AMG’s newest and most advanced drivetrain: a 3.0 liter turbocharged inline-six combined with an electric motor. While not as powerful as higher-numbered engines, this setup allows the electric motor’s instant torque to fill in for the gas engine as its turbo power builds, plus fuel efficiency gains.

Brandon’s 2017 Mercedes-AMG GT S (Bayonne, NJ)

While most AMGs are based on standard Mercedes, in recent years they’ve developed bespoke cars that brilliantly showcase the brand’s abilities. First came the SLS AMG, which packed the 6.2 liter V8 and shared the striking gullwing doors of the timeless 300 SL. Currently it makes the AMG GT, a long, low, and wide coupe that’s equally at home on the racetrack as it is boulevard cruising. Adding to the range is the AMG GT 4-Door, a sleek sedan that shares the style and performance of the GT coupe, plus space for friends in the back.

Eric’s 2019 Mercedes-AMG GT R (Los Angeles, CA)

From bolting on aftermarket parts to producing some of Mercedes’ most iconic vehicles, AMG has come a long way in its 50-year history. Regardless of model, the myriad engines it’s created have always been about making Benzes more powerful, thrilling, and fun. As AMG’s popularity increases, expect to see new hybrid and all-electric drivetrains, and continual strengthening of the muscular engines it’s best known for.

Check out our other performance sub brand features: Lexus F-Sport, BMW M, and SRT.

Alex has been a car fanatic for as long as he can remember. At 6'10," he might be the tallest auto writer in the world, and whether it's engine timing, exotic car design, or race strategy, there is no automotive topic beyond Alex's interest.