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Now there's a fast Mercedes for everyone
DRIVING enthusiast Alena Lee is in love with a monster. Thankfully it's actually a car - a relatively rare Mercedes-AMG GT.
Its sleek, two-door body makes it a beauty, but its snarling V8 engine makes it very much a beast. And with 476 horsepower (hp), it launches the Mars Red coupe to 100km/h in a tyre-scorching 4 seconds.
It's proof that Mercedes builds powerful cars for keen drivers, said Ms Lee. "You just have to look for three letters: AMG."
AMG is the high-performance division of Mercedes-Benz. The fastest and often most expensive cars to sport a three-pointed star, they have a fanatical following from performance junkies such as Ms Lee, who is now on her second one.
She said it was love at first sound. Mercedes-AMGs are known for their rumbling engines and thunderous exhaust notes, and their unique vocal character is a strong selling point.
She was initially interested in a sedate Mercedes E-Class Coupe, but a salesman showed her the Mercedes-AMG CLA 45. "It was definitely the sound. He started the engine, he revved the car, and the rest is history," Ms Lee recounted of her first AMG purchase.
She adores the CLA 45 for the crackling noises made by its exhaust, as well as its impeccable handling on quiet Malaysian B-roads where she regularly stretched its legs. She loved it so much, she talked a complete stranger into buying one.
Her salesman had been trying to help another customer choose a new Mercedes. Ms Lee asked to speak with him on the phone, and convinced him over the line that a CLA 45 was the car for him. "I know this is hard coming from a female, but you have to buy it, especially for the sound," she told him. "You won't regret it!"
Ms Lee also talked her father into trading his BMW for a Mercedes-AMG.
If all that seems a little extreme, it's only fitting because AMG itself stands for extreme performance.
The company started life as an independent builder of racing engines 50 years ago, but was acquired by Mercedes so its engineers could add a wild streak to cars more commonly associated with stately luxury.
Typically, Mercedes-AMG installs 500 parts to turn a regular Mercedes into a machine whose handling, braking, performance and high-speed stability are all able to match - and in many cases, exceed - what a thoroughbred sports car can do.
The sub-brand's latest hot rod, the E 63 S, will be launched during next weekend's Formula One Grand Prix. With a 612hp engine, it takes only 3.4 seconds to hit 100 kmh, making the Mercedes sedan speedier than any of the four-seater Ferraris.
The E 63 S is for those who want a "really potent" four-door car, said Willie Neo, senior sales manager at Mercedes-AMG dealer Cycle & Carriage. "Four seconds (to reach 100 kmh) is almost the new normal. They want a 3.4-second monster."
But to broaden its appeal, Mercedes-AMG recently expanded its product lineup to include less powerful but more affordable models.
Its traditional line of "45" and "63" cars are all built to a one-man, one-engine recipe - a single person is responsible for assembling a given car's engine by hand, before attaching a nameplate with his or her signature to the finished item - but a new range of "43" models launched this year has mass-produced engines.
Although less powerful than the "63" cars, the "43" series models still have modified suspension and brakes, and offer plenty of performance.
A basic Mercedes-Benz C 180, which costs S$188,888 including the Certificate Of Entitlement (COE), accelerates to 100 kmh in 8.5 seconds. The Mercedes-AMG C 63 S is much faster at 4 seconds but costs S$453,888 with COE.
In comparison, the Mercedes-AMG C 43 4Matic is nearly as quick at 4.7 seconds and lists for S$321,888 with COE - a good S$132,000 less.
The new models are helping to boost sales by widening the range of cars - there are at least 17 AMG models on the local Mercedes price list. "The customers have a good variety to choose from," said Mr Neo.
Some AMG buyers see the cars as a way to indulge their passion for driving. The company conducts advanced driving courses at racing circuits around the world, and customers here regularly go on drives to Malaysia together.
"People talk about an AMG club, but to me it's more like a family," said Ms Lee, who will be travelling to Germany next week specifically to meet the person who built her car's engine. And, as luck would have it, her car's V8 was assembled by one of the few women in AMG's engine plant.
At the very least, AMG's fast machines let customers connect with Mercedes' sporting side. Mercedes goes into next week's F1 race leading the championship battle for both drivers and manufacturers, and selling high-performance cars is one clear way for the world's oldest carmaker to express its racing pedigree.
Judging from Mercedes-AMG sales, it's a winning strategy. Mr Neo wouldn't reveal sales figures but said Mercedes-AMG is on track for a record year in Singapore. Many of its models have waiting lists that stretch to early 2018.
Globally, the sub-brand enjoyed record sales in 2016, selling 99,235 cars (44.1 per cent more than the year before). In comparison, arch-rival BMW sold 67,900 cars built by its own high-performance M division.
Loyal fans and eye-popping performance figures are all well and good, but it's the race for sales that AMG is winning right now.