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The 2023 Mercedes-AMG GT 63 S E Performance.The Globe and Mail

By the staid standards of the German auto industry, Mercedes-AMG’s outrageously fast and loud luxury cars have always been a little bit uncouth. They’re vulgar, unapologetically gluttonous machines, even now, as AMG embraces electric power with a radical 843-horsepower plug-in hybrid.

For most of its 55-year history, AMG – the highly profitable in-house hot-rod division of Mercedes-Benz – was best known for its big, burbling V8 engines that have an unquenchable thirst for gasoline. They sound like auto-tuned thunder. Knowing that, you’ll either love AMG or hate it, but there’s no denying the brand’s success. Despite our relatively small population, Canada is among the top few markets in the world for AMG.

Breaking with tradition, AMG’s new flagship – the most powerful car in the company’s history, and its most expensive car currently on offer – is a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) called the Mercedes-AMG GT 63 S E Performance. Its price is estimated to start at more than $200,000.

The company’s reluctance to label it a “hybrid” is understandable. The mere mention of the word is liable to make your eyelids heavy, bringing to mind sleepy machines like the Toyota Prius. The AMG is a different animal.

Most plug-in hybrids, which combine a battery-powered motor with a conventional gasoline engine, are all about reducing emissions. However, AMG used the technology to enhance performance, explained Jochen Hermann, chief technical officer of Mercedes-AMG.

The company’s new plug-in hybrid system – labelled E Performance – is groundbreaking It’s effectively two cars in one.

At the front, there’s a 639-horsepower, twin-turbo four-litre V8 mated to a nine-speed gearbox. At the rear, there’s a small 6.1-kilowatt-hour battery sitting atop a 204-horsepower electric motor and a two-speed gearbox. The motors are connected by a shaft that can send combustion-engine power to the rear wheels or electric power to the front as needed, although most of the time it all goes to the rear. It’s devilishly complex.

Porsche and Bentley PHEVs sandwich the electric motor between the gas engine and gearbox, so total power is limited by whatever the gearbox is rated to handle. With AMG’s system, there’s no such limitation, according to its engineers, so the car’s two motors combine to make an absurd 834 horsepower and more than 1,000 lb-ft of torque.

Despite all that muscle, the car starts with a whimper – a cute electric chime – and pulls away silently. The V8 engine doesn’t fire up until we’re out of the city and accelerating hard onto the highway. Then the power becomes relentless, combining the near-instant shove of an EV with the endless pull of a twin-turbo V8. Go to pass a slower car on the highway and the huge AMG takes off; the electric motor fills in what would otherwise be a momentary lull as the nine-speed gearbox kicks down a few cogs.

The downsides to AMG’s PHEV system, aside from cost, are weight and complexity. The battery alone accounts for 89 kilograms of the car’s hefty 2,380-kilogram weight. That’s about the weight of two BMW i3s.

At the Monteblanco racetrack in southern Spain, the AMG bullies its way to 100 kilometres an hour from a standstill in 2.9 seconds, and on to 200 kilometres an hour in less than 10. The problem is slowing down. After just two fast laps, even the enormous ceramic brakes start to fade. The pedal gets soft until you slow down and give the brakes a rest. The car feels heavy, but is still happy to slide around.

Driven responsibly on one of Spain’s endlessly twisting country roads, however, the brakes starting to fade is not an issue. For such a juggernaut, it’s surprisingly adept at carving corners. Even in Comfort mode, the air suspension is firm – as it must be to keep so much mass in check – but it soaks up big speed bumps well.

In electric-only mode, the big AMG can only cover a paltry 12 kilometres. Once the battery is drained, you’d expect the car to feel sluggish, but it’s not an issue because the engine can recharge the battery in just a few minutes while driving. (Each battery cell is directly liquid-cooled, which enables such fast charging.) Keeping tabs on the battery and juggling the various driving modes to ensure optimal regeneration and maximum power is a fun minigame for the driver; it’s not entirely unlike what Lewis Hamilton has to do behind the wheel of his Mercedes-AMG Formula 1 race car.

AMG won’t win any points for eco-friendliness with this 843-horsepower monster. Although it’s slightly more frugal than the brand’s regular V8-powered machines, the E Performance system isn’t primarily intended to cut emissions. This is a PHEV for deep-pocketed enthusiasts. And it won’t be the only E Performance model, Jochen Hermann said.

“We don’t see electrification as a threat. It’s an opportunity,” Hermann said. The company is developing its own platform for high-performance EVs. But, for the old-school AMG diehards, don’t worry; Hermann also said the V8 engines aren’t going away any time soon.

All-wheel steering and 50/50 weight distribution front to rear help disguise the car’s size and weight.The Globe and Mail

Tech specs

2023 Mercedes-AMG GT 63 S E Performance

Price: $215,000 (estimate)

Engine: Four-litre twin-turbo V8 plug-in hybrid

Transmission/drive: Nine-speed automatic (combustion), two-speed automatic (electric)

Fuel consumption (litres/100 kilometres): 7.9 combined (European WLTP)

Alternatives: Porsche Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid, Bentley Flying Spur plug-in hybrid, Tesla Model S, Lucid Air

Looks

Only the charging port on the rear gives away the fact this is a plug-in.

Interior

Two adults will fit in the rear seats but there isn’t an abundance of headroom.

The back seats of the 2023 Mercedes-AMG provide little headroom for adult passengers.Matt Bubbers/The Globe and Mail

Performance

All-wheel steering and 50/50 weight distribution front to rear help disguise the car’s size and weight. Firmish suspension may get tiresome on bad city roads.

Technology

The latest touchpad-based Mercedes infotainment system is excellent. Plug-in hybrid means you can recharge the battery at home overnight.

The 2023 Mercedes-AMG bullies its way to 100 kilometres an hour from a standstill in 2.9 seconds.The Globe and Mail

Cargo

The battery cuts into cargo space, making an awkward hump in the trunk, but it’s still big enough for four carry-on suitcases.

The trunk on the 2023 Mercedes-AMG is smaller because of the battery, but it can fit four carry-on suitcases.The Globe and Mail

The verdict

More impressive than practical, but wildly entertaining. As proof of the idea that PHEVs can actually be fun – and slightly uncouth – the AMG is a triumph.

The writer was a guest of the auto maker. Content was not subject to approval.

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