Editor’s Letter: Power Plays


Personality counts. No, I’m not giving dating advice, but I’ve been thinking about the role that the power source plays in defining the character of a car, a thought that bubbled up after a few weeks spent with two very different vehicles with the same heroic engine.

Built and developed by AMG, this now nine-year-old twin-turbo 4.0-liter V-8 turns any car into a ballistic missile. It barks at startup and roars like a Kansas thunderstorm under acceleration. Lift off the gas and the exhaust breaks into applause. Even the most law-abiding driver is powerless against his charms. No matter what version or what this engine is in, it will hit you right in the gut. Unapologetic V-8 in rhythm and pulse, it turns hydrocarbons into endorphins.

mercedes benz g wagon g63

Michael Simari|Car and Driver

When Aston put the AMG V-8 in the Vantage for 2019, the two-seat sports car became a legitimate Porsche 911 competitor. Even a gentle push on the accelerator awakens the twin-turbocharged torque. Push harder and 60 mph falls in 3.3 seconds. Good vibes run through the aluminum structure, into the seat and out of the exhaust. A McDonald’s run to get a hot dog before the switch to lunch takes on the urgency of a qualifying lap at Sebring in the Vantage GTE racer. Same 4.0-liter V-8, similar sticks.

On the other side of the galaxy, the AMG V-8 finds itself in the G63, a 5,783-pound SUV with the drag coefficient of a farmhouse. With 506 horsepower on the original 71-hp G-wagen, the G63 retains its go-anywhere ability, but today it’s more likely to be parked on Rodeo Drive than in front of an embassy in Rabat. Even in a vehicle as distracting and deliciously absurd as a G-wagon, the engine is a show stealer. Accelerate hard and the rear squats as V-8 sound rushes out the side exhaust. Side exhaust!

I haven’t driven the new C63 that tech editor Mike Sutton reviews HERE , but the big news there is that a turbocharged 2.0-liter four and an electric motor have replaced that V-8. The C63’s setup makes more power than the V-8 ever did, but at what cost? A powertrain’s personality is more than just acceleration, and I’m willing to trade some speed to keep the V-8’s character.

Electric vehicles push the issue further. EVs may push us violently into the seat, but lack the drama, explosions and warm feeling that comes from a machine that makes an effort. Mercedes is planning an electric G-Class called the EQG, which will no doubt be fast enough to result in a cervical collar. But it would be fireworks without a report, The Dark Knight on mute.

What happens to the driving experience when power and, consequently, acceleration becomes the driveline differentiator? Neck-snapping thrust is delicious, but would we spend more if that added power didn’t come with the sound of 12, 10, eight, six, five, four or three cylinders? If my car is fast, but a more powerful one is available, I won’t spend just for more power. However, I will spend for personality, because personality counts.