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Mercedes-AMG Sticking With Big Displacement, but Hybrids Inevitable

Just the Facts:
  • Mercedes-AMG Chairman Ola Källenius said AMG can keep V12 engines in action for "a minimum" of another five or six years.
  • AMG will do a hybrid powertrain "when the market is ready for it."
  • The 355 horsepower from the CLA45 AMG's turbocharged four-cylinder is the absolute limit of what's possible from a 2.0-liter engine with today's technology.

NEW YORK — Mercedes-AMG, which forged its reputation by stuffing big-power engines into all manner of Mercedes-Benz vehicles — the most recent being the all-new 2014 CLA45 AMG introduced at the recent 2013 New York Auto Show — isn't planning to stray too far from the formula any time soon. But mirroring the latest trend in supercar power plants, AMG will be fitting hybrid powertrains to some models as the global trend toward getting more from less inevitably continues.

Just before AMG unveiled the 355-horsepower CLA45 AMG — that's 355 horses from a 2.0-liter four-cylinder — Edmunds talked with Mercedes-AMG Chairman Ola Källenius about what the auto industry's rapidly evolving push toward environmental solutions means for AMG, whose wares are targeted at anything but the fuel-sipping customer.

"Hybrid is going to be in the future of even sports cars," Källenius concedes. "When will there be a pure-performance, high-tech AMG hybrid? We still have a lot of areas of improvement in the (conventional) AMG engines we have. We have promised another 20 percent reduction (in fuel consumption) by our 50th birthday (in 2017).

"We will do the hybrid when the market is ready for it and in markets due to their regulations. We can act and react relatively quickly if we see a change. We can use Mercedes-Benz technology in the cars very fast.

"The issue," Källenius continued, "is that we can't make (a hybrid's) battery weight disappear with a magic wand. Fortunately, with the new F1 (racing) regulations, what they are working on and what we are working on are converging."

Until the general industry climate or regulations in specific regions dictate adoption of hybrid technology in at least some applications, Källenius said AMG will continue its focus on wringing more power and torque from its gasoline engines.

And only gasoline engines. He reiterated to Edmunds his oft-stated position that diesels are not where AMG wants to go, despite the fact that chief rivals BMW and Audi have been positioning diesel engines for their own in-house high-performance tuning divisions.

"We should never say never to a diesel or anything else, but I cannot see a circumstance that would change that possibility for us — what the diesel cannot do compared to a direct-injection gasoline engine is the aggressiveness and pure delivery and sound.

"And the advantage a diesel has in economy is growing smaller all the time. We are not changing the AMG brand to accommodate diesels."

Thus AMG's increasing interest in improving the specific output of its gasoline engines: getting more power out of a smaller package clearly is an industry imperative, Källenius said.

At the same time, however, rest assured that AMG's association with the V12 (still the industry standard for luxury and ultra-performance cars) isn't going away just yet.

"The naturally aspirated (6.2-liter V8) that we love will eventually move over; on all fronts the (turbocharged) 5.5-liter V8 has taken over all of our cars and SUVs. The trend is clear to downsizing and turbocharging, to driving down emissions and efficiency."

But at the same time, he said, AMG acknowledges the V12's crucial place in the brand's powertrain portfolio, even as the industry swiftly transitions to downsized engines of all kinds. At the moment, some customers won't consider anything but 12 cylinders and Källenius knows it.

"We did a major overhaul of the V12 last year. It has EU6 (emissions compliance), it has start-stop, so it's absolutely safe for years to come.

"We lifted the torque to 1,000 newton-meters (738 pound-feet). The gearboxes that are out there for 1,000 newton-meters are very few and there are not that many automakers asking for (that) capability," Källenius added, inferring that even for AMG it will be tougher in the future to keep the V12 alive.

Nonetheless, AMG's 6.0-liter V12 is "viable for a minimum of five or six years," he said. So get 'em while you can.

At the other end of the spectrum sits another look at the future: the bombastic turbocharged 2.0-liter in the new CLA45 AMG. Its incongruous 355-hp output equates to almost 178 hp per liter and represents the current state-of-the-art in engine downsizing, Källenius said.

"With the four-cylinder we have taken the same internal technology as the 5.5-liter V8; the 2.0-liter is at the thermodynamic stress level of what is absolutely possible with this capacity today."

He also said AMG is ready with a bevy of new-age small vehicles — but won't abandon the ultra-performance market, either, confirming AMG intends to continue with the mighty SLS. Or something based on it.

"With the SLS, now that we have that platform, we will remain in that segment. We are in that segment to stay. Eventually this SLS runs out but we will create something which comes after that. We can use the SLS platform to do other things. We have no plans to go to another platform for this kind of car."

Meanwhile, he said the 2014 CLA45 AMG marks the first of a bevy of AMG cars based on Mercedes-Benz's smallest offerings.

"We will do at least three of the Mercedes-Benz compact vehicles: the A45 and CLA45, plus one more (believed to be a GLA45 subcompact crossover - ed.)," Källenius said. "And, as you see," he added, "we do these things faster than we did. In the old days the lag behind Mercedes-Benz was 9-12 months. Now it's 6-9 months and in the future it could be even closer. Several years ago, we changed our development so that when they're in the concept phase, so are we."

Edmunds says: AMG intends to remain relevant as automakers continue to move toward more efficient packages.

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