Happily, the track time started in the M3-beating C63 AMG and the car, especially with the Performance Package options, proved again that it is the absolute best all-arounder ever to come out of AMG. All it needs are the ceramic discs on the options list and it would be a near perfect track-day four-door. Getting in the bigger E63 illustrated that the E is too big and tall for real track satisfaction, even though it is a remarkable machine under these stresses for something so large and tubby. Missing the precise line through curves in the C-Class is not so awful to lap times, but in the E63 you really must hit the perfect line or the seconds start adding up. Braking hard into it and getting as straight out of it as soon as possible and on full throttle is the absolute key in the bigger AMGs.
Once I was set loose in the CLK Black Series, the old seven-speed didn't dampen my fun since I was in the presence of a 40-percent LSD at the rear and 19-inch Pirelli P Zero Corsa tires. I just left it in S and was absolutely more than happy.
But the best car of the two days was the latest 518-hp SL63 AMG with new seven-speed automatic. I just left it in M with ESP Sport, and the lower center of gravity did the rest as the two of us scorched Imola for all it was worth. The sight lines to the front are show exactly what needs to be seen on the track, not too much and not too little. Just right. And picking the best line with this car is a piece of cake. The SLK55 was fun out on the free track as well, but the SL is just plain faster, more responsive, and the new tranny allows shifting with the paddles. That's what I came here for and all the others in the lineup need to aspire to the SL63 level as much as possible.
Second place overall goes to the C63 AMG with Performance Package and higher bolstered performance seats. A hot four-door doesn't get any better than this on today's market and I was handed a C63 for the class grand finale. For the final hottest laps on Day Two, telemetry is hooked up to the car and you receive a full timing and readout of your last five laps. This sort of analysis is priceless to anyone seeking self-improvement at the wheel.
You want music, too? How about 20 or more AMG cars boiling around the valley track, all bellowing forth from their Sebring sport exhaust systems? The symphony all the workday long was intoxicating.
Only one bummer occurred. No matter the transmission, AMG still needs to work on its cooling scheme for the tranny fluid, but also for the M136 V8 engines crammed into the bays. They have a low tolerance for running hot, and so as I'm flinging the car around, pestering the instructor in his rear-view, the car frequently kills the joy by going into "limp" mode. This is when I follow closely and the cooling air is apparently not sufficient entering the air intakes or Gurney flaps beneath. It's basically like the family dog throwing up under the Christmas tree the night before opening the presents. Manual mode is thus forbidden for a lap or two and engine revs are held down low. I was as bummed here as I am in any BMW M car that does the same. People of Affalterbach, we must work on this if you're going to keep insisting we race your products at the track to feel the cars' true capabilities. It sucks.
That rant out of the way, courses like this ought to be a required of a client who buys any AMG. I had not yet done an AMG class and it really did confirm some things for me. Mainly that an AMG is a different animal from any other in the zoo. They require a certain line through all types of bend and a certain innate feeling for exactly when to hit full throttle out of every squealing-sidewall curve. Knowing these things is crucial to AMG pure chewing satisfaction and it takes a few days and generous track time to have it sink in to the point where you can relax more and trust your car.