They say nostalgia stunts innovation, but sometimes a winning formula deserves to stay as it is. Millipedes haven’t changed for 400 million years because their design can’t be improved upon for the job it’s designed to do.
If millipedes suddenly had to adapt to life partly on water, or living solely out of used KFC buckets, then in another 400 million years they’d look very different. It’s only when demands change that a winning formula is forced to adapt. We find ourselves in just such a situation today, with news that AMG is planning to ditch rear-wheel drive.
An AMG has always been built with a simple formula; big engine, bigger torque, ridiculous(ly good) noise and power that goes to the back. It made for very silly, very slidey cars when they were provoked, and they bashed the fun-buzzer better than BMW M or Audi RS. It was AMG’s thing.
The A45 AMG, as you might remember, was deeply controversial at its launch because it didn’t tick the traditional boxes. It didn’t have a big engine with huge torque, it didn’t sound particularly great and, being four-wheel drive, it didn’t drift and wasn’t very silly at all, except for its ballistic off-the-line pace. It left a lot of journalists cold and still does.
Things have moved on a bit, though, and the first point we have to make in concession to AMG is that they’ve clearly hit the limits of possible performance from a rear-wheel drive saloon or estate. Without making the tyres impractically wide or coming up with some ‘alternative facts’ in place of physics, there’s little more speed to be had. Sending power to the front wheels as well is an instant and dramatic kick up the performance backside.
Secondly, the technology is now there to give a car switchable rear/four-wheel drive if AMG wants. It already does so on the E63 and the other Matt seemed quite pleased with its rearward bias and chassis mobility when he drove it in 2017. Perhaps there’s no dynamic downside, then? Well, no. Take the extra drivetrain gubbins out and you’re still left with a lighter, cheaper E-Class, which is no bad thing.
It seems the weight – and financial – penalty of the four-wheel drive system is a price AMG’s customers want to pay, though. According to a report in Autocar, AMG boss Tobias Moers says that when given the choice, over 90 per cent of buyers have picked the 4Matic E63 over the regular one. That’s pretty definitive.
Apparently AMG’s buyers now want safety and stability, i.e. traction, where before they wanted barefaced buffoonery. We can’t be the only ones who find that deeply depressing. Would we really rather live in a world where fun is always beaten down by sensibility? Would I rather that my son grow up locked in an utterly safe padded room or occasionally taking risks, getting into scrapes and coming home with stories to tell? It’s the latter. To always be perfectly safe is never to live.
Another thing that strikes us about AMG’s move is that Audi must be laughing like mad. After years of being derided as a producer of comparatively boring fast cars specifically owing to their four-wheel drive, both Mercedes (via AMG) and BMW are heading that way as well. If we listen hard, we can almost hear the sniggering from Ingolstadt.
You won’t hear us chuckling, though. As good as AMG’s current and future 4Matic cars are and will be, the loss of the RWD AMG is the loss of a formula that won our hearts for decades. We understand that AMGs are evolving with the audience’s changing demands, but how we wish they didn’t have to.