The engine howls as my instructor shouts to apply more throttle.
The C63 AMG engine pours 600Nm to rear wheels that spin water spray as I drift the car sideways around the skid pan. A twitch of throttle or wheel and I'll spin to kingdom come, but right now I'm driving $166,900 of mighty metal sideways and it feels great.
I'm at a Mercedes AMG drive day designed to show buyers what their cars can do. It involves a large team shepherded by racer Peter Hackett, travelling the world with a fleet of bog-standard cars from Serbia to New Zealand with stops at tracks en route.
Bog-standard for an AMG that is. This is the company founded in 1967 to forge racing engines. Soon it specialised in Mercedes and by 1990 was co-developing performance Mercs with Daimler-Benz, which now owns the brand. The engines are hand-built and the steering, brakes and ESP are fettled to suit.
NZ gets 15 AMG variants, from the $166,900 C63 AMG sedan to the $405,000 SLS roadster, but we'll drive the entry-level C63AMG sedan, wagon and coupe, their 6.2-litre V8 engines giving 336kW at 6800rpm and 600Nm at 5000rpm and yes, that's more than BMW's M3. With most of the torque from 2000 to 6250rpm, this motor's a monster.
There's a seven-speed auto with paddle shift and manual, sport auto and comfort auto modes with self-blipping on downshifts and a three-stage ESP. The $14,500 sport pack fitted to some of these cars includes a limited slip diff but you don't need it to step the back out, as we soon found.
Different springs and dampers to the standard model, stronger anti-roll bars, wider track and lower stance all pay off on the track as do the massive brakes.
The one thing that can't cope is the ESP. They won't let us disable it so with under-skilled over-aggressive drivers it overheats.
Fortunately, there are spare cars, though such ineptitude must shock our instructors, who include V8 supercar aces, open-wheeler and GT3 champions.
Most fun? Not the drifting. We had insufficient time to truly nail it. Nor the drag racing, though it proved the accelerative potency of this engine-transmission pairing and delivered the buzz of knowing I won each bracket I raced.
No, the best bit was driving this track faster than ever before as racing drivers urged us on, only to discover how precise the steering feels, how planted this car is and how controllable.
Sure, the ride's a tad firm on real world roads. But this sort of on-track performance in a vehicle just as capable of everyday commutes, and in cosseting leather-lined comfort, is quite an achievement, but that's what you pay for.By Jacqui Madelin