Talk about throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
In their pursuit to quell the whines of certain people, could the next Mercedes-AMG really ditch their staple V8 powerplant for a hybrid four-cylinder turbo as the rumours suggest? Technically, there’s really nothing against its use, but could the removal of a central part of the experience be a bridge too far for customers?
According to Autocar, the first victim of this effort will be the C 63, the Affalterbach division’s flagship compact super coupe. Currently, its 4.0-litre bi-turbo V8 itself was the subject of controversy over it not being naturally aspirated and downsized over the 6.2-litre M156 and uprated M159.
Luckily for AMG, the M178’s sheer potency, breadth of ability, and throaty soundtrack quickly won critics over since its debut in the 2014 AMG GT. However, further halving the cylinder count and strapping on a hybrid assist system is a much bigger step.
Of course, four-cylinder AMGs have been present since the first-generation A 45, which also spawned the CLA 45. These now produce as much as 310kW on their own with headroom to be boosted to achieve even higher numbers. However, it is also accepted that their small displacement was born of necessity.
The small dimensions of an A-Class required a transversely mounted engine, and a 2.0-litre displacement spread over four-cylinders satisfied the engine bay’s packaging alongside the necessary cooling and auxiliary systems. In a larger C-Class, with a saloon or coupe body, these limitations are removed, making the shift to a longitudinal straight-4 tough to justify for reasons other than to satisfy fleet carbon emissions targets.
By that same token, the move to a hybrid system is a much easier sell. After all, the range-topping GT 4-Door is offered with a mild electric assist alongside other 53 series of AMGs, paired with an M256 3.0-litre inline-6 turbo.
Insiders suggest that work is underway to engineer the next C 63’s hybrid four-pot drivetrain to match the existing car in outright power despite the 50 percent reduction in cylinder count and capacity while increasing peak torque. This would mean at least 375kW and in excess of 700Nm.
Even with the addition of an electric motor and lithium ion battery, the next-generation powertrain is expected to undercut the current M178 in equivalent weight by a margin not insignificant. Positioning key components of the hybrid drive lower in the structure also means a lower centre of gravity, theoretically improving handling.
With the technology already in hand, it isn’t a far fetched idea for a 2.0-litre turbo hybrid to produce as much power, or more, than today's V8. Given enough resources and time, one could easily envision an everyday road-usable small displacement engine with supercar levels of punch and a whole family of high performance cars sprouting from it.
If this truly is their plan in the short to medium term, the gauntlet AMG will have to endure will be to balance the march of technology with the aspirational and emotional drive that customers seek out through their cars. The fact of the matter is, a V8 is inherently more stimulating than a straight-4 no matter how much whiz-bang you layer atop.