Personality counts. No, I'm not giving dating advice, but I have been pondering the role that the powertrain plays in defining the character of a car, a thought that bubbled up after a couple of weeks spent with two very different vehicles with the same heroic engine.
Built and developed by AMG, this now-nine-year-old twin-turbo 4.0-liter V-8 transforms any car into a ballistic missile. It barks on startup and roars like a Kansas thunderstorm under acceleration. Lift off the gas and the exhaust breaks into applause. Even the most law-abiding driver is powerless against its charms. No matter what version or what this engine finds itself in, it will hit you right in the guttiwuts. Unapologetically V-8 in rhythm and pulse, it turns hydrocarbons into endorphins.
When Aston put the AMG V-8 into the Vantage for 2019, the two-seat sports car became a legit Porsche 911 competitor. Even a gentle push on the throttle wakes the twin-turbocharged torque. Push harder and 60 mph falls in 3.3 seconds. Good vibes run through the aluminum structure, into the seat, and out the exhaust. A McDonald's run to get a sausage biscuit before the switch to lunch takes on the urgency of a qualifying lap at Sebring in the Vantage GTE racer. Same 4.0-liter V-8, similar stakes.
On the other side of the galaxy, the AMG V-8 finds itself in the G63, a 5783-pound SUV with the drag coefficient of a ranch home. Up 506 horsepower on the original 71-hp G-wagen, the G63 has maintained its go-anywhere capability but today is more likely to be parked on Rodeo Drive than in front of an embassy in Rabat. Even in a vehicle as distractingly and delightfully absurd as a G-wagen, the engine is a scene stealer. Accelerate hard and the rear end squats while V-8 sound rushes out of the side exhaust. Side exhaust!
I've yet to drive the new C63 that technical editor Mike Sutton reviews HERE, but the big news there is that a turbocharged 2.0-liter four and an electric motor have replaced that V-8. The C63's setup makes more power than the V-8 ever did, but at what cost? A powertrain's personality is more than just acceleration, and I'm willing to trade a little speed to keep the V-8's character.
Electric vehicles press the issue further. EVs might violently press us into the seat, but the drama, explosions, and warm feeling that come from a machine expending effort are missing. Mercedes is planning an electric G-class called the EQG, which will undoubtedly be quick enough to result in a cervical collar. But it'll be fireworks without a report, The Dark Knight on mute.
What happens to the driving experience when power and, consequently, acceleration become the driveline differentiator? Neck-snapping thrust is lovely, but will we spend more if that additional power doesn't come with the sound of 12, 10, eight, six, five, four, or three cylinders? If my car is quick, but a more powerful one is available, I wouldn't just spend for more power. I would spend for personality, though, because personality counts.
Tony Quiroga is an 18-year-veteran Car and Driver editor, writer, and car reviewer and the 19th editor-in-chief for the magazine since its founding in 1955. He has subscribed to Car and Driver since age six. "Growing up, I read every issue of Car and Driver cover to cover, sometimes three or more times. It's the place I wanted to work since I could read," Quiroga says. He moved from Automobile Magazine to an associate editor position at Car and Driver in 2004. Over the years, he has held nearly every editorial position in print and digital, edited several special issues, and also helped produce C/D's early YouTube efforts. He is also the longest-tenured test driver for Lightning Lap, having lapped Virginia International Raceway's Grand Course more than 2000 times over 12 years.