‘You wouldn’t be familiar with our immediate influences, they’re mostly German.’
‘Kraftwerk? Falco? Hasselhoff?’
Germany might not be the first country that springs to mind when you think of rock ‘n’ roll, as that infamous exchange from High Fidelity neatly summarises, but they’ve had their musical moments. Who doesn’t like a bit of Can, Faust, or Die Toten Hosen? The spirit of screaming rebellion is there, you’ve just got to look beyond all of the sensible trousers, foaming steins, sausages, and racial stereotypes.
The Bundesrepublik’s guitar band heritage directly feeds into countless areas of popular culture, not least the manufacturer of automobiles. And that’s why Mercedes-Benz has decided to form a band from its current showroom line-up, with certain members artfully tweaked by in-house crowdsurfing mentalists AMG. So let’s take a look at its disparate and intriguing characters, shall we?
Every rock ‘n’ roll band needs a wild, noisy lunatic at the front of the stage. The shouty A45 AMG fulfils this role with gusto. If you haven’t driven one of these yet, there’s something that you really need to add to your automotive bucket list: full-bore flatshifting an A45 in a tunnel. (You’ll be needing the optional AMG Performance exhaust for this.) The whipcrack explosions from the spangly tailpipes sound like you’re being strafed by Spitfires. Er, Spitfires with whips. It’s hilarious.
The A45 really is beautifully antisocial. It’s Johnny Rotten. It’s GG Allin. It waves two fingers at the traditional concept of the hot hatch; whereas the bloodline of the original Golf and 205 GTIs, and of course their numerous brethren, may have somewhat transmuted over the years from ‘sensible car that’s quite quick’ to ‘quick car that happens to be quite sensible’, the A45 AMG takes the concept of the 21st-century hot hatch to an absurd and caricaturised extreme.
It has 360bhp – the same as an Iso Grifo or a TVR Cerbera; hell, only 10bhp shy of the original Lamborghini Countach – and it costs £38,000. Or, if you tick a few spec boxes and end up with one like we’re driving here, more like £46k. That’s a pretty rock ‘n’ roll hatchback. It’s all about hedonistic excess.
Guitarists in garage bands from time immemorial have been the singers’ older brothers. And that’s just what we find in the Mercedes-Benz dressing room – a slightly bigger version of the frontman, standing beside him, equally more grown-up and more wild in mischievous intent. You see, hot hatches are supposed to be a bit bonkers. That’s the point. But crossover SUVs? Aren’t they for school-run mums and middle-management dads, offering sensible load space and decent fuel economy without the expense of going full-on Range Rover?
No, the GLA45 AMG is about as naughty as they come in this segment. Imagine the fury of the A45, lashed down to a photocopier and reproduced at 120%. That’s basically what this is – you get the same deranged, turbocharged, handbuilt motor, the same AMG sport suspension, the same sport seats and steering wheel, the same 7-speed DCT ’box with paddle-shift and, most importantly, the same artillery-fire exhaust… but you’ve got space for a couple of stoned groupies in the boot. This is very much the guitarist’s choice: 90% badass excess, but with the all-important 10% of sensible-trousers utility. And a usefully big glovebox for plectrums and whatnot.
Bass players are generally pretty hardcore. And the G350 perfectly represents the spirit of Duff McKagan, Nick Oliveri and John Entwistle – a brawny, thunderous thing that can move quickly if it needs to, but doesn’t actually need to move quickly for anybody. The way it drives is like a twiddling slap-bass Chili Peppers solo; it simultaneously feels tight and planted, and yet wrigglesome and mischievous. You can feel those agricultural diffs squirming around beneath you, pushing you through the corners like an insistent manager at a press conference.
But all of this militaristic off-road heritage is surreally counterpointed by a lush and swanky interior: soft leather seats with multi-way electric control, TVs in the rear, a dash and steering wheel seemingly lifted from a luxury saloon. The clues to its utilitarian roots are evident in the dash-mounted grab handles and the farmyard manner in which the doors clunk shut, so it’s a jarring and disparate cocktail of sensations. The plush new G-Wagen is the bassist who’s made it – proud of his spit-‘n’-sawdust roots, but perfectly content with the mansion that his fingersmithery paid for, thankyouverymuch.
Drummers go hand-in-hand with vans or estate cars, that’s just a fact of life. They’ve got a lot of bulky stuff to carry around. The reason that Mercedes-Benz has a CLS Shooting Brake drumming in its band rather than, say, a Viano, is that drummers always carry a certain nous and prestige beneath their sweaty bandannas. Sure, they’re all rusty old Transits at heart, but they aspire to greatness: Keith Moon had a Ferrari 246GT Dino, which he totalled a month after buying it; Joey Kramer set fire to his Ferrari in a petrol station; Fuzz Townshend is, er, Honorary President of the Triumph Sports Six Club. See the pattern?
The CLS350 Shooting Brake is vast. Like, postcode-big. You can get a lot of gear in the back, and a lot of groupies too. It’s quick enough to fulfil the whims of today’s speed-freak drummer on-the-go – the 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel has enough grunt to make the tail end wriggle amusingly when you boot it away from the lights, and it’ll let you slide the back end j-u-s-t a little on roundabouts before the record label-mandated traction control slaps you on the wrist and straightens everything up. It’s a bit naughty, but also very practical. And also, a bit more naughty. But not in an obvious way.
Managers fleecing their acts is an established rock ‘n’ roll tradition. Look at Colonel Tom Parker, the not-really-a-colonel who ‘managed’ Elvis Presley by taking around 50% of his earnings and pretty much leaving him to it. (‘Oh, you’re off for some more drugs and sandwiches, are you? Okey doke, I’ve got some shopping to do…’) So of course Mercedes’ band manager rocks an S63 AMG. This is as outrageous as they come, and yet it hides in plain sight. To the turn-a-blind-eye auditors, it’s just another big silver Merc. But to those who know what they’re looking at, it’s £150,000-worth of ballistic refinement.
The manager boasts everything that the band members aspire to, yet the fiscal hierarchy of musicianship precludes them from: a sodding great V8, brakes like dinner plates, double-glazing, ambient lighting, 360-degree CCTV, walnut burr and Nappa leather, a little electronic butler that hands you your seatbelt when you close the door, a luxurious space for Cynthia Plaster Caster to recline…
Oh, and the drive. The drive! It’s as refined as an S-Class (because, um, it is one), but as nimble and eager as the terrier-like A45; a wafting luxobarge and an eager sports car in one. All things to all men. (Well, rich ones.) There’s probably a cigar dispenser on the options list.
The only thing that this band is missing, then, is a name. So, any suggestions?