A sequence of short exhaust burbles emerged from a corner of the plaza where our table was located. One hour later, me and my colleague were occupying the back seat of this 360 horsepower cab.
The thing was nicely configured, treating us with goodies such as a performance exhaust, carbon cabin trimming and a panoramic sunroof. All these had been chosen by Sabine, who had to wait eleven months for her AMG to be delivered.
Sure, Sabine Schmitz is the queen of the Nurburgring, but our Sabine is cooler, as she represents the real world. Presently, she smiles as she takes us out of a narrow passage, heading for a boulevard. Before we know it, she engages “Sport” mode and pushes things past 5,000 rpm. The resulting AMG concert is a fitting aural treat for the City of Mozart.
Sabine fell in love with cars when she was just a teenager and she started picking up the fruits of this passion when she turned 21 and became a taxi driver. One fare led to another and, back in 2003, she founded her own cab company, Cado Tours.
In Salzburg, as in many other places in the world, the Mercedes E-Class is the normal way to go for a taxi driver. That’s how Sabine started too, but hers had an AMG exterior package.
Her business is small, but it has motor love written all over it. She owns a trio of Ford Galaxy MPVs to cater to the needs of the many, but the CLA AMG is accompanied by two other special Mercedes vehicle. One is an E-Class (current generation, pre-facelift) with a striking two-tone paint job that mixes glossy black with a vivid shade of green. The other is a C-Class 220 CDI (W204) with a Carlsson ECU remap.
The latter detail arrived as part of our conversation with Sabine, who giggled while letting it slip that one of her taxis has a “chip”. Returning to the CLA AMG, which is also her personal car (yes, there is a certain tax deduction here), we have to tell you she was previously a Porsche driver. This Austrian automotive aficionado used to see the world from behind the wheel of a 996 911 Carrera Cabriolet, a car she also used to help her son get his driver’s license.
You can see the light in her eyes as she recalls the 3,000 km (1,850 miles) during which she assisted her son with driving the 911 - the Austrian law allows teenagers to start driving together with their parents as early as they reach an age of 15 and a half years, while they can receive the license at the age of 17. Among other, she used to teach her son drifting in empty parking lots - we can only immagine a mother that smiles at the sight of the first snow, knowing she would be training her child in the art of powersliding.
Unsurprisingly, her son used to borrow the Porsche and make it “defekt” - Sabine’s pronunciation of the word makes us raise our heads in attention, such is the emphasis she places on it. We asked her why she gave up her Porsche instead of just denying her son access to it.
“I always shared my car with my son, it is very important to me,” Sabine said with a warm smile on her face. She is definitely a practical woman. Just as she likes to balance her own driving pleasure with her business, family always receives plenty of attention from her.
And this is how we get to the other reason for which she got rid of the 911 - there was no room in the back for her daughter. By the way, having reached the minimum legal age, the girl has just started her driving lessons with her mum as you are reading this. So if you’re in Salzburg and you happen to see a Cirrus White CLA being manhandled by a teenage girl, smile and wave.
Speaking of the color, Sabine wanted to go for Northern Lights Violet, the hue we had on our non-AMG CLA tester, but this couldn’t mix with the red seat belts that were a must for her.
The CLA may work as a magnet for customers of other brands, but this was not the case with Sabine, as it’s clear that Merc has always had a special place within her heart. “I’m a Mercedes driver” - we must’ve heard this line about ten times during the time we spent together, so the fact that she went and ordered a CLA 45 AMG right after seeing one at an auto show is only normal. It’s clear that she has the three-pointed star within her heart.
She did adore the cabrio part of the Porsche, as well as the music of its flat six. She had been dreaming about owning a Porsche ever since she had the current age of her son, 18. Still, when we ask if the CLA is better, she doesn’t even blink before she starts enumerating the advantages. “It has 4Matic [she couldn’t find a Carrera 4 back in the day], more PS and now I can go shopping and return to the car with more than just two cans of beer.” Note to self - there’s something downright sexy about a woman saying “more PS”.
She says the rear-wheel driven Porsche was difficult to drive in the winter, which comes as a huge surprise for us. Oh yes, we haven’t told you that - you can throw any kind of automotive challenge at Sabine and she’ll say it’s easy.
When she’s not behind the wheel of her AMG, Sabine also works as a chauffeur. After quite a few years of taking customers home from the pub in their own cars, Sabine knows her Bentleys from her Ferraris. She delivers lines such as “the Gallardo is easy to drive, it’s so fun” with an air of complete relaxation. For her, everything related to speed is normal. She talks about riding her Yamaha MT-07 middleweight naked bike, as if she would describe the natural process of breathing.
By the way, we inquired our motorcycling editor about the MT-07. He described it as “a practical and forgiving compact bike with enough grunt to have your license suspended for 2,000 years.”
In fact, any kind of challenge is easy for Sabine. She’s divorced for many years, but this doesn’t appear to have kept her from pursuing perfection, whether we’re talking about her children or her passion/job. She mentions her boyfriend, also a motorcyclist, but doesn’t forget to add they’ve been together for four years now, while she’s had her company for eleven years. This is what we call an attitude!
Returning to the car, when we asked her what is it that she likes most about her CLA AMG, her eyes suddenly turn bigger and she says “Everything!”. She doesn’t forget to praise the fact that the car is “half cabrio”, with this accompanied by the mandatory giggles.
Once again, her practical nature stands out as we venture into the Mercedes vs BMW territory. Sabine also enjoys Bimmers, but the services Mercedes offers to her are a deal breaker. For instance, she enjoys 24/7 service assistance. And when her car is “defekt”, Mercedes provides her with a taxi, so she can carry on working, while BMW only offers a normal car.
Sabine proved to be some sort of a well for effervescent automotive verdicts, especially after she has driven all the AMGs on Salzburgring as part of the AMG customer experience. Want an example? “The SLS AMG is a car for old men.” In fact, she talks about her “retirement” plans too. “In ten years from now I’ll be driving an S-Class, you know when the time comes for me to use a walking stick, I’ll do that.” Her voice is mellow as she jokes about the future, but she’s not kidding about the S-Class.
When we inquire about the model, the answer arrives on the spot “I cannot drive a normal car anymore, it will be an S 63 AMG.” With 4Matic, of course.
As for the short-term future, Sabine plans to get rid of the visually-tuned E-Class and go for the new C-Class (S205), a 220 CDI T-Modell she adds. No more AMGs then - “of course, the boss must have the best car,” she says while bursting out in a laughter that shows modesty.
Sabine didn’t mention any downside of her CLA 45 AMG. We’re not worried though, if there’s something she doesn’t like, she’ll fix it straight with the people over in Affalterbach - her son is currently a student at the Technical University of Munchen with a clear goal: to become and engineer. Obviously, an AMG engineer.
Update: we've come across what is probably the fastest taxi in Germany, a supercharged C 63 AMG.