No compromises. That was the first phrase that sprung to mind within the first three or four corners of hard driving. The charming, responsive but comfortable C-class morphs into an aggressive hotrod as AMG’s C63, and for the first time since the Cosworth-tuned 190E of the mid-1980s, the most sporting version is not just a swift, mile-eating compact, but a four-door sports car. That’s not a lazy journo generalization, but an honest comment that has both positive and negative connotations.
The performance figures give a hint of course: there’s no way to pretend that 0-60mph in 4.4sec and 0-100 in 9.7sec aren’t fast. But there are cars of similar or even greater pace that fail to encourage driver participation, whose cornering limits are mismatched with their straightline performance and which are purchased by people who would never attempt to get near those limits anyway.
Well let’s state outright – a C63 would be wasted on them, and save for its (considerable) potential for posing, they would be unlikely to enjoy it. This car is hardcore: AMG has gone a different route than it did with the C55 (which had too many toys and not enough potential for fun), and the C63’s weight penalty over one of its chief rivals, the 275lb lighter BMW M3 sedan, can probably be explained by engine size. The Bimmer makes do with a 4-liter V8, while the Benz has 6.2 (despite the badges, this engine is 6208cc).
And what an engine it is. Put the gearbox in automatic mode, and this 451hp unit is ready to go in any gear, at any part of the rev range, and at a hell of a rate. It’s not as sweet and melodic as the 5-liter unit in the Lexus IS-F, but the snarl is as dramatic as the force with which it flings the C63 forward. Despite the dramatic propulsion, the nose of the car doesn’t go light, the traction control keeps the rear in check, and it’s simply up to the driver to keep up and exploit the sharp steering to guide it properly.
Unusually for a car of such sporting pretensions, a driver is likely to choose the fully auto-mode for accelerating, because there is a notable delay in the paddle-shifts activating the box. Yes, of course it’s only a fraction of a second, but as these boxes become more common, so a driver’s standards are raised, and it’s a slight disappointment to find a box that’s slightly sluggardly, more like the SMG unit found in BMW M3s five or six years ago. By contrast, the C63’s manual downchanging is very sharp, and comes with the delicious blip of throttle and exhaust spit-back.
Deceleration of the emergency kind is even more remarkable. Not only can the C63 perform eye-bulging stops as the Brake Assist System kicks in, it feels fabulously secure as it does so. In a simulated emergency braking situation, there was no vibration through the pedal, no dancing on its nose as the c of g was hurled forward, and no problem steering accurately – a rarer quality than manufacturers would have you suppose. However, it is difficult, initially, to graduate the braking, as if the car is almost encouraging you to brake late and hard. Switching back to a more standard car will require a driver to recalibrate his or her braking-zone judgment.
Start pushing the C63 through corners and it’s as sharp as a fresh razor blade, slicing through apexes, as the steering weights up reassuringly above 50mph and reacts to the smallest steering inputs. It’s a little numb – though seriously, how many modern cars do give good road-feel? – but it’s accurate and we’ll take that. What’s also surprising is how it doesn’t get knocked off line by poor road surfaces on turn in, despite its stiff suspension.
Make that extremely stiff suspension. On familiar roads, I found myself tensing in anticipation of known transverse ridges and pavement imperfections, knowing that though the sound wouldn’t be intolerable, the jarring it gives the car is unpleasant. (Being a Mercedes, of course, such hits don’t cause the interior to rattle or squeak.) And don’t go expecting the seats to cushion you. They’re shaped like slightly padded racecar seats, with adjustable side bolsters and lumbar support, and they do an excellent job of holding you in place as you start exploiting the grip of the 18-inch Pirellis. But if you weigh more than 200lbs, you won’t be too far into your journey before you feel like your butt is resting on the floorpan. This is a tough car for tough drivers.
If that’s you, then you’ll look beyond the OK-but-nothing-special interior. If there’s a place where the car’s startlingly reasonable price ($56,300) becomes slightly more understandable, it’s here, particularly the dashboard. RACER’s example had the AMG Leather Package which, at $2980, adds premium leather upholstery, the eight-way power front seats with memory and a power steering column with memory, and the ($2980) Multimedia package with a seven-inch retractable screen, GPS, Harman/Kardon surround sound system and 6GB hard-drive for MP3 downloads.
However, great appointments don’t alter the fact that the surrounding materials and ambience are no better than a top of the range Toyota Camry, though of course the build quality is very tight, very Mercedes. And while we’re on the subject of the interior, we wonder what was Mercedes thinking in allowing the cruise-control lever being set where you’d expect the stalk for the turn signals (which is unnaturally low on the same side)? On approaching a right-hand turn, I backed off and switched the turn indicators on… and discovered I’d set cruise control and that getting off the gas was making no difference to my approach speed…. Sure, these are things a driver would get used to if he used the car every day, but surely the real basics of driving should come naturally in any given car.
Is this a car you’d drive every day though? Good question. Of RACER’s three testers, one of us said yes, one said no, the other said he thought it was “a bit much.” And no he wasn’t referring to the price (we all said it was good value, even specced up to $67,360 including gas-guzzler tax) nor the fuel consumption which is, apparently, 12 city/19 highway. We all agreed that Mercedes had done the best job of any manufacturer enhancing its junior muscle-car’s looks. But its noise (which attracts way too much attention from other drivers) can get tiresome for the driver in stop-start city situations and the low-profile tires and suspension are just too uncompromising for some.
But, having criticized the old C55 for being too soft, is it fair to say the C63 goes too far the other way? Probably not. It’s a stunning driving machine that rips up Mercedes-Benz’s traditional reputation. Just don’t expect to be cosseted. Like we said, no compromises.