REVIEW DATE: 16 Jan 2008
The Mercedes C-Class just got a whole lot more serious about its sporting credentials. Say hello to the C 63 AMG. Steve Walker reports.
Ferocious performance is a dead cert when you put 457bhp through the rear wheels of a compact executive saloon. The 6.3-litre V8 engine in the Mercedes C 63 AMG will cover the 0-60mph sprint in 4.6s but arguably more noteworthy is the way in which the suspension, brakes, gearbox and stability control systems have been specially designed to make all that power enjoyable to use. A new kind of AMG Mercedes? BMW had better watch out.
A 457bhp 6.3-litre V8; it's the kind of engine you'd expect to find in a supercar or some enormous American market pick-up truck but the performance saloon car arms race has escalated to the extent that Mercedes-Benz has felt the need to put it in to a C-Class. That's the same C-Class that, with rather more modest installations under its bonnet, we all see out on the roads transporting junior executives to their pressing appointments. Mercedes has extrapolated that car out to the fullest extent of its evolution and the result is the C 63 AMG. With one of these, you might never be late for anything again.
The C 63 is the latest in a long line of performance C-Class models produced by Mercedes in conjunction with its performance subsidiary brand AMG. It all kicked off with the C 36 AMG circa 1993 but that car developed 276 horsepower. Today's road rocket C-Class has an extra 200bhp in the bag and that's not just power for power's sake. This is the kind of output needed to maintain a place at the top table with the world's performance saloon elite. With BMW's M3 and Audi's RS4 both harbouring V8s with 414bhp, the flagship C-Class was always going to come in and trump the pair of them. It's just the way that Mercedes likes to do things.
The heart of the C 63 is its 6.3-litre V8 which is directly derived from the one used in the AMG C-Class touring car in the German DTM race series. The 457bhp maximum power output is produced at 6,800rpm without the aid of a turbocharger and there's some 600Nm of torque available at 5,000rpm. Perhaps more impressive is that at least 500Nm or that torque is on tap between 2,000 and 6,250rpm, ensuring that the engine responds quickly and pulls strongly across a broad spread of the rev range. All that power is marshalled by the AMG Speedshift Plus 7G-Tronic gearbox. The paddle shift system can be configured in Sport, Comfort or Manual modes and is the first gearbox on an AMG model to feature an automatic throttle blipping function for smoother downshifts.
"With one of these, you might never be late for anything again..."
Mercedes-AMG has turned out some obscenely powerful cars before but they haven't always had the talent in the chassis department to deploy this devastating clout without help from an overbearing traction control system. This removed much of the purity and involvement from the driving experience, the dash display warning lights doing their best impression of Blackpool's illuminations when you opened the throttle as the electronic systems struggled to maintain forward progress. It was the old generation of larger AMG models that were the worst culprits here, their twin-turbocharged engines producing a sudden and monumental hit of torque that would overwhelm the tyres.
The C 63 is far better equipped to deliver an entertaining driving experience. For a start it has the talented C-Class chassis as a base but with completely revised three-link front suspension giving a 35mm wider front track and a multi-link rear set-up that widens the rear track by 12mm. Then there's that normally-aspirated engine that will pile on its power in a smooth, progressive fashion all the way up to the red line. It's all allowed Mercedes to fit the C 63 with an ESP stability control system that can be relaxed or switched off entirely to allow the car's limits of traction and grip to be explored by the keen driver.
Visually, the C 63 leaves you in no doubt that it isn't an ordinary C-Class. The flared wheelarches accommodate the wider front and rear track and a pair of power dome bulges in the bonnet hint at the kind of muscle that's waiting ready to be flexed in the engine bay. The grille is filled in with a honeycomb pattern, as are the snarling air-intakes sliced into the under bumper area. 18" AMG alloys, side skirts, four chrome exhaust pipes and a subtle boot lid spoiler are amongst the other standout features. The interior centrepieces are the AMG three-spoke performance steering wheel with the flat bottomed design that's cropping up in every fast car at the moment and the multi-adjustable driver's seat.
For a car with this much go, it's reassuring to see that the braking system has been the subject of intense development on the part of the design team. All four wheels get ventilated discs that clamp down with some ferocity thanks to the six and four piston callipers at the front and rear respectively. Working in tandem with these brakes is the three stage ESP system that can be activated, deactivated or switched to a compromise Sport mode. The Sport mode allows for a greater degree of understeer or oversteer before it intervenes by braking the relevant wheels or cutting engine torque. It all makes for a more involving driving experience and real tearaways can turn the whole ESP system off and drive as nature intended but Mercedes recommend that you same this for the racetrack. In both "Sport" and "ESP off" mode, the ESP reactivates under braking but then reverts to the desired mode once the pedal is released.
If the C 63 is going to claim top honours in the performance saloon segment, it's the Audi RS4 and BMW M3 that it's going to have to beat. It won't be easy. Performance versions of past Mercedes C-Class models have always been blisteringly quick in a straight line but it's been a while since one received recognition as a truly focused driver's car. It's obvious that Mercedes always intended to address this with the latest generation C-Class and the C 63 but it may take a while for the idea of a Mercedes being as enjoyable on the road as a BMW to sink in. That's assuming, of course, that the C63 is such a Mercedes.
6.3-litres, 457bhp, this was never going to be an affordable car to own, especially with list prices starting at over £50,000. The best bet is to take the prohibitive running costs and purchase price on the chin, consoling yourself with the surging acceleration that takes hold when you bury the throttle. Expect to average 20-25mpg on a run if you're lucky and to pay group 20 insurance. If that puts you off, then you're unlikely to be target market for one of these anyway.
The C 63 could be the vehicle that fires the three-pointed star back to the top of the performance saloon tree. BMW's M3 has ruled the roost here for too long from a Mercedes-Benz point-of-view and the sportier focus of the latest C-Class always suggested that a really serious performance model would be in the offing. The figures speak for themselves: a 4.6s 0-60mph acceleration and an artificially limited 111mph top speed, courtesy of 457bhp from a 6.3-litre V8. It all comes down to your judgement as to whether the C 63 stacks up as formidably on tarmac as it does on paper.
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