Picture – if you’ll humour me for a moment – a bear in a 3-piece suit. A fine suit of woven cotton and silk, soft to the touch, and tailored to a tee. It’s absurd, the notion of something so debonair swathing something that could be so brutal, so vicious, so dangerous if only you dare poke it. Such is the absurdity of the Mercedes-AMG C63, a mechanical bear in a 3-piece suit.
The latest technology from Mercedes-AMG has gone into the W205 Mercedes-AMG C63 to take the fight to its perennial enemy, the BMW M3. As such the C63 has gone turbo; downsizing in displacement but not in cylinders, and now featuring a 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8. In topmost C63 S spec, 375kW and 700Nm is on tap, but in standard C63 spec as on test here, 350kW and 650Nm are the magic numbers we’re interested in. More importantly is where the second figure arrives – between 1750 and 4500rpm.
In true AMG style, at least before they jumped on the AWD bandwagon, power goes to the rear tyres. A 7-speed automatic is the messenger, with relatively narrow 265 width rubber being the recipient. Of course all the numbers mean absolutely nothing though, the Mercedes-AMG C63 is more than just numbers, and numbers don’t say much.
Those narrow tyres, for starters. Sure, they break traction easily with 650Nm ploughing through them – should you disable traction control and flatten the loud-pedal – but treat them with some modicum of respect and there’s genuine mechanical grip to be found during hard cornering. Wrapped around 19-inch alloy wheels with the Edition 1 package equipped, they’re also surprisingly pliant.
It’s largely to do with Mercedes-AMG’s suspension tuning, which influences the whole package hugely. Adaptive suspension gives the driver the option to switch between comfort settings – and whilst Sport+ will only do on the mirror-smooth surfaces of the German Autobahn, and Sport is pliant but still a touch too stiff for road use, Comfort manages to strike a sweet balance between sublime road holding and an ability to take in whatever changing surface the road serves up.
Body-roll is an almost comical idea in this sort of setting – after all it is the enemy of control through corners – but in Comfort there’s just a waft of it as the Mercedes-AMG C63 leans on the tyres through a bend. Learn to rely on the mechanical grip, and apply power sparingly, and not only does the C63 grip, but it turns incisively too.
There’s refinement and deftness to the Mercedes-AMG C63’s turning abilities – and a hint of genuine feel as it does so. It’s a concept foreign to so many electrically power assisted steering systems, but while the C63 isn’t oozing feedback in the way a hydraulic system does, there’s a definite talkativeness about it.
It tells you exactly which way the front wheels are pointing; and leaning on the outer edge of the tyres through a protracted high-speed bend, there’s a gentle whisper when you reach the limits of grip. You can trust what you feel, and without the air of falsity in its weighting – the C63’s steering is laughably frivolous whilst still loading up naturally.
It involves you, but not to the point of becoming the machine; rather keeping you constantly involved without dishevelling your suit or allowing you to break a sweat.
Then there’s the engine – the dastardly, terrible, downsized turbocharged engine – a piddling 4-litre one. Only it isn’t terrible, and there’s barely a whiff of forced induction about the way it behaves. It’s no M156 – the 6.2-litre behemoth from the last generation C63 AMG, but few things are. Nor does it try to be an M156 in any other way than to make you smile, along with anyone else in the 5km radius you can hear its noise from.
It’s been designed to be ‘hot within the V’ – housing both turbochargers in the centre of the engine’s V-configuration to reduce the distance of the plumbing, in turn reducing turbo-lag. The result – turbo-lag is imperceptible. Prod the throttle and the engine responds. Wring it out to redline and it obliges by banging against the rev-limiter in a manner that can only be described as atmospheric.
Of course there’s noise too – but it’s no longer the roar of the old 6.2. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing though. Whereas the old one shouted angrily, the Mercedes-AMG C63 now snarls sadistically with each prod of the throttle. Equipped with the Mercedes-AMG performance exhaust – a must have option – the noise is nothing short of gleeful.
But with the ability to sound so spectacular, it’s a bit of a conundrum then that Mercedes-AMG would want to tone it down. Yet they’ve done just that. Without the performance exhaust, or with it set to proverbial ‘quiet mode’, the exhaust note is decidedly modest. At full tilt it’ll still wake the neighbours, but back off of the throttle and it’s entirely unassuming.
I’m not sold on that if I’m honest, as a Mercedes-AMG C63 is supposed to be a hooligan. It’s the noise that makes it so special against the surgically precise nature of the BMW M3. So for me then, the optional exhaust is a must, permanently stuck in ‘Loud Mode’.
It is a sweet engine though, this new fangled M177. 4-litres, 8 cylinders, 2 turbochargers, and 350kW on tap – lag is nigh on non-existent, and it kicks like a pissed off mule from the moment you start it up. Find the right road surface and it’ll launch you from 0-100km/h in a claimed 4.1 seconds – feeling every bit as quick as that number suggests.
It’s got the aural character, and it delivers the goods on all fronts bar one. It’s not exactly the engine that’s flawed though, but the transmission.
The 7-speed AMG Speedshift MCT is the one that does duty here. It’s truly a weak criticism, but in the Mercedes-AMG C63 it’s the weakest link. It’s not slow or indecisive, quite the opposite is true. But it’s just a touch slow when it comes to initiating upshifts, it hangs on for a split second too long, and then when prompted for a manual upshift, you get both the automated and the manual ones in quick succession, leaving you in entirely the wrong gear.
Leave it to its own devices though, drive it as a strict engineer from Affalterbach envisioned you to, and it’s just about flawless. Progressive power delivery and precise controls mean you can really take the Mercedes-AMG C63 by the scruff of the neck and explore its capabilities. Ease the traction control off a bit in Sport+ mode and you’ll soon find yourself liberally applying sprinkles of opposite lock as the tail squirms sideways.
Turn the nannies off entirely though, and you best have your wits about you. That snarling engine is the proverbial bark, with a bite far worse if you don’t treat it with enough respect. Poke the bear too hard and it’ll chew you up and spit you out in a cloud of ego-bruising tyre smoke.
It’s a true Jekyll and Hyde experience – especially from the driver’s seat where Mercedes have combined athleticism and class superbly to give the Mercedes-AMG C63’s cabin all the right touches. Forgetting for a moment the oft bemoaned infotainment screen, this is a special interior to be sat in. Of course all the standard kit is there, in a rather extensive list including a panoramic sunroof, full audio system, electronic driver seats and more.
Must-have options equipped to our test unit were the diamond-quilted sports seats – sculpted buckets with kidney-bruising levels of support that are sublime on the daily grind. With the Edition 1 package equipped, a costly visual package, the tiny Alcantara wrapped steering wheel with ‘Edition1’ badging is a lovely touch, along with red seatbelts – adding a bit of ‘race-car feel’ to the otherwise suave cabin.
That Edition 1 package, although pricy (R 212 000) goes a long way in making the Mercedes-AMG C63 stand out. Without it, even with the Designo Iridium Silver Magno satin finish paint, the C63 tends to fade into obscurity. With it, though, 19-inch black alloy wheels with red highlights, gloss black body inserts on the front bumper, and of course the vinyl striping down the sides are all included – making the Mercedes-AMG C63 instantly recognisable. A bit over the top? – Perhaps, but worth it to look extraordinary.
The Mercedes-AMG C63 proved to be a conundrum of a vehicle to me. It has so much potential on tap, so much theatre, noise and outright performance; and yet it’s perfectly comfortable. It’s perfectly usable as a daily driver too – if you’ll forgive the 14.1l/100km consumption figure.
Further still, if it weren’t for the ‘Loud Mode’ exhaust and the Edition 1 striping, at a glance you may even mistake it for an ordinary C Class. An elegant, sophisticated C Class, dressed in its finest suit and ready for a day at the office.
The bear is there though, waiting and ready to challenge those who dare poke it.
Photography by Roarke Bouffe and Lance Humphrey