The pure performance driver in me is not a huge fan of a lot of Mercedes' products, even many AMG creations, but the C63 is spot-on in my “how to tackle a road and win” book.
DTM-inspired bodywork looks great, giving the C63 an aggressive appearance that leaves no doubt as to what it does best, and the true hardware lives up to expectations. From the moment you turn the key (thanks, AMG, for eschewing the ubiquitous yet useless start button) and the V8 belches awake with a deep tone, you know you're in for a great ride.
Behind the wheel, you find yourself in perfect driving position thanks to the outstanding seats with massive side bolsters. The wheel itself is sweet, with a flat-bottom design and touch-points trimmed in suede (OK, Alcantara in reality) like a race car. Select manual mode, open the throttle and this car lights up the rubber without hesitation, cracking off shifts with speed and precision and rumbling with menace on downchanges and trailing throttle. Again, the racing heritage is evident and the soundtrack adds a lot of fun to this experience. Naturally, it also goads you (or at least me) into finding every little gap in the road to punch it, then banging down through the gearbox every time I need to slow, holding the revs smack in the middle of the powerband when normally you'd just leave most cars in the higher gears.
In fact, AMG's Speedshift Plus automatic surprises you. No, it's not as involving as a manual nor is it as quick-shifting as a modern double-clutch system. But it still shifts well, smooth and relatively quick, matching revs during downshifts as a car like this should. Normally, this is where I would complain about the lack of a manual or double-clutch system, but the C63's transmission is competent enough that it certainly wasn't a deal breaker for me.
The aforementioned powerband is extremely flat and useable, with almost 90 percent of peak torque available from 2,000 rpm. There's always plenty of go available at any speed or throttle position; this is one of those imminently enjoyable cars that sucks you into slicing both corners and straights into oblivion at even the slightest opportunity. Mercedes and AMG won't like the following analogy, but I feel a lot of BMW M car in this thing. The steering is quick, the chassis nimble, the engine relatively high revving. Those key attributes are missing from many of Mercedes products, but not this one. What Mercedes/AMG will like to hear is that, finally, I would have a difficult choice deciding between the C63 and M3 if my money was on the line at the local dealer. And I appreciate this car's relative simplicity compared to the M3 and certain other modern performance cars: No launch control, no endless combination of suspension and gearbox and engine map settings to drive you crazy. There's just a good, solid setup straight out of the box that gets the job done. Sometimes less really is more.
Yes, this is a great car that will no doubt hold the attention of driving and motorsports enthusiasts. Writing these words, I'm thinking I need to have another go in it. Like right now.
EXECUTIVE EDITOR ROGER HART: Morrison's description of this car is spot-on. It is a runner, with a terrific-sounding V8 that is as potent as it sounds. I am not as enamored with the automatic trans as Mac, though. It still doesn't respond with the same quickness as a dual-clutch, and a six-speed manual would seem to be a natural in this car.
And while Mercedes steered clear of a lot of the gimmicks we find on other similar models-- not to mention other models wearing the three-pointed star--the one gimmick that did annoy me was the pop-up screen in the dash. With the radio off and the screen down inside the dash, there was a rattle coming from the contraption. Due in part, I'm sure, to the firm suspension transferring a lot of energy throughout the car with every bump and pothole hit. Here's the funny thing about a pop-up screen: the dash has a terrific look with the thing closed, but in my opinion, looks like hell when it's in use. A simpler in-dash navigation screen would be a better alternative.
The screen is simply a minor annoyance in an otherwise terrific car. This is a real performer with great grip, monster brakes and head-snapping acceleration. The highly bolstered seats became a bit uncomfortable after a long stint in the saddle, but I want to take the steering wheel with me and use it on every car I drive. The small diameter and flat bottom wheel, with wonderful suede grips on the sides, is absolutely wonderful.
ART DIRECTOR KEN ROSS: Mercedes has never been at the top of my performance list, not that they don't build them and do it well in some cases. I just think others do it a little better. But they hit the mark this time; the C63 is the right size and has the right amount of power to be a true performance car.
The looks are strong: AMG did a great job of making this car stand out from any other C-class without being gaudy. The C63's rims are hot, the carbon-fiber trim is done well and the ground effects are sinister. The interior continues the sport luxury feel with snug seats and a suede steering cover that is comfortable, but I'm curious to see how it holds up.
The driving is just sick, the sound from the exhaust and the power you get when you hit the gas is awesome, but it is capable of being very controlled and tame. You don't find yourself having to control its power all the time.
MANAGING EDITOR BOB GRITZINGER: Though an E63 AMG puts you into a whole ‘nuther league on price, the bigger car is probably a good choice for most buyers looking at the C63. Sure, it's bigger and heavier, but it also punches 518 hp and 465-lb-ft of torque from the same engine. And you get a back seat real people can use, so you can share the AMG joy with more friends.
That said, there's absolutely nothing amiss with the performance of this stylish C63--as noted, the car exudes muscle, with downshift throttle blips and an exhaust note to match every driver action. Hammering the throttle is rewarded with satisfying acceleration, whether you're pulling away from a stop or running at 70 mph.
The brakes are equally stunning, stopping the car with authority regardless of speed. But the most telling part of this performance package, to me, is that Mercedes finally dialed some real road feel into the suspension and steering--so much so that the soft-covering on the steering wheel provides a nice buffer between hands and the road surface. It's not harsh in any way, but it's clear what's happening out at tire level-which hasn't always been the case in past Benzes with overly heavy steering feel.
Combined with the solid suspension, the overall package gives one the kind of confidence once reserved for the most-revered, like the M3. I'm with Morrison: I'd be hard-pressed to pick a favorite, but if Mercedes tossed in the E63's wicked launched control system, I'd be tossing my money to the big star boys.
ASSOCIATE EDITOR JONATHAN WONG: : I can't believe I'm saying this, but I think I just might take this over the M3. Yeah, even with the automatic transmission. As we all know the M3 is nothing short of amazing and rightfully deserves all the praise we've heaped on it over the years. But as Mac points out, it's become more technologically advanced with a bunch of buttons to adjust traction electronics, engine mapping and, when equipped with the dual-clutch transmission, different shift settings. Not so with this C63. You just jump in; fire it up, hammer it and you'll grin ear to ear. Sometimes it's about the simple things in life.
I'm not about to say that the optional AMG development package on this car is necessary, which bumps horsepower from 451 to 481 and top speed from 155 to 174 mph, but it sure is cool knowing you have it. This car just sounds wicked right from startup and it goes like someone lit a fire under its bottom. Acceleration is brutal, but what may be the most impressive thing of all is how well this AMG Speedshift Plus automatic transmission performs. No, it doesn't match the performance of a dual-clutch unit, but it up- and downshifts with throttle matching incredibly well for a full automatic gearbox.
It's not a one-trick pony, either. It torches corners with a large dose of grip, composure and responsive steering. When it comes down to it, you can describe this car as agile with knockout power to slide the rear around when the feeling strikes you. Getting back to the simplicity of this car, the suspension isn't adjustable, but plays both roles of sporty handler and comfortable enough for daily driving, which is something few companies are capable of pulling off.
I have to give props to AMG for the interior, too. The flat bottom steering wheel with Alcantara feels great in your hands and the front seats features the largest amount of side support this side of a full Recaro race seat. And the exterior appearance is just mean looking with the front bumper with mesh inserts and wide bodywork.
In all, this is a really well done performance sedan. It just might be the best one available today.
EDITOR WES RAYNAL: Here's a car I would certainly put on my shopping list. It looks like a performance sedan with flared fenders and I love the bulgy hood.
This is an old performance formula: Stuff a big V8 in to a relatively small package, and hang on. The thing is a rocket. The acceleration at higher speeds, say from 30-50 or 50-70 is more impressive than off the line. I expected it to be fast but I was impressed.
The suspension is compliant and the car feels very focused and refined. There's more than enough grip, the steering feels just right and, wow, the brakes are impressive.
In my humble opinion this is the best sports sedan on sale in the U.S. right now. Or at least I can't think of a better one.
2010 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG
Base price: $60,325
As tested: $77,105
Engine: 6.3-liter, 481-hp, 443-lb-ft V8, RWD, seven-speed automatic
Curb weight: 3,649 lbs.
EPA (city/highway): 12/19 mpg
EPA combined: 14 mpg
Options: Options: AMG development package including AMG compound braking system, increase power level to 481-hp, top speed 174, AMG lightweight forged pistons, connecting rods, revised crankshaft, new engine management, red-painted brake calipers, carbon fiber trunk spoiler, engine intake runners in titanium gray finish, AMG leather/alcantara performance steering wheel ($5,950); multimedia package including seven-inch power retractable color display, COMAND hard drive based navigation system, premium audio, voice control, music register PCMCIA slot, iPod/MP3 media interface and cable ($3,300); AMG leather package ($3,030); limited slip differential lock ($2,000); premium package II including bi-xenon headlamps with washers and cornering fog lamps, split folding rear seats, power rear-window sunshade ($1,400); tele-aid ($650); rear-view camera ($450)