While the BMW M3 was shopping for a new polo shirt at J. Crew and the Audi RS4 was home studying for its SATs, the Mercedes C63 AMG was the car that was hanging out under the bleachers smoking cigarettes and trying to hook up with all the cheerleaders.
But is that reputation earned or just an outdated stereotype? I recently spent a few days with a brand new C63 to find out.
(Full Disclosure: Mercedes wanted me to drive the new AMG C63 so bad they dropped one off outside the office with a full tank of gas and told me to enjoy it. I used that full tank of gas to make a lot of noise which scared numerous woodland creatures and fully grown adults.)
When the M3 was first released, it was a revelation. What was once BMW's bread and butter small car was completely transformed into a track crushing monster. Naturally, Mercedes and Audi followed suit with cars like the 190 Cosworth and RS2. Even though they were interesting cars with a lot to love, they were never able to match the M3 in every category.
Over the years, Mercedes has taken a number of swipes at the M3 in the form of the AMG C-Class. Each one has come close, but they've only been flesh wounds. While the firepower under the hood has always been massive, it also left the Merc in a cloud of tire smoke every time it tried to keep up with an M3 in the twisty bits.
But with the latest generation AMG C-Class, Mercedes realized that what they need to do is embrace the car's "wild child" reputation and eschew their dreams of beating all the dynamics of the M3. The latest weapon, the V8-powered C63, is bad fast in a straight line, nearly terrifying around corners, and makes a noise that could cause sovereign nations to immediately go to war.
Staying with the "wild child" theme, the C63 wears enough body jewelry to fit right in at a Suicide Girls SXSW party. It's been bedazzled and pierced with fender flares, vents, carbon fiber, chrome, LEDs and badges galore. It can be a bit much to take in.
Even though I tend to prefer performance cars with an understated exterior like the RS4 or a purposeful look like the M3, I have to give Mercedes props for making the outward appearance of the C63 match the equally over-the-top driving experience.
Having spent some time earlier this year in an S-Class, I see some shared bits within the family. That is not a bad thing at all. The instruments are easy to read, Mercedes' COMAND multimedia interface is simple to understand and use, and the wheel — which is covered in Alcantara — is the perfect size and feels great in your hands.
But the best part? The seats. With adjustable bolsters and lumbar, it's a comfortable place to sit all day but they can hold you in when you decide to get aggressive and slide the car around.
I won't mince words. The C63 is freaking fast. And the car I was given had the AMG Development Package which is good for an additional 30 horsepower. It gets to 60 in a claimed 4.3 seconds which I believe may actually be conservative. With 481 horsepower and 443 lb-ft of torque hitting the ground through narrow 255-series 18-inch tires, it has a bit of trouble successfully transforming the power into forward motion in first and second.
It does have launch control, which Mercedes calls RACE START (No, I'm not shouting, it's supposed to be in all caps). I'll have to take their word that it works wonders because I didn't have a clear enough piece of road to try it. Plus, I didn't feel like getting a ticket.
I don't think this car could stop quicker if you drove it straight into a brick wall. The AMG Compound Braking System that comes as part of the Development Package is truly fantastic.
While the performance is fantastic, the feel is lacking a tad. I'd like a more progressive pedal instead of instant bite from the brakes, which is what I've found from other AMG products as well. Pedal feel here is an improvement than others I've driven, but it still feels a bit like an on/off switch instead of the analog dial I desire.
The suspension of the C63 is nearly the roadgoing equivalent of a touring car. This is one firm chassis that doesn't let you forget it is when you are on backroads. Instead of floating around with no connection to the road, the C63 feels like it's plugged in. You feel bumps and imperfection. It might be closer to "rock hard" than "pillow soft" on the tuning scale, but I like it that way.
Yet on the highway, it somehow feels like a big, comfortable, and slightly stiff Mercedes. It glides along with no worries. It's like a Jekyll and Hyde car in how it behaves on different surfaces. AMG has done a great job on the tuning. Kudos.
So the ride is great, but does it actually handle? Yes and no.
The steering is a revelation. Feel is great and the Merc is neutral on turn-in, which makes it quick to dart to the apex. But get on the power — even marginally — mid-corner, and the tail will step out. This is one time when you'll be glad to have all sorts of electronic aids to keep it in check.
Now, the brief slides are eminently controllable, but they are also dangerous. They also don't make the C63 the fastest way to get from A to B. In reality, the car shouldn't score this high since it wouldn't get close to keeping up with an M3 through the twisties, but it's just so much fun to toss and slide around that I didn't want to get out of it.
The C63 falls apart here. The AMG Speedshift MCT is infuriating. There are four modes for it, C, S, S+, and M. As you probably guessed, C is "Comfort," S is "Sport," S+ is "Sport Plus," and M is "Manual." I kept the car in Manual most of the time since I like to have control. Guess what? It doesn't listen to you.
It will do a second gear start in Comfort, but not in Manual. It won't always upshift when you want. It will pull 50 MPH in 7th gear in Comfort, but not in Manual. It will downshift when you don't want it to. Downshifts don't blip properly and aren't all that smooth. Thankfully, it won't upshift for you in manual mode. Upshifts are smooth, crisp, and fast, so long as you shift when it's ready to let you.
The harman/kardon stereo is fantastic. I try to listen to the same song in each car I test to accurately judge the sound system, and Guns N' Roses' November Rain simply sounds outstanding in the Merc.
But only listen to the radio if you have to. The exhaust note of AMG's 6.2 liter V8 is simply amazing, it sounds like a Norse God of thunder...and it's when he's angry. At idle, it's subdued, but just poke it a little, and a booming rumble fills the cabin and scares children for miles in every direction.
For the lower end of the Benz spectrum, there are still a number of great toys on board like park distance control, satellite radio, great nav system, satellite weather and traffic updates, voice control, keyless start, a locking differential, bi-xenon headlights, rearview camera and a hard drive to store music.
Not too shabby.
The C63 starts at $58,930, which isn't awful for all the performance. But then you realize that a lot of stuff you want, like the AMG package, the seats, the differential, COMAND, and others, are options. And they aren't cheap options. The equipment on the C63 I tested brought the price up to $81,765. That's one expensive C-Class.
And when you think about it, you can buy the insane, V10-powered E60 M5 for less than that while a comparably equipped M3 comes in at $76,000. With huge power, crazy handling, massive sounds, and a big price, you'd almost have to be insane to buy the AMG. That's why I want one.