2008 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG
The new Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG is the first Mercedes to be designed and built by AMG. Chassis corners, suspension, brakes, body, even the hand-built aluminum V8 engine are designed by AMG, the company's performance arm, not Mercedes itself. AMG designed the C63 from the ground up to be a pure performance car that could challenge the BMW M3, which has been king of the four-door, rear-wheel-drive sports sedan segment for years and years.
The C63 AMG looks like a Mercedes, although it's way more muscular than any C-Class you might know, with a low roofline, aerodynamic edges everywhere, and wide front fender flares.
Inside, the best thing about the C63 AMG is the fabulous front seats made for real driving, and the worst is the instrument panel with its small tachometer not made for watching.
The engine makes a huge amount of horsepower and torque, while the seven-speed manual automatic transmission upshifts quickly and downshifts with a double blip (when necessary for smoothness) that's perfect every time. The brakes are gigantic. And the C63 corners with no body roll thanks to a modified chassis design and totally new suspension, although the ride doesn't absorb sharp bumps.
The C63 AMG uses a new 6.2-liter AMG V8 making 451 horsepower and the AMG Speedshift Plus seven-speed automatic transmission with manual shifting. It's not stripped of any luxury and comes fully loaded. Underway, it's so smooth that watching your speed is important to avoid tickets. We think the optional Performance Package is only needed for drivers seriously intending to run track events.
Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG ($53,800)
Walk AroundIt's remarkable how the Mercedes box has evolved into the aerodynamic C63 AMG. But that's what it looks like, an evolution of the box. It's still boxy compared to the new Jaguar XF sports sedan, whose 420-horsepower supercharged version is a competitor to the C63 AMG, although it costs nearly $10,000 more.
The C63 AMG is all sweeps and bulges, and profile. It's an AMG body, with almost no sheetmetal common to the Mercedes C350. It's clearly not your father's Mercedes. The nose, for example, is nearly four inches longer, in pursuit of high-speed aerodynamics. The roofline is low and windshield steeply, sleekly raked.
There are two eye-catching creases in the aluminum hood, like fat speed lines flowing back from the three-pointed star emblem in the grille. AMG calls them power domes, and, along with the oversize front fender flares, these bulges say the car is hot. The airdam under the grille in the front fascia is all business, with big dark openings, pencil-beam foglights, and wing tabs at the corners like you see on racing cars. There are nasty-looking shark-like gills just forward of the front wheels, but only the right one does anything, it sucks in air for the oil cooler. The shark on the left is toothless.
Chrome is limited to the grille and trim around the windows. And a thick ring around the foglights, making them like zits on the AMG's chin. There's also a silver-dollar-sized tri-star emblem on the otherwise beautiful sleek hood, located mere inches above the big tri-star in the center of the grille. You'd think AMG should be allowed to take the little one off their beautiful hood if they want to, but maybe not.
The lines under the headlights begin the upward sweep that picks up the pace at the oversized front fender flares, flies under the body-colored door handles, then tapers and ends at the high hips at the top of the cool LED taillights. Two twin-tip exhausts discreetly poke out under the rear bumper and through a black diffuser that helps keep the car on the ground at high speed. The 18-inch alloy wheels, painted titanium gray, are star-shaped, too simple we think, but the wide spaces allow a view of the massive brake calipers, and maybe that's the idea.
InteriorThe best view of the C63 AMG might be from the driver's seat, looking down over the muscular hood. Even though it's longer, you can still see the front corners of the car.
The front seats, especially the driver's seat, are certainly the most comfortable in the house, with integrated head restraints. The standard leather has nice grip, and the seats are thoroughly and perfectly bolstered, adjustable both for your back and sides.
The steering wheel is hot, three-spoke and flat-bottomed so there's more room for your knees. The leather is fine as it is, but with the AMG Performance Package you get grippy Alcantara. There are steering wheel controls, and the paddle shifters are good because you can reach them with your middle fingers when your hands are at 10 and 2 o'clock, resting on the bumps there. Or, if you grip the wheel at 9 and 3, the paddles fall right under your fingertips. We found we used the paddle shifters more in this car, because the shift lever position puts an awkward bend in your wrist.
There are nice pads to rest each elbow, on the door and center console, for relaxed driving. There's plenty of legroom in front, although there's no excess headroom for the driver if the seat is jacked up for best visibility. And there's a big dead pedal, curiously carpeted over the aluminum. There's aluminum trim on the center stack and around the shift lever, and in the doors. Carbon fiber is an option.
The AMG instrument cluster is disappointing, and puzzling. The new dials with red needles do not impress. The tachometer, especially, is small and not easy to read, as if engine revs aren't a priority in this high-performance sports sedan. The speedometer is larger and its numbers go to 200 mph, if that's a consolation.
Rear seat legroom is marginal, although not if the driver has his seat moved way back. The specs say 33.4 inches and that's not much: six inches less than in the Pontiac G8, for example.
The navigation system is easy to operate, but doesn't have enough street detail; if that detail is in fact there, we sure couldn't find it, not even with the help of a fellow automotive journalist who's a geek. Too many streets were just white lines, with a gray background, and the Arizona road we were on, a big and long two-lane, wasn't even on the system.
The air conditioning was okay for Phoenix in February, but we wouldn't want to be running errands there in summer. It was 73 degrees out, and it took nearly 15 minutes at max before it got too cold. The next day was 80 degrees, and it took 10 minutes at full blast for the cabin to get as cool (but not icy) as we preferred.
Driving ImpressionsEach C63 AMG engine is assembled by hand, emblematic (literally, as each engine gets a signature plate) of the attention that AMG gives each car it builds. The C63 engine is magnificent, hulking under that muscular hood in all its compact glory, 6.2 liters, 451 horsepower and 443 pound-feet of torque. Too bad it's totally covered by plastic chambers, runners and plenums, making you feel pretty silly to pop the hood and admire it. You can't see pieces like the magnesium variable intake manifold. All you can say is: Well, the engine is in there somewhere, and it's real powerful.
With a redline at 7200 rpm, it sounds good, especially when your listening point is from another car and the C63 AMG passes you at 100 miles an hour. It sounds even better if it's black. If you want to fully enjoy the rumbling four-tip exhaust note of your own C63 AMG, you'll need to roll down your window a bit. From the closed cabin, it's pretty quiet.
Those great gobs of torque are located surprisingly high, peaking at 5000 rpm, although it hardly struggles at lower rpm because 370 of its 443 pound-feet of torque is available at 2000 rpm. But it's at 4000 rpm that you really feel all that torque begin to stomp you. AMG says the C63 can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 4.3 seconds, while Car and Driver magazine tested it at 3.9 seconds. That's quicker than the BMW M3, although the M3 is lighter and therefore a bit faster around a race track.
The C63 AMG is so smooth that 80 mph feels like 60, which is a great thing, except it makes the car a ticket trap. One hundred mph feels like 80. It doesn't take much throttle or effort to reach 100. You can get there in less than 10 seconds, and there might be jail, of course. What else could get you in that much trouble that fast, without leaving your seat? Besides a gun.
Top speed is electronically limited to 155 mph, but the performance package unleashes the car to 186 mph. Speaking of jail.
It's EPA-rated at 12 city and 19 highway miles per gallon, numbers boosted by the efficient engine and aerodynamics. Our gas mileage was 16.9 mpg, about half the time cruising at freeway speeds and the other half hammering it.
You don't always know what you're going to get with a seven-speed Mercedes transmission. They're programmed to shift based on some engineer's belief of how the vehicle will be driven. But of course this isn't a Mercedes, it's an AMG. The transmission is right.
All three modes, Comfort, Sport and Manual, are purposeful. Comfort shifts for you, at convenient and smooth places; it'll shift at redline, quickly. The Sport mode can be used appropriately, when you need the transmission to be a bit more aggressive; it doesn't kick down excessively, and makes rev-matching (throttle-blip) downshifts nicely.
The Manual mode is true, as it should be. It does something many manual modes don't; it allows you to short shift, or upshift under heavy throttle at medium revs; or even lift off the throttle and upshift at the same time. That confuses many automatic manual transmissions, but not this one.
We first drove a C63 AMG with the $3900 performance package, and found the ride uncomfortable over the harsh bumps, like weathered or cracked freeway expansion strips. After an hour in the passenger's seat, we were over it but couldn't escape it. We put our head back against the headrest, but the bumps bounced it off. It wasn't so bad in the driver's seat, but still annoying.
So we got in a model without the performance package, whose front springs are 10 percent softer, but it was still harsh. We drove that model around town, and it took the bumps fairly hard, notably in one particular concrete drainage groove.
A lot of German high-performance cars are developed on the Nurburgring, which makes their cornering fabulous. And that's what the suspension of the C63 AMG does best. AMG makes no bones abo
The four-door, rear-wheel-drive Mercedes C63 AMG is a serious contender for the crown that the BMW M3 has worn for years, with more horsepower and acceleration for the same price. With a new AMG-designed suspension, its cornering is dynamic. It has giant effective brakes and a satisfying seven-speed manual automatic transmission with slick double-clutch rev-matching downshifting. The leather seats are beautifully bolstered. Its main drawback is the rigidity of the suspension, felt on sharp bumps.
Sam Moses filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com after his test drive of the C63 AMG in Arizona.