September 29, 2008
Mission, British Columbia – When I was growing up, I read every car magazine from cover-to-cover – my hunger for information about automobiles was insatiable. Several times each year, Road & Track magazine produced wonderful special issues focused on the world’s most exotic, and outright fastest, street-legal machines. It was here that I was introduced to the cars of AMG (Aufrecht Melcher Großaspach), the motorsport arm of Mercedes-Benz.
One car in particular, lovingly nicknamed the Hammer by its engineers, caused me to look at Mercedes-Benz in a much different light. The Hammer was an E-Class sedan that had been reworked by AMG to outperform exotic sports cars like Porsches and Ferraris on the Autobahn, while offering the advantage of seating for five passengers and a trunk for their golf clubs. Eventually, Mercedes-Benz started to offer factory versions of its models with AMG enhancements, but most of these were mere appearance upgrades rather than the go-fast tweaks that made the AMG Hammer such a marvel. Much has changed at AMG, and in recent years, Mercedes-Benz brass have used the brand to attract a new generation of image conscious buyers, men and women who desire more than shiny wheels and deep tint windows to announce their arrival and signify their success. The C63 is the smallest of the AMG sedans, but its performance capabilities make it a giant in the automotive world, much like its fabled forbearer, the AMG Hammer.
While exploring BC’s wine country in the C63 AMG it quickly became apparent that this car has curb appeal. On no less than three occasions I had people approach me to ask when I got “my” car. The reason for this rather odd question is that all three of these individuals had C63s on order, and they were worried I might have taken their place in the delivery line! After explaining that the car was not mine, and that the car was a loaner unit their next request was to hear the rumble of the engine and throaty exhaust. Of course I had to oblige.
Under the sculpted hood of the C63 you find a hand-built 6.2-litre DOHC V8 that generates a prodigious 451 horsepower and 443 lb-ft of torque. This car’s wide power band allows you to kiss the 7,200 r.p.m. redline as you flick through the car’s silky smooth gearbox.
If I had to find a flaw in the C63, it would be the unavailability of a manual transmission. Don’t get me wrong: the paddle-shift operated, AMG Speedshift Plus 7G-Tronic seven-speed automatic transmission is outstanding and lightning quick, but like many enthusiast drivers, I enjoy rowing through a close-ratio gearbox with a stick. Three settings (Comfort, Sport and Manual) allow you to warn the car of your intentions so that it can be set to respond to your inputs as efficiently as possible.
This car represents the essence of quick. Acceleration seems effortless and is delivered in a surprisingly smooth and linear fashion – a close eye needs to be kept on the speedometer or you are going to be wearing handcuffs. Mercedes-Benz claims 0-100 km sprints take a mere 4.5 seconds, and my own experiences back that up. Years of research and development racing in series like the DTM (Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters) has given AMG the know-how to make a sedan handle like a sports car, and the C63 does just that.
The engine sits very low in the car and has been set as far back as possible, giving the car a near perfect weight distribution (54% front/ 46% rear), and a lower centre of gravity. The wide track, advanced sport-tuned suspension and precise steering provide an uncompromised driving experience, allowing the enthusiastic driver to find the perfect line on any track and through every corner.
The journey through the high mountain passes of the Coast and Coquihalla ranges is a test for any braking system, but the C63’s stopping power remained strong and consistent. The AMG-engineered braking system features massive ventilated discs with six-piston calipers up front, and four-piston in the rear, all backed up by the latest in ABS technology with Brake Assist and three-stage ESP (Electronic Stability Program).
The car shares its basic lines with the recently released C-Class. The AMG styling is a little more aggressive, but refrains from adding non-functional aero pieces or oversized boy-racer spoilers and flares. Every piece of equipment on this car is designed with the sole purpose of improving its performance. The front visage features a unique bumper design that incorporates a wide centre opening framed by what appears to be twin air ducts to help cool the engine and brakes. The sinister looking Bi-Xenon headlamp units frame a wide grille capped with a very large Mercedes-Benz three pointed star. As you move around to the side you almost miss the subtle skirting as your eyes are drawn to the twin “power domes” that reside on the hood to provide enough clearance for the big V8.
All four fenders have been widened just enough to set the car apart from its lesser brethren, and flared wheel arches help contain the high-performance rolling stock mounted on 18-inch wheels. A very low-profile spoiler sits atop the trunk hinting at the car’s performance potential, but the high-polish quad exhaust tips highlighting the tail of the car let the cat out of the bag when this car fires up. Closer inspection also reveals the presence of a rear diffuser integrated into the car’s apron, an element usually only seen on competition machines.
Opening the door you might expect to find a roll cage and window net, but instead you will find a pleasant and comfortable mix of luxurious finishes and sporty details. Sliding into the Napa leather-clad, heavily bolstered sport seat you are faced with an easy-to-read instrument cluster featuring a trio of AMG gauges, dominated by the 320 km/h speedometer and a big tachometer. The wide-rimmed, three-spoke, flat-bottomed steering wheel feels as good as it looks, and features onboard controls for the likes of the audio and Bluetooth systems, but it is the alloy shift paddles that beg for your attention. All the luxury equipment you would expect in an executive sedan is on board including power operated front seats, a high-powered Harmon-Kardon audio system, dual-zone climate control and real wood trim.
A retractable screen navigation system was in my test unit, part of the AMG Premium Package which also includes a rear sunshade and a DVD changer.
I found both front seating positions very comfortable for my 6’2” XXL frame, but I found myself wanting both foot room and head room in the rear compartment. Individuals less than 5’10” should be comfortable back there as long as the front seats aren’t set at maximum reach and they have average sized feet. Trunk space on the other hand is a healthy 475 litres, but larger items can be carried by folding the rear seat backs.
There is a lot of competition in this segment, with outstanding cars like the Audi RS4, Lexus IS-F and BMW M3 ready for battle. But in my opinion, the C63 offers the best balance between blistering performance and luxury. This car is more powerful than all three of these competent machines, and much more challenging to drive, but the C63 is just that, a driver’s automobile
Pricing: 2008 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG
$8,090 ($890 Obsidian Black paint; $2,500 Command Navigation Package; $3,500 Premium Package; $1,200 Tele Aid)
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Manufacturer’s web site