Car reviews - Mercedes-AMG - C63 - S
Unbridled performance, a theatre of action and noise, dual-duty for families, decent boot, lovely quality
Room for improvement
Firm ride, noisy, thirsty, gearshift position
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17 Feb 2016
Price and equipment
The Mercedes-AMG C63 S sedan sits on the top of the C-Class castle of mid-size prestige models, dominating its siblings not only in price and performance, but its subtly menacing style.
It clashes with the Audi RS4 – currently available only as a wagon – and the perennial BMW M3. Mercedes also offers the C63 S as a wagon for a $2500 premium.
In the rival list, there isn't really anything with an equally as stonking V8 engine, including the two listed below – the new Lexus GS F and the retiring HSV GTS.
The C63 S costs $154,510 plus on-road costs as a sedan and it comes complete with standard fare that befits the price and its slot in the hot-sedan sector.
But there are still options available that will curl your chest hairs with their diversity and price. For example, the AMG high-performance composite ceramic brakes are an extra $9900, the carbon-fibre door mirror shells and dash trim is $8900 and the metallic paint is free though the premium 'designo magno' silver paint is $3100.
Externally, the C63 S sits on 19-inch wheels with wider units at the rear booted with 265/35 rubber with the front wearing 235/35. The car sits lower than its sisters and this aggressive stance is enhanced by the mesh grille, fender cut-outs, imposing tail pipe treatment and bulging wheelarches. It is Mrs Parkinson’s dog while asleep.
Inside there are beautifully trimmed sports seats in Nappa leather, a subtle dashboard treatment of carbon-fibre and a satin black timber trim that, on first glance, could as well be embossed plastic.
Mercedes-Benz is unabashed about its fondness for chrome, using the embellishment for many of the switches and levers, dial surrounds and pedal finishes.
It’s also used for the twist dial that controls functions on the central screen – a control that on a 43C day, inadvertently made my hand feet like Joe Pesci’s after grasping the super-heated metal doorknob in the movie Home Alone.
The C-Class is Mercedes-Benz’s mid-size model, coming up against the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, Lexus IS and Jaguar XE.
It even threatens the Mercedes-Benz CLA sedan range, itself with an AMG version for $88,400.
The C63 S is not a large car and will seat four adults in comfort, though it always feels compact which is heightened by the low stance that can make it awkward to enter and exit.
But the use of materials and the craftsmanship in completing the cabin are top class. It extends from the visual to the auditory, with doors that close with a firm, cushioned clunk and even window glass that glides without a murmur in the frame’s channels.
More standard equipment includes the digital television, satellite navigation, Burmester audio with surround sound and 13 speakers, panoramic glass roof and head-up display.
The C63 S has a lot to live up to. It is the latest generation of a decades-old line of performance sedans and upholding the tradition of going very fast while its occupants feel very secure, is an art that requires years of practice.
So while the fender 'bi turbo' badges show how fast it’s capable of, it’s the C63’s interior that has to convince passengers that it can also be secure and safe.
The essence is carried over from the other C-Class models but the AMG version lifts the bar with a more business-like dashboard and busier details on the seats and door trims.
It will seat four adults and it’s only the bulk of the central tunnel for the rear-drive prop shaft that limits a fifth occupant.
Rear seat passengers will find it comfortable and have sufficient leg and headroom. In the “sit behind myself” test, a comfortable driving room translated neatly to an equally comfortable rear seat. Notable was the rear seat was more compliant than the sports-focused driver’s chair.
There’s fold-down rear seat backs with remote levers but the opening isn’t as generous as what’s offered by many rivals. However, the boot has 435 litres of space so there’s easily enough for airport luggage for two people.
The driver gets air-pump bolsters in the cushion and squab, while both front occupants have heated seats and full electric adjustment via avatar switches on the door inserts. The small-diameter, thick rimmed and flat-bottomed steering wheel – complete with 12 o’clock marker in white leather – is also electrically adjustable for tilt and reach.
The head-up display is a boon to the driver but in fact it sadly dismisses all the action of the dial needles within the deep gauges. The large monitor sits high on the centre dash for excellent visibility and the hand control for its functions is intuitive and easy to use.
The cabin is practical, too. The electric park brake and the location of the gearshifter on the steering column open up the centre console for additional storage space.
But the placement of the gearshift lever on the right side stalk of the steering column requires familiarity. Previous tests in Mercedes vehicles using the same set-up have led to the lever mistakenly used as an indicator switch, resulting in the gearbox adopting neutral gear and fellow freeway traffic dealing with a suddenly slowing vehicle.
It is, however, easy to use and puts more emphasis – if desired – on the ability to drive the car using its paddle shifters.
Engine and transmission
The important bit here is the downsizing of the traditional C63 powerplant, wiping it from a big-bore, naturally aspirated 6.2-litre V8 to a bi-turbo V8 of a comparatively timid 4.0 litres.
But don’t get depressed. In ditching the old V8, Mercedes-AMG lifted power and performance while slashing fuel consumption.
The previous M156 engine of 6.2-litres pumped a very aural 373kW/610Nm which was good for a 0-100km/h sprint of 4.2 seconds. But it was thirsty, rated at 12.0 litres per 100 kilometres and we should add that was done with barely any pressure on the accelerator pedal.
The new M177 engine bangs out 375kW at 5500-6250rpm and torque of 700Nm from 1750rpm through to 4500rpm – a nice fat tabletop output that’s perfect for the role of the C63.
By comparison, it’s a modest drinker with a claimed average of 8.6 L/100km. On test, it wasn’t spared but still finished the test cycle at 10.1 L/100km.
For performance enthusiasts, it also wipes a fraction off the M156’s sprint time, covering it in 4.1 seconds. So win, win.
The 4.0-litre engine is also coded as the M178 and is fitted to the Mercedes-AMG GT S. The difference in output is geared to suit the coupe’s lighter weight and driving character, with the same 375kW coming in at 6250rpm and the lower 650Nm of torque arriving at a slightly broader 1750-4750rpm.
The M178 also has a dry sump, compared with the M177 in the C63 that has a conventional sump.
AMG’s Dynamic Select drive program allows the driver to dial in four settings – normal, sport, sport+ and race – for a range of characters to suit each driving route and driver emotion.
There is also a button on the console that opens the exhaust baffles a bit earlier, resonating with your fellow motorists and immediately broadcasting that this is no ordinary Mercedes. Its only downfall is that it can create a lot of boom for rear-seat passengers.
The C63 backs the engine up against a seven-speed automatic – not a dual-clutch unit – with a wet clutch used for take-off instead of the more conventional torque converter. It also has paddle shifters for manual control.
The box drives the rear wheels through a limited-slip differential with an electronically-operated clutch that constantly opens and closes to distribute power to the most efficient wheel.
Ride and handling
All C-Class variants use the same platform and 2840mm wheelbase but the C63 has a wider track and is sharper from nearly every perspective.
The suspension is independent with a coil-sprung multi-link rear set up with the C63 including AMG’s Ride Control – basically an adaptive suspension system with electronic dampers.
The sedan has electric-assist steering, replacing the old model’s hydraulic assistance. The new car’s steering feel is better than before, with more graduated assistance and more accurate control through the corners.
Handling on the C63 S is as you’d expect. It is close to perfect in its ability to follow a tight bend and the rear differential is remarkably adept at controlling the torque flow between the rear wheels.
It is so confident that the car can be pushed harder and harder into the corners and still remain flat and controlled.
The sedan also picks up active engine mounts that react to the way the car is driven by tightening the drivetrain for better rigidity, or loosening it slightly to improve comfort.
Ride comfort, however, is never exactly comfortable. Even in its “comfort” setting offered by the adjustable suspension, the ride is firm and especially at low speeds, picks up irregular road surfaces with a bang.
Safety and servicing
Like many of its rivals, the C63 S has a pre-paid service option that minimizes the price and the hassle of its annual servicing needs. Prices vary depending on the car model and the duration of the program.
Mercedes-Benz has a three-year, unlimited distance warranty that is similar to BMW and includes three years of roadside assistance.
The C63 S has an excellent safety package that includes low-speed collision warning and mitigation, lane departure warning with passive steering, blind-spot detection, rear cross-traffic monitor, pedestrian avoidance with automatic braking, driver attention detection and automated steering for the park assist feature.
On top of that is the more common items such as front and rear park sensors, surround cameras including reverse, LED headlights with corner lights, nine airbags, tyre pressure monitor and automatic headlights and wipers.
Glass’s Guide estimates that the C63 S sedan will retain a healthy 60 per cent of its purchase price after three years, better than its rivals listed here.
For years this car has been the powerhouse benchmark in the prestige mid-size sedan class. The smaller engine takes away none of that aura and returns better fuel consumption with lower emissions – a good result for a performance machine.
As a city car it’s fun but the ride comfort is bordering on harsh and the low ride height makes it threatened by speed humps and the tightness of multi-level parking areas.
But it remains a superb weapon with the ability to carry extra people. The equipment level is luxurious and the safety gear is on the automotive top shelf.
For driving appeal it can be as ferocious as Mrs Parkinson’s dog or a refreshing extension of its owners character. Pity it’s not cheap.
BMW M3 from $139,900 plus on-road costs
Hot four-door M3 is a perennial favourite for performance seekers with the need to carry more people. The latest uses an inline 3.0-litre bi-turbo six of 3.0-litres cranking 317kW/550Nm. It drives the rear wheels through a seven-speed dual-clutch auto and BMW claims a 0-100km/h time of 4.1 seconds and a fuel consumption average of 8.3 L/100km. The car is fully kitted with an accent on sports driving, though seats four and has a 480 litre boot. The warranty is three years or unlimited kilometres, servicing is annual with a pre-paid service option plan, and the resale after three years is estimated by Glass’s Guide at 54 per cent of the purchase price.
Lexus GS F from $148,800 plus on-road costs
New entrant for Lexus that carries over the now-defunct IS F drivetrain. The GS is over 200mm longer than the C63 and its size and weight penalize a bit of performance with 0-100km/h arriving in 4.6 seconds. The 351kW/530Nm 5.0-litre V8 is aspirated and drives the rear wheels through an eight-speed automatic. Fuel use is a claimed 11.3 L/100km. Equipment level and safety gear is excellent and on par with the Merc.
It has the biggest boot here at 520 litres. The warranty is for four years or unlimited distance, there’s a four-year roadside assist program and the annual servicing has a transparent menu. Resale is 52 per cent.
HSV GTS from $98,490 plus on-road costs
One of the best “bang for your bucks” sedans on the market, the GTS is one to buy now and keep as the marque ceases local production next year. The GTS pumps 430kW/740Nm from its supercharged and intercooled 6.2-litre V8 and is said to clear the 100km/h sprint in 4.4 seconds as an automatic. It gets a fuel average of 15 L/100km. It’s a big car, seating up to five and with a big 496 litre boot. It also comes with a load of standard features. The warranty is three years or 100,000km and the service intervals are every nine months or 15,000km. The three-year capped price service program will cost $1316. The estimated resale after three years is 47 per cent.
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