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Car reviews - Mercedes-Benz - C-Class - C63 AMG sedan

Launch Story

Mercedes-Benz logo20 Mar 2008

By MARTON PETTENDY

WITH 336kW of power and a neck-straining 600Nm of torque available from its 6.2-litre AMG V8, the C63 sedan is claimed to be quicker than BMW's benchmark-busting M3 V8 coupe.

Equipped with four doors, a standard automatic transmission and the three-pointed star bonnet mascot, it is no wonder, then, that there's a nine-month waiting list for the highest-performance C-class ever produced.

The latest in a 20-year lineage of C-class AMGs is not just a staightline star, though, and a sub-$140,000 pricetag is simply icing on the tastiest cake ever offered by AMG.

Likes: More practical than an M3 coupe, quicker than an M3, cheaper than an M3, spine-tingling exhaust note, steering finesse, neutral chassis, blistering V8 acceleration, slick-shifting seven-speed auto, three-stage stability control

Dislikes: A hint of steering rattle at the limit, no manual transmission, not special enough inside, fuel consumption

By MARTON PETTENDY 20/03/2008

MOST cars feel slow and their performance quickly deteriorates at racetracks - not least on a circuit as fast and formidable as Mount Panorama – but not the C63 AMG.

Reflecting 20 years of AMG engineering and the fact the C63 was developed primarily at the famed northern loop of the demanding Nurburgring in Germany, the C63 felt instantly at home at Bathurst, both at 240km/h at the end of Conrod straight and while changing direction over the blind corners over the top of the mountain.

Given the benefit of being able to directly compare the C63 to the rest of AMG’s offerings (except for the SL, which will come in facelifted 63 AMG guise this year), the C63 felt easily the quickest of all the 6.2-litre V8-powered AMG models, pouncing out of the pitlane slip road onto the track with more ferocity than anything else present on the day.

Despite offering slightly less peak torque than any of its similarly engined AMG stablemates, the lighter C63 squeezes its occupants into their seats more forcefully than any of the three-pointed star models, lights up its ESP warning light more consistently out of every corner and peaked at a higher top speed on Conrod.

But, far from being the lead-tipped arrow many had expected, the C63 also felt the lightest on the road, and offered the most neutral, balanced handling of all the AMGs cars present, changing direction with a nimbleness and fluidity that the older, less solid-feeling CLK63 coupe could not match.

Sitting much flatter in corners, it made the larger CLS63 and E63 sedans feel bulky by comparison. Some who drove the C63 on European roads criticised the car’s ride quality and, while we never ventured away from the Mount Panorama bitumen, ride quality never felt as compromised as we imagined, say, the M3’s would be on similar surfaces.

Unlike some of the other AMGs cars we drove, the C63’s brake pedal never went long or soft at the end of two laps and its steering was never anything less than super-responsive and full of feedback.

Dull steering was perhaps the biggest complaint levelled at the previous-generation C-class, but, fitted with AMG-tuned speed-sensitive steering assistance, the 63’s steering is in another league. In fact, far from ironing out too much useful information, Mercedes appears to have dialled out so much compliance that there is now a hint of what feels like steering rack rattle when the front wheels are loaded up.

If there is a complaint to be made, then this is it, but the C63’s steering is so well-weighted, so tactile and so communicative that it is easily the best-steering Mercedes we have driven. So, while a whiff of steering knock when fully loaded is a small price to pay, only a back-to-back comparison will tell if it points better than the precision instrument that is the M3.

Another difficult comparison to make with the M3 is exhaust note quality, with the C63’s hairy-chested V8 howl at full noise sounding more like a NASCAR stock car than the M3’s higher-pitched metallic V8 shriek. The C63’s automatic throttle blip function during downshifts and at start-up may well come direct from the M3 copybook, but is nonetheless an awe-inspiring new feature for spectators.

The three-stage stability control system - which can be turned completely off or set in Sport mode, which allows a greater degree of tyre slippage before power is retarded or the brakes applied – was also pioneered by BMW, but gives the latest AMG a new and entirely more accessible nature, without fear of destroying $140,000 of metal.

There is no manual transmission available and we doubt we could change gears any quicker than the clever AMG Speedshift auto manages via its slick-shifting steering wheel paddles, but the fact remains that a torque converter will never allow acceleration to be transferred as seamlessly and controllably as a conventional manual transmission, and a number of purist enthusiasts will never consider an automatic sports car.

That said, the AMG-fettled gearbox is the finest automatic transmission we have sampled and offers the best of both worlds via both ‘comfort’ and ‘sports’ shift programs.

While we’re nitpicking, perhaps the C63’s interior could have been made a little more special, even if it does offer body-bracing AMG seats, AMG instruments that also comprise the likes of an engine oil temp gauge and a trick flat-bottomed tiller.

The C63 AMG sedan not only accelerates harder, offers better value and (at least until the four-door M3 sedan arrives) is more practical than the M3, but also carries the cache and resale value of a Mercedes-Benz badge.

As Mercedes has also successfully demonstrated, the most fearsome C-class ever is also right at home on the most formidable of racetracks.

That it somehow succeeds in delivering all of the hallmarks for which Mercedes-Benz has become famous, yet has elevated itself onto the same performance plane as BMW’s finest performance car, is a double act that is sure to make it a classic.

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