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First drive: C63 AMG to offer riches at a value price

Big V: The C63 has a thumping 6.2-litre V8 in its favour, but V also spells ‘Value’ – even at this level.

Benz claims its C63 will outpace the M3 – and it should undercut it on price, too

18 Sep 2007

IT MAY have a V8 capable of bettering the BMW M3’s 0-to-100km/h sprint time, but the upcoming Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG range’s biggest coup will, arguably, be its competitive pricing.

Revealing that the fastest-ever C-class “will continue the value story” of the rest of the new-generation W204 range, Mercedes executives in Australia from managing director Horst von Sanden down hinted at the C63’s international launch in Germany last week that Stuttgart’s answer to the M3 and Audi’s RS4 may even undercut the $160,490 commanded by the outgoing W203 C55 AMG sedan.

Factoring that some variants of the latest C-class are up to $7500 cheaper than their previous-generation counterparts, speculation is mounting that the C63 AMG sedan may even slot below the $150,000 barrier when it is released in Australia in March next year.

This would comfortably slot below BMW’s all-new E92 M3 by a few thousand dollars and the outgoing RS4 sedan by at least $15,000.

Expect to pay around $3000 more for the C63 AMG Estate wagon, also due early next year.

Described as “exceptionally efficient” is a naturally aspirated 6208cc V8 featuring variable camshaft adjustment, four-valve-per-cylinder technology with bucket-type tappets, and an especially rigid aluminium crankcase with low-friction coating for improved efficiencies.

Aided by a dual-flow exhaust system that helps reduce back pressure (and plays a sinfully delicious symphony of mechanical sounds), the engine punches out 336kW of power at 6800rpm and 600Nm of torque at 5000rpm – with at least 500Nm of it on tap from 2000rpm to 6250rpm, and a maximum rev limit of 7200rpm.

AMG says that perfect cylinder charging is the upshot of vertically arranged intake and exhaust ducts, along with the inclusion of a magnesium variable intake manifold with two integral throttle flaps.

Delivering drive to the rear wheels is a development of Mercedes’ 7G-Tronic seven-speed automatic gearbox – dubbed AMG Speedshift Plus for its C63 application.

Selecting Sport mode, gearshifts are said to be 30 per cent faster than in "C" for Comfort mode, as well as 50 per cent faster in manual mode, while an automatic throttle-blipping function has also been incorporated.

The sedan sprints to 100km/h from standstill in 4.5 seconds (Estate: 4.6 seconds) and to an electronically limited top speed of 250km/h.

4 center imageTo help contain all this, AMG implemented a new three-link front axle (which is 100 per cent firmer) with a 35mm-wider wheel track speed-sensitive steering (with a reduced ratio of 13.5:1 and a more rigid disc in the steering column) a 12mm-wider rear track with more camber dialled in for better cornering performance and reinforced driveshafts and drive joints.

The C63 AMG also features a (switchable) three-stage ESP stability control set-up.

Helping to keep all the performance in check are inner-vented and cross-drilled brake discs – 360x36mm up front and 330x26mm at rear – gripped by six- and four-piston fixed callipers respectively.

Visually, the mechanical upgrades help provide for a lower and wider-looking sedan and wagon.

Using the three-pointed star grille of the Avantgarde model as a start, AMG has added a honeycomb insert, redesigned front and rear bumpers (the front end boasting bigger airdams, chrome trim surrounds for the foglights and side vents), LED tail-lights, a lip spoiler on the bootlid, twin outboard chrome exhaust outlets and black diffuser fins integrated in the rear bumper.

Standard wheels are 18x8.0-inch front and 18x8.5-inch rear AMG five-spoke light-alloy wheels ensconced in 235/40 (front) and 255/35(rear) tyres.

Mercedes will offer optional 19x8.0/19 x 9.0-inch front/rear multi-spoke alloys with 235/35 and 255/30-section rubber respectively.

The cabin is fitted with multi-adjustable AMG-embossed sports seats, a three-spoke leather-wrapped flat-bottomed steering wheel, steering wheel-mounted shift paddles, a bespoke AMG instrument cluster, among other trim enhancements.

An AMG ‘Performance Package’ has also been created for the C63.

It features a rear-axle locking differential – a mechanical asymmetrical multiple-disk locking diff with a 40 per cent locking factor under load for increased traction.

Also included is a “performance chassis” with 10 per cent higher spring rates and an absorption detection system to counteract bodyroll, plus internally ventilated and perforated composite brake discs.

More than three years in the making, AMG began work on the W/S204 series C63 in early 2004, with concept approval gained the following year. About 20 prototypes were tested globally – in “every climatic zone on earth”, according to Mercedes.

AMG first lent its hand to the most compact Mercedes sedan back in the day of the W201 ‘190’ series, to create the 190E 3.2 AMG of 1987.

Since the C-class badge was introduced in 1993, around 22,000 AMG versions have been produced, with the previous-generation W/S203 C32 V6 and C55 V8 editions accounting for almost 13,000 of these.

The United States, Germany, Western Europe and Japan are the top markets for C-class AMG vehicles.

Expect a ‘Black Label’ version of the C63 AMG, complete with significantly more power and torque, as well as less mass.

According to one AMG spokesman, there is plenty of scope to significantly increase the performance of the 6.2-litre V8.

Mercedes will reveal full pricing and sales projections closer to the on-sale date in March.

Expect to see a C63 at the Australian International Motor Show in Sydney next month.

Drive impressions:

SEDAN … automatic … Mercedes-Benz … how could we possibly be talking about one of the most exhilarating new sportscar experiences in the world? Especially one that is based on the latest W204 C-class series – which, while certainly sharper and much more involving to drive than its softer predecessor, isn’t at the top of its league (to borrow a phrase from the providers of the car, that is) for sheer driving pleasure.

It’s true though. The C63 AMG is a thunderous reinterpretation of the fast German sports sedan, a bolt of lightening in both inspiration and on the limits of the autobahn.

Weaved within the strong and sturdy C-class base are a 35mm-larger front axle for a wider track, redesigned suspension geometry, refettled AMG speed-sensitive steering and an optional 19-inch wheel and composite brake package that gives the C63 the reflexes to control power and torque outputs that – just a few years ago – were the provenance of supercars such as the Porsche 911 Turbo.

So at an indicated and speed-limited 253km/h on the German autobahn, the Mercedes sedan feels rock-solid stable. Our car – fitted with the ceramic stoppers – then would pull up with the force of a massive anchor thrown overboard.

At the other end of the speedometer spectrum, flooring the accelerator on the bone-dry roads will certainly smoke the rear tyres if you want it to, but explosively quick yet clean take-offs are the norm.

In fact, unlike some previous AMG efforts, it is the bits in-between – and all the times in-between lairy launches and cross-continental warp speeds – where the C63 AMG shows its true mettle.

Certainly, you can trundle along in congested city streets or quiet country towns, as you try to reduce the 20L/100km-average we recorded after some ballistic highway runs to the 13.4L/100km official combined average.

Or, without lag or hesitation, putting your down at 80km/h will almost instantly add a ‘1’ in front of that figure. Slow down after spending time at speeds what may land you in prison in Australia and 180km/h feels like 80km/h.

Better still, lift-off to slow down at speed, and the seven-speed automatic blips and snarls as it changes down, in an instant, to provide you with an aural sensation that is initially totally unexpected but always absolutely delightful.

The gearbox also performs far beyond our expectations, as it seemingly anticipates the driver’s desires by serving up the right ratio almost every time, whether we left the lever in Drive or played with the well-situated paddle shifters.

Only when we were prodding the accelerator repeatedly on purpose (to record some of those glorious V8 harmonics) did we confound the transmission.

There is a newfound finesse in the way this supercar soaks up road surfaces as you flow through corners. No more rough edges, no more skittish progress, and no more jarring ride. The Mercedes sweeps you along like you are a child straddling the shoulders of a long-legged adult.

Meanwhile the steering – which is nigh on perfectly weighted at 240km/h as it is at 24km/h – is lovely in its linearity and feel. The regular C-class cars could do with some of this AMG magic dust.

After blasting around the roads of central Germany, we soon forgot about the slightly disappointing lack of occasion inside, which really is too regular C-class for something so special.

Yep, we loved the sensationally grippy seats, placing you perfectly in place to see the two ridges that ripple along the bonnet. It gives the C63 an air of sinewy seriousness. But the interior itself is a little too C280 Avantgarde – cliched flat-bottomed steering wheel aside – for this honed supercar.

Also reminiscent of the luxo littlie is the air-tight quality of the cabin, which makes a very welcome return to all C-classes after going truant in the last iteration.

What the C63 AMG does most spectacularly – besides looking like a cultured lout in its lavish outfit of gills, flared wheelarch and ready-for-combat stance – is completely upturn preconceptions of how a luxurious and refined V8 automatic sports sedan should behave.

It left us questioning the need for a manual gearbox, in a way that sequential clutchless automated transmissions like the ones BMW, Ferrari, Maserati, Alfa Romeo and (we know we are being sacrilegious here) VW and Audi – have never quite been able to do.

We wondered whether – extra rear legroom side – luxury sedans, wagons and SUVs aren’t made redundant by a sports sedan as dynamic yet cosseting as this.

But most of all, we are left to ponder whether the seductive C63 AMG will translate as fluently on our stuttering roads as it does on Germany’s brilliant blacktop.

If it does, the M3 will no longer be the automatic default choice in this segment.

Read more:

First look: Benz spoils M3 party with C63 AMG

First look: C wagon gets AMG hit

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