The C63 AMG now stands tall as a brilliant compact sports sedan – but we reckon the wagon version is as good, if not better.
For: Soundtrack, flexibility, styling.
Against: Rib-bruising seat bolsters, some tyre noise, small fuel tank.
THANKS to sports utilities, orthodox station wagons have become a rare breed, but one sub-class is not yet set to go the way of the Dodo: It’s the performance hauler.
This is a tiny club, mind: For Kiwis, the only current members of significant standing are Holden and Holden Special Vehicles with their Commodore wagon-derived hotties plus a couple of Europeans, from Audi and AMG Mercedes Benz.
We’re with the latter’s latest today. The C63 AMG has traditionally imprinted as a stonking sedan, and later this year we’ll also see it in a cracking coupe form, but there’s long been a third type that perhaps sits in the shadows yet growls with equal menace.
A practical super load-all with a swish exterior and all the usual Mercedes qualities of excellent build quality and a luxurious cabin is something special, but what really gets the passion burning is the fire within.
The latest AMG V8 is a 4.0-litre twin turbo making, in the S format C63 that is standard here, a formidable 375kW of power and 700Nm of torque. Zero to 100kmh in 4.1 seconds and a top speed electronically shackled to two and a half times our legal highway pace is testimony to it having a greyhound – even though the sound from the quad pipes is more Rottweiler snarl.
But does a $167,900 wagon really wage phwoar well enough to warrant owner interest, let alone a $5000 premium over the more accepted sedan? Read on …
Call this punch with practicality. Putting the boot into a C sedan creates an immediately stylish yet still practical load lugger; literally putting the boot into AMG-style does no harm to that side of things. It’s still a car that’ll do a decent job of shifting stuff, from the family dog through to small items of furniture.
The swank sweep of the extended rear roofline provides an especially strong kerbside presence. It also looks longer and leaner than the donor booted car, though that’s a design deception. However, it is obviously roomier.
The wagon’s boot is 40 litres larger than the C-Class sedan’s, offering a total capacity of 490 litres that expands to a huge 1510 litres when sacrificing rear seat space so it’ll take all size of Schnauzer, from mini to giant.
Whether you’d ever dare want to load it up with a second-hand set of drawers or stuff that needs to go to the dump or recycling centre is a moot point.
Benz doesn’t do even its’ ‘budget’ C-Class variants in a poverty pack and certainly AMG wants to impress that its offers are as credible for comfort fixtures as they are for absolute kapow. They’re starting with advantage of the standard C-Class interior being the current standard-setter for underlying excellence.
Design elegance and quality are the go; the focal point is going to be that weird screen perched on the dash that every newcomer to the types wonders is an iPad and then gives it a tug to see if it can be removed (it isn’t, it can’t and, anyway, the ‘joke’ is stale now).
The screen’s design is an effort to future-proof the car against bigger screens and more apps in future models. It’s also here as the access to all sorts of operations, from deep-diving into the finer nuances from the 13-speaker Burmester surround sound audio system (with 10Gb of music storage, as well as Bluetooth and wide connectivity) to sorting the full climate control air-conditioning.
It’s also the COMAND multimedia interface and thus the access point to operating the satellite navigation, integrated phone and internet connectivity. Oh, yes, it's also the vital interface for altering the C 63's various dynamic settings.
Some aspects of its operation take a bit of learning, yet to me it’s a superior system to those in Audi and BMW product and miles ahead of the awful Lexus one, which truly offers a bewildering number of ways to confuse you.
In general ambience the cabin is of the highest quality – straight out of an S-class , with beautiful leather and real brushed aluminium highlights. Every touchable and viewable material looks top-notch. Even the cheapest plastics look expensive.
Thick-rimmed and trimmed in competition-ticked Alcantara, the steering wheel appear to have been filched from the DTM grid. The front seats are also special AMG performance items, with side bolsters and adjustable under-thigh support.
The spend doesn’t lessen when it reaches the rear part where no-one but Fido sits. For my part, I’d hate to put anything – man, dog or anything else likely to leave scratches and blemishes – in here, lest it resulted in owner tears and swearing.
However, for those willing to run that risk, it is designed with practicality in mind. The rear seat drops in three parts, allowing long things to be pushed through, while the bootlid is powered and can be opened with a wave of your foot when arms are full.
But it’s the exterior embellishments that tell the story: A sports body kit, power-bulge bonnet, AMG and V8 bi-turbo badging, purposeful quad exhausts and red brake callipers housed inside big 19-inch wheels - agreed, it ‘sounds’ a bit naff, but honestly, it looks really good on this car.
The last C63 driven before this example was very much from another time and place: It was the final evolution of the line of cars featuring the famous 6.2-litre V8, an engine now only found in the museum insofar as AMG car line is concerned.
I have fond memories of the old engine; yes it made less power and torque than this new mill, but Mein Gott it sounded fantastic and there was a certain something about its thrusting shove: At full throttle it seemed to run wholly on testosterone.
Of course, it still had to go. The thing put out too many exhaust nasties and drank more heavily than a busload of Kiwis at Oktoberfest. The path to greater efficiency led, inevitably, to a smaller engine and, frankly, those who reckon there’s no replacement for big displacement are out of touch.
Honestly, there’s nothing to worry about with this 3982cc unit: Reactivity is under throttle is virtually immediate; with just a hint of turbo lag, though it’s there. Punch? Think Tyson.
Noise is a vital part of any performance package; the sound produced by the exhaust is always integral to the whole experience. The 507 did AMG proud; its bellow was utterly stunningly soul-stirring, as much for onlookers as occupants.
The new-age C63 retains loudness, but at a different, slightly higher pitch. It’s not dissatisfying, but it is different. As before, there’s a special button that allows bimodal operation; a quiet setting for around town and another that lets it all out. In the latter the engine gains a more insistent, staccato note, as well as some delightful crackle and pop in response to a gentle blip on the throttle.
That thought about ‘same but different’ goes for how the engine lays down its performance. Maximum power is mustered between 5500 and 6250rpm, but peak torque arrives at just 1750rpm, and is maintained all the way to 4500rpm, with a sweet spot of extra strength unfurling between 4000-5000rpm.
That makes for some seamless shove from step-off, which will stop way short of its full potential if you plan to be perfectly law-abiding. You’ll need to find a race track to feel the full impact of an urge whose relentlessness is unaffected by selected gear or vehicle speed, but it’ll be worth the effort.
One thing that doesn’t change – and hopefully never will – is that you get an engine ‘signed’ by the person who assembled it. Don’t tell me that doesn’t always impress.
Belting performance comes as naturally to these cars as breathing does to us and, if you’ve paid attention to what’s been written in the previous section, you’ll know that when push comes to shove … well, there’s a LOT of shove.
On sound and sizzle, this engine really is in a league of its own: The rumbling exhaust and rubber-renting take-off ability is simply A1 awesome. And this isn’t mere noise for the sake of it; it gets going with an alacrity that shocks. Grunt Affalterbach-style: The more you have, the fiercer the bite, but the bigger the smile.
Better news: the car – meaning everything surrounding this powerplant – can take it. What’s of great appeal to anyone who has experienced the C63 sedan is that a high degree of compatibility also carries into the wagon experience.
Well, it stands to reason really. This load-all conversion adds relatively little to the kerb weight, so it maintains the deftness that makes the sedan so enjoyable.
Even so, the way in which the way it attunes to driver input is almost eerily extra-sensory; it’s the auto-equivalent of Tony Stark’s Ironman suit.
A particularly remarkable result of this is that the car feels downsized; it’s just so light on its feet and so balanced, and therefore so different from its that 507 forebear, which truth be told was a delight and fright in equal measure; the chassis was just a bit wooden.
Even though the engine delivers quite precise responses to throttle input, there’s a point – one easily found – where the whole shebang is running within a whisker of immolating those 245/35 R19 rear tyres. Be thankful one of the extras that arrive with the ‘S’ enhancement is an electronic locking rear differential, in place of the base car’s slower mechanical rear diff. This surely helps get power down earlier and more cleanly and confidently when exiting corners.
But there’s never any doubt about the malevolence. Even in its more demure settings it’s something of an animal. Agreed, so much of its character is dependent on driving modes you determine is best for the occasion: The choosing is rich, as suspension damping, exhaust note, engine and throttle response, gearshift protocols (including a full manual option), steering and traction control systems can all be customised.
The standard options are comfort, sport, sport plus, and race modes, the latter being designed for track days and including a lap timer system. There is also a programmable individual mode, allowing the driver to mix and match to suit individual preference.
Comfort damping is an absolute must for round-town; not only is the ride softest – though it’s hardly limo-like – but this also implies the least aggressive of the gearshift protocols and a softened throttle response; it’s not exactly languid, but there’s enough of an anti-sneeze to ensure you don’t wipe out the roadscape ahead through an inadvertent prod. Also, it allows the car to cruise at 100kmh in seventh (top) gear, with the engine ticking over just above 1500rpm.
The sport and sport plus settings obviously forgo mild for wild. In either of these modes, the car is more feisty and increasingly closer to mirroring the character of a BMW M3 and Audi RS4. Race mode is another world still: the throttle and gearbox responses are super-sharp – it must be selected to access launch control for the ultimate start. This provides acceleration off the mark that borders on supercar quick.
There’s a head-up display shows which gear the car is in at any given time, and when in manual mode indicates when to change gear, too. Sport plus and Race allow full control via the paddle shifts, but maintain the entertaining blipped downshifts. The modes don’t simply alter the kapow; in sport mode and onward, moments of tail-happy endeavour increase commensurately, though only Race drops out the the traction control systems.
Is it too much? For family duties, probably. Pity the poor kids and canine that would ride along at warp pace; something’s always gonna give and, if the car won’t, then it’ll be their stomachs for sure. It’s so unrelenting, at times. But that’s what you’re buying into, along with expectation that the fuel economy can be rubbish if you're driving hard and that it can be disturbingly noisy.
For what it’s worth, the safety package also does Benz proud. Nine airbags are included but they’re very much the final line of defence. The car’s smash limitation begins with features that seek to alert to potential accident scenarios. There’s an attention assist system and a collision-prevention that triggers autonomous braking at speeds of up to 100kmh, to prevent or reduce the severity of rear-end collisions.
How it compares
The M3 might not figure as a direct competitor, because Munich doesn’t issue it as a wagon, but there are two other knockout haulers in the picture. Obviously, one is the Audi RS4; it’s getting a little bit dated now yet it still has an incredible performance and, of course, if think all-wheel-drive could be useful with this level of grunt, then it’s the one.
And the other? The good old Commodore Sportwagon, but maybe not the one you’re thinking of. No disagreement, Holden Special Vehicles mix a potent brew, but I’d suggest the car that is more akin to the C63 in overall dynamic spirit is the SS-V Redline edition; at $78,490 less than half the price but emphatically more than half the car.
But if it’s an AMG star that you desire, then within the C63 family this is the hidden talent.