Two doors and eight cylinders … that sounds like an appealing mix. So it proves.
For: Thunderous soundtrack and stomp, great looker
Against: Usual coupe inconveniences
RACING away is what performance brands are all about, but with Mercedes-Benz's high-octane AMG, the muscle is not just being flexed on the road and track.
No other high-octane brand, not just those others specialising in hot-rodding mainstream fare but also the supercar players, has been powering up the sales charts so commandingly.
The Affalterbach sub-brand has smashed out of the niche, with volume having risen 40 percent last year to 68,875 vehicles. More demand has made AMG a key profit centre for Benz; the brand presence has enlarged internationally and the model portfolio seems to be ever-broadening.
Incredibly, there are now 48 different choices in the arsenal and though, with the exception of the utterly bespoke GT flagship, all are what we’re testing today - a variant of a standard production Mercedes model - that nonetheless adds up to a powerful presence.
Different markets have different AMG tastes. In New Zealand, where the AMG percentage of total Benz ownership is extremely high, there’s obviously one favourite number: 63, the numerical suffix that denotes implementation of the core twin turbo V8 engine. The majority of the ‘63’ club members are from the C-Class.
It’s one of the newest members of that family coming under the spotlight today. The C63 S Coupe stands as perhaps the best-looking settings yet for that rip-snorting 375kW 4.0-litre biturbo V8. But, with the AMG badge, good looks are just an added extra. The driving is always the key appeal.
Yes, well, notwithstanding the previous statement, it would be silly not to pause for a moment to discuss how this car visually shapes up. But only for a moment, because this was covered extensively when we drove the C 63’s little bro, the C300, a few months ago.
The top-spec standard car seemed such a natural beauty then that the view was expressed that it would be hard to think of a way to view it that doesn’t leave impression of its being a stunner. And hard, too, to imagine how AMG might improve upon the impression it left.
Well, they have. It’s all the usual way, of course, by pumping up the bodywork.
This means replacing the regular air dam with a wider-mouthed sort that presumably offers more aero effect and certainly looks a lot more aggressive.
Also altered are the side strakes and the rear bumper. It gets a wee wing on the boot lid edge, the rims are bigger and tyres fatter ((235/35 R19s at the front and 283/30 R20s at the rear), and it sits lower.
The big like about the C300 was how beautiful it appeared in profile; tautly drawn yet graceful. That still strikes with the C63. While the silhouette carries a few more bumps, it’s not besmirched and you are still drawn to the detailing. It’s just as much an ab-fab statement, but in a more serious, less delicate way.
Placing the regular and AMG coupes alongside one another would certainly reinforce that the performance king has not had a once-over-lightly from the speed specialists.
As is the case with the C63 wagon and sedan, the transformation from scalpel to sledgehammer requires a fair bit of pulling, stretching and rebending. The impression that this version is more of a heavyweight is not illusory; in fact, it weighes 70kg more than the comparable sedan due to being wider, having bigger wheels and a completely different suspension set-up (along with further structural rigidity). That unique suspension geometry results in a bigger footprint - front and rear tracks have been increased (50mm or thereabouts, front and rear) and there’s also a modified rear axle design - and that demands all around it to change. The front guards are pumped out by 64mm and the rears 66mm and it is enough to give the car a very different stance. Really, it makes as defiant and dramatic a break from the regular coupe as that model does from the C-Class sedan.
Mercedes-AMG has crafted a lovely cabin that's equal parts luxury and sports with black leather, red stitching and gorgeous touch points, such as on the door-handles, alloy pedals and the AMG steering wheel. Oh yes, one other thing: A proper gear shifter. The stubby shifter between and forward of the front seats might still run an automated gearbox – because AMGs haven’t been manuals for years – but it’s the easiest way to tell an AMG from a standard Benz. At least, it was until the C43 AMG came along. That one runs with the steering column-mounted wand – presumably because it’s the only AMG car built in the main Mercedes factory; and the only one with a non AMG-made engine.
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.
It’s a massively agreeable affluent appearance and air, but one that also exudes a greater sense of sportiness. The thick-rimmed steering wheel appear to have been filched from the DTM grid Aggressively bolstered, yet comfortable and supportive, front chairs are another AMG hallmark that cannot be ignored, but are certainly appreciated. The provision of motor-driven adjusters reminds they’re a step up from racecar basic, though they certainly look to be track use-ready. The nicely styled and finished dash and centre fascia is dominated by the big infotainment screen, which sits proud of the dash. It's a prominent fixture that is all the more conspicuous in the coupe – and from the passenger seat particularly – than in the sedan.
Always appreciated in Benz coupes is the neat touch of an automatic seat belt feeder that presents the seat belt to you when you take your seat, saving you the undignified experience of groping around behind yourself to locate it.
Mercedes-Benz has always been at the forefront of safety. Standard safety equipment across the Coupe range includes nine airbags, collision prevention assist with semi-autonomous braking, blind spot assist, pre-safe, attention assist, an active bonnet and a 360-dgree camera.
AMGs have the driver assistance package which includes Distronic Plus with steering assist, pre-safe plus, Braking Assistance Plus with cross traffic assist, active lane keeping assist and active blind spot assist. The active steering and lane-keeping will seem an unnecessary icing to those among us who hold that those who can’t steer should be driving, but at least the ‘off’ switches for both are easily found. Because the Coupe hasn’t the same level of semi-autonomous functionality now being availed to the E-Class, you can deactivate those functions without befuddling the adaptive cruise.
It’s certainly loaded, though the infotainment set-up has yet to smarten up to Car Play/Android Auto compatibility. It’s not something to complain about per se as you can still run audio and full phone functions through the Bluetooth or by direct tethering; but I must say that, having now used CarPlay, every other methodology seems outdated and clunky.
Sedan, wagon and coupe … that’s the order in which I’ve experienced this 3982cc twin-turbo V8 engine and, though the cited outputs are the same for each body type – specifically, that’s 375kW and 700Nm – you’d swear the two-door had an extra edge.
Actually, it does. But only by a tenth of a second. Mercedes-AMG claims a 0-100km/h time of 3.9 seconds for the coupe, so by their stopwatch it’s 0.1s faster than the four-door. In part that’s down to a change in the rear axle ratio but there’s a grip element in action, too. The coupe has the widest rear tyre set of the trio.
Whatever the setting, the initial reaction is the same: It’s a stunningly powerful engine and deceptively revvy, too. It’s not like those old-school V8s that give all by 3000rpm. With this unit, even though peak torque arrives at just 1750rpm, it is maintained all the way to 4500rpm, with a sweet spot of extra strength unfurling between 4000-5000rpm, while maximum power musters between 5500 and 6250rpm.
Which means the more stick it gets, the better it goes. When you’ve got what must be the best gearbox of its genre, the very capable and very refined seven-speed Speedshift MCT auto, then there’s no problem gaining access to the ‘good stuff’, either. Manual mode is more for open road running than the city, but you really need to try it because you’re just more intimately connected with all that thrusting shove as result.
The engine’s character evinces in two degrees of audibility; the bi-modal exhaust can be left in its quiet setting – which means only the near neighbours know about it when you fire up first thing – or in ‘Sport’, in which case the entire sub-division will be engaged. I like to think of myself as something of a people person, so Sport it was. 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’s really worth sharing, right?
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.
Two years ago I had the extreme good fortune of going to an AMG Experience day at Bathurst. We drove everything available at that time and everything was great, but two models stood out. The AMG A45 – because, while hardly the most powerful model there, it scampered over the top of the mountain with incredible confidence – and the AMG GT; which while demanding respect in the windy bits was awesome down the straights.
Should I ever have that opportunity again, then I’d love to discover where the C63 coupe sat. I think it’d be pretty handy through the challenging corners and yet also have the strength to stick to the GT’s bumper down Conrod; there’s just so much about its dynamic feel that supports the factory’s bid to make this the sportiest C-Class yet.
Though it is obviously heavier than the sedan, it nonetheless evinces a lighter, more precise feel. The seat-of-the-pants impression is that there’s more ‘power down’ grip, even in the ‘Sport Handling Mode that allows best opportunity to immolate the rear rubber, and the suspension and track changes also deliver better turn-in and a more confidence-inspiring front-end. All that adds up to impression that it might be just that little bit easier to position this car exactly where it needs to be. The steering was also very well-liked.
German performance brands’ often translate the word ‘firm’ as another way of saying ‘wooden.’ The coupe is not the worst I’ve experienced but it doesn’t have a lot of yield. There’s so little compliance that generally, unless you’re on a race track, even when the drivetrain is at its most eager setting and the exhaust is at extra-loud, the electronic adaptive damper adjustment might nonetheless still be clicked back into a comfort or first stage sport setting rather than the ultimate placement. It’s a bit of a trade-off, of course, because the softer the setting, the more body roll. Then again, the car feels more settled, and quieter, on coarse chip and it will – to a small degree – soak up the impact of surface imperfections. And the handling is hardly dulled.
Everything about how this car moves comes back to the engine. The huge amount of pull from down low in the rev range makes it a deceptively fast thing; you’re cruising one second, cruise missiling the next. Reactivity under throttle is virtually immediate and you’ll need to find a race track to feel the full impact of a relentlessness that seems unaffected by selected gear or vehicle speed. Top speed is academic or likely to put you in gaol; depending on how well and where you exercise self-control.
The best news is that car – meaning everything surrounding this powerplant – can take it, which is just as well, because there’s never any doubt about the malevolence. Even in its demure settings it’s something of an animal and Race mode is another world still: the throttle and gearbox responses are super- sharp.
I’ve never met an AMG car I didn’t like. And I’ve yet to meet a C63 variant I didn’t lust after. The coupe is just another must-have addition to that ever-lengthening Lotto first division win wish list.