By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist
The recipe is timeless: Put a huge engine in a small car and let fly. Literally.
The C63 AMG is such a car. Little C-Class; huge (6.2 liter) V-8 under its hood equals big fun for anyone lucky enough to be able to afford the fee. And the fuel.
WHAT IT IS
The C63 AMG is a C-class (sedan, wagon or coupe) given the Captain America treatment (er, maybe that would be Ubersoldat treatment) by Mercedes-Benz’ performance arm, AMG. From its custom bodywork to its bolstered race buckets to its 451 hp, 6.3 liter V-8, the only thing it shares with a standard C-Class is the “C.”
MSRP is $58,930 (plus a $2,100 “gas guzzler” tax). This is about $24k more than a base C250.
Competition includes the $63,125 Cadillac CTS-V, the $55,900 BMW M3 and — to a lesser extent — the $47,300 Audi S4.
WHAT’S NEW FOR 2012
The C63 gets a new, upgraded seven-speed automated manual transmission in place of the conventional seven-speed automatic used previously. There’s also the option of a 30 hp bounce — up to 481 hp — if you order the AMG Development Package.
More powerful than a locomotive; faster than a speeding bullet. Looks Clark Kent-like to most people.
Weighs about 500 pounds less than the powerful but porky CTS-V, which equalizes the performance between the two.
Costs $4,100 less than the Cadillac!
Available in coupe, sedan and wagon forms.
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
Costs $11,630 more than the S4, which may not have a V-8 but gets to 60 nearly as quickly.
Single digit gas mileage when driven as intended.
UNDER THE HOOD
A hand-built 6.2 liter V-8 is the centerpiece of the C63. Each engine is put together by a single master technician, whose signature you’ll find on a special plate under the hood. The gigantic V-8 — one of the largest available in a passenger car since the ’70s — and the largest ever put into such a compact-sized car — is all-aluminum, has dual overhead cams, a variable intake manifold to enhance airflow at all engine speeds — and produces 451 hp and 443 lbs.-ft. of torque.
481 hp if you opt for the Development Package which includes a recalibrated engine computer and nixes the 155 MPH top speed limiter. The package also gets you a carbon fiber trunk spoiler and red powder-coated brake calipers. The Black Series coupe version of the C63 brings even more to the table: 510 hp and a coil-over suspension, composite ceramic brakes, rear diffuser, locking differential and unique-to-the-coupe wheels.
No wait, there’s more.
You can add a Track Package to the foregoing that includes “active cooling” for that locking rear differential, ultra-ultra-performance soft-compound tires (they wont last long) and, if you tack on the Aerodynamic Package on top of it all, an adjustable carbon fiber rear spoiler and exterior winglets, too.
Now, the upstart Cadillac CTS-V boasts even more power — 556 hp — but the CTS-V is also a slightly bigger (and much heavier) car than the AMG Benz: 4,222 lbs. at the curb vs. 3,649. The 500 pound spread equalizes performance between the two. The C63 — without the 30 hp Development Package upgrade — can get to 60 MPH in about 4.3 seconds, dead even with the CTS-V. With the additional 30 hp bump in output from the Development Package, the C63 ought to be just slightly quicker than the mighty (but beefy) Cadillac.
And also the BMW M3 — which weighs about the same as the C63 (and is actually a bit smaller overall) but doesn’t offer as big an engine (just 4 liters’ of V-8) or power (414 hp) and no available upgrade.
However, the BMW — and the Cadillac — are available with manual transmissions while the Benz comes only with an automated manual. This unit, with seven forward speeds, may have the inner workings of a manual transmission (and you can’t fault its actual performance) but it still functions automatically. The clutchwork is not the driver’s responsibility and — depending on your perspective — this may take away from the fun of driving the car.
Gas mileage is what you’d expect: 12 in city driving, 19 on the highway. That’s if you drive like a little old lady. But if you drive like the little old lady from Pasadena, expect single digits.
ON THE ROAD
This thing’s a bullet — one that also goes around corners, too.
The C63’s heavily modified C chassis has a 1.4 inch wider front track, both to accommodate the much larger wheels/tires (18×8 inch AMG mags shod with Pirelli P Zero 40-series ZR-rated rubber) than are fitted to a standard C-Class and to reduce wheel loading during high-speed cornering. The much-modded front suspension is covered up by equally modified sheetmetal, including flared front fenders, power-domed hood and unique-to-the C63 front end — with ducts built into the corners to direct airflow over the supplemental high-capacity oil coolers. The driver is connected to all this via AMG-tuned speed sensitive steering — which delivers immediate feedback and feel as precise as the synchronized aerobatics of the Navy’s Blue Angels flight demonstration team.
The rear suspension is similarly modified, with an extra half-inch of track and more camber built into it. Heavy-duty axles feed the power to even beefier 255/35 series ZR-18 tires, with the V-8’s exhaust barking through four oversized chrome-plated tips jutting angrily out of the lower rear fascia.
Suitably enormous 14.2 inch drilled front rotors with massive six piston AMG calipers (up front) and 13 inch rear discs with four piston AMG calipers round out this most impressive package.
As mentioned earlier, Mercedes’ AMG models are known for their lack of a manual transmission — a situation that’s a little strange given the ultra-ultra performance nature of these beasts — and also given that lesser C-Class models can be ordered with a manual.
However, the AMG-calibrated seven-speed automated manual is a magnifico that has to be experienced to be appreciated. It’s the equal of any manual when it comes to the ferocity of its shift quality and superior when it comes to perfectly matching revs/gearing down — and holding it — during extreme high-performance driving, without the driver having to force the issue by jamming the gear selector into the next-lowest range.
A well-sorted automatic behind this titanic V-8s’s tidal wave of torque is very hard to criticize rationally. You may miss the emotional experience of playing with a clutch, but it’s simply not possible to fault the automanual’s workings.
Just be careful about turning off the ESP stability control all the way — especially on slick roads. There is so much power on hand that it’s very easy to bust the back end of this rear-whee-drive, short wheelbase (and fairly lightweight) uber-sled loose during a full-throttle 1-2 (or even 2-3) upshift.
There are other cars with similar power, usually made by smaller engines supplemented by turbos or superchargers the Audi S4, for instance. But enormous, naturally aspirated V-8s have their own special charms. You have merely to tap the gas pedal to get instant access to the torque equivalent of two or three small V-6s. The sensation of the entire front end raising up as you ease into the gas pedal is something that only a monster V-8 can deliver.
This car can lay 50 yards of rubber if you punch it from a standstill.
Without power-braking it first.
AT THE CURB
Although the C63 has specific bodywork that distinguishes it from a regular C-Class, you still run a reasonably low profile — at least, if you stick with the sedan or wagon versions. The flared fenders are subtle; the lowered stance discrete. To someone who knows cars, sure, it’s easy to ID a C63. But most people — including most cops — will just see another Mercedes sedan or wagon. When you’re running 10 over the limit with four other cars and there’s an ozzifer coming the other way with his radar humming, who do you think he’s going to draw a bead on?
Keep in mind that radar cannot distinguish a specific car in a group. The cop has to decide which car is the speeding car. If several cars are doing about the same speed, he has to pick one to pull over.
Guess which one he’ll pick.
If there’s a flashy sports car — or anything with a huge wing or hood scoop, the driver’s toast. That includes drivers of the CTS-V, which looks like it’s flexing in the mirror.
The C63 sedan/wagon’s ability to fade into the background is very reassuring given what it is capable of. After all, what is the point of having such a capable car if you cannot use that capability without feeling that every cop you pass is giving you the Hard Stare?
Now, the C63 coupe Black Series… well… forget all I just said. That one will get you noticed, both in the way you might like and also the way you might not like.
Inside, the C63 is differentiated from the regular C-Class with its own gauge cluster, including 200 mph speedo and tach with 7,200 RPM redline — as well as the expected brushed aluminum trim facings and leather. But the race-ready AMG sport buckets are what truly set the car’s interior apart. Heavily bolstered sides with electric adjustment keep you cinched in place during extreme high-G cornering. They are also super comfortable on top of being super supportive, which is what impressed me the most. Often, serious race-type seats are great for a track day — terrible coming home from the track. These were among the best seats I have ever had the privilege of trying out — and I have tried thousands over the years.
Another point to mention: The current C-Class, though still Mercedes’ smallest model, is pretty much a mid-sized car these days. Or at least, close to one. I mention this because the original C was definitely a compact. The current model — including the C63 — is almost ten inches longer overall, with three inches more wheelbase (and width) than the old C-Class — so it has a roomier interior that’s comparable to current mid-size cars’ interiors in terms of passenger space, especially rear seat leg and head room. It also looks much more substantial from the outside.
Trunk space is still on the small side, however — just 12.4 cubic feet.
So, pack light.
Cars that have been hopped-up after the fact sometimes look a little cheesy or hashed-together. AMG cars (like BMW’s M cars) always exhibit superb integration of the upgrades. In truth, the C63 has been so extensively re-engineered it should be considered a separate model in its own right and not merely a hot-rodded C-Class. And like BMW’s M cars, any Benz with an AMG package is going to hold its value exceptionally well — and could become a collectible in future years due to the relatively low production runs.
As far as safety: The only thing you need to worry about is getting caught. Accidents are rendered unlikely by state of the art ESP stability control, some of the best brakes you’ll find in anything less than a full-on race car (with ABS and Brake Assist, of course) and a “smart” cruise control system that keeps you at precisely the speed you set — no more, no less. If something should go wrong despite all this, you have a cocoon of air bags for protection — including pelvic bags built into the seats to avoid a broken hip if someone T-bones you after running a red light.
Five star crash ratings across the board.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The C63 is a true exotic in terms of its performance and its AMG heritage — and unique in terms of its hand-built, super-sized V-8.
A CTS-V comes close but needs the engineering Viagra of a supercharger to exceed the C63’s power output and even then, it’s not a quicker as a result of being so much heavier. It’s also a lot flashier — which is fine if you want to get noticed but not so fine if you’d prefer to be more subtle about what you’re up to.
The M3 has finesse and class going for it, but can’t match the C63’s battleship-on-the-warpath power.
And with another 30 hp now on tap, the C63 remains the one to beat in this class — even if Mercedes still won’t let you shift for yourself.