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Mercedes-Benz C-Class C63 2008 Review

Mercedes showed off its cracking C 63 AMG in a close-circuit session at Mt Panorama.
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This 6.213km ribbon of bitumen, shimmering on a 32C day, is at the rooftop of Australian motor racing. Defined by high-speed straights, blind corners, sharp descents and a set of narrow corners across the top, Bathurst is a track that demands the most from cars and drivers.

While it has been in regular use for car racing for more than 40 years and was once home to the notorious Easter motorcycle races, the circuit carries regular commuter traffic for much of the year.

Apart from racing, the track has been closed only once for a car company, when Volvo launched its 760 Turbo sedan in 1984.

That was until the week before Easter when Mercedes-Benz arrived in Bathurst – population, 37,000 – with its range of hardcore AMG performance vehicles.

It was the perfect location to unleash the C 63 AMG for the first time on Australian soil in what proved to be a week-long speed fest. The C 63 is priced at $20,000 under the C 55 AMG it outdates, coming in at $139,500.

According to Mercedes-Benz Australia managing director Horst von Sanden, the value pricing has jolted its direct rivals, with BMW's M3 coupe priced at $157,000 and Audi's RS4 at $164,500, both heavy-hitting V8-engined vehicles.

The fifth offering in the line of C-Class-based AMG models runs a 6.2-litre V8, which develops 336kW of power and 600Nm of torque.

On the numbers front, the C 63 hits the mark covering a standing start to 100km/h in 4.5 seconds, undercutting the M3 and the RS4 by 0.3sec. It runs a new version of the 7G-Tronic Speedshift Plus gearbox which, in the words of five-times Mercedes DTM champion Bernd Schneider, eliminates any need for a manual.

Unlike the M3 where the driver can program different settings for the steering and throttle, the C 63 is set although there is a newly mapped three-stage ESP arrangement and there are three driving modes.

Sport mode shifts gears 30 per cent quicker than in Comfort, while in Manual mode the cogs shift up to 50 per cent faster.

Tuning of the exhaust system delivers a soundtrack not dissimilar to the DTM car on which the C 63 is based, and which has won 61 races from 116 starts in the German Touring Car championship.

The C 63 is the first AMG to carry specially built front suspension geometry, which gives a far firmer ride.

Picking the C 63 from the rest of the C-Class crowd is easy; it has flared front guards, power bulges on the bonnet and a DTM-like rear with a black diffuser and integrated chromed twin tailpipes each side.

The nose is distinctive although the grille is based on the Avantgard while the dark-tinted headlights give it a sinister look.

An order-only C 63 AMG wagon, priced at $141,300, will be available from the third quarter of the year.

Australia will receive an initial batch of 350 C 63s with von Sanden convinced he could sell between 500 and 600 if he could get an extra quota from Germany.

"It is a big conquest opportunity for us," he said. "I don't think we run the risk of cannibalising our products because of the price. AMG customers are less likely to be driven by price alone."

The options list is limited to an electric roller blind for the rear glass, a keyless-go driver authorisation system and AMG carbonfibre trim.

Unlike the M3 which offers motorsport brake pads for a $2378.95 premium option, the C 63 has no such product. It is equipped with fade-resistant AMG high-performance brakes with 360mm x 36mm discs at the front clamped by six-piston callipers with 330mm x 26mm discs with four-piston callipers at the rear.

The C 63 will help total AMG sales to reach a predicted 1000 for 2008 with Australia in the top five countries globally for AMG sales per capita.

How the C 63 handles

The whole process brings out a broad smile with the ESP intervening only after the rear has stepped out enough for the driver to feel a quarter of a turn of opposite lock.

The smooth 7G-Tronic AMG Speedshift Plus automatic gearbox is a good match for the 6208cc V8 engine.

Shifts either with the gear lever or steering wheel-mounted paddles are ultra-quick.

Hug the left-hand apex at The Cutting, gently squeeze the throttle and the C 63 hunkers down, with perhaps a trace of rear-wheel slip if you are too early on the power, and then settle it for the relative fast run into Reid Park.

From here the next five corners through Sulman, McPhillamy Parks and down to Skyline are the most exhilarating series of turns in Australia.

Balance and body control of the C 63 are tested here with the balance quite neutral and the entire affair pinned down neatly and tightly.

Attacking the left-hander into Skyline, again it wants to understeer momentarily.

Hard on the brakes for the first descent, the C 63 steers obediently with some trailing brake down towards The Dipper.

Squeezing the throttle for the run through some quick changes of direction and into the second-gear Forest's Elbow the C 63 remained composed.

It is stable under heavy braking and the handling remained remarkably controlled.

Full throttle down Conrod, it hits the hump before entering the kink into The Chase and the ESP symbol flashes up in the instrument panel.

The car's 1730kg kerb weight feels considerably lighter here, triggering the stability system into action.

Through the left and right of The Chase the C63 remains balanced but wants to break loose if you are too aggressive on the throttle on the exit.

Hammering the brakes into Murray's corner the rear squirms to a degree before it settles down as you head towards the left for the apex and use the kerb on the right for a swift exit to the finish.

We did some 40 laps over the course of the day at Mt Panorama and the underlying message from the C 63 was that it was an effortless yet razor-sharp pocket rocket.

There was no road drive so we'll have to wait until the test car arrives to accurately gauge the virtues of its ride quality in the real world.

But for now the C 63 is very much a sleeping giant of the compact high-performance brigade.

*The best-timed lap from one of the 35 professional drivers was 2min 35sec.


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