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Mercedes-Benz C63 2008 Review

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Someone needs to rewrite the book on German pocket battleships. So, let's start here, with the all-new Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG. History twisted earlier this year when BMW dropped a V8 engine into its hotrod M3 to create a new German muscle monster, pushing the edge on a class that already included the high-calibre Audi RS4, but now Benz has really fired.

Its new compact cannon has just become the car to beat, thanks to a thumping V8 and the sort of chassis development that has been missing from almost everything that has worn an AMG badge over the past 40 years.

The German hot shop has done a great job on cruisers with straight-line muscle, but things got tougher and eventually turned to torture if the road started to take any serious twists. Power was king and V8 engines ruled. But not in the C63, which takes the seriously impressive basics of the new compact C-Class and twists them into a Porsche-fighter with four doors and luggage space.

It is almost certain to trump the M3 and RS4. A local shoot-out won't happen until sometime after next March, when the C63 sedan (there will also be a special-order wagon) lands, with a price tag lined up close to the M3 in the $150,000 region.

What makes the C63 so special is more than just 336 kiloWatts and 600 Newton-metres fed through a seven-speed auto to the back wheels. Or the 18-inch alloys and paddle shift and a 4.5-second sprint to 100km/h.

Mario Spitzner, an AMG-Mercedes veteran who heads the company's worldwide marketing work, sums it up very simply. “It's the AMG go-kart, with this new V8 and also real comfort,” Spitzner says.

The C63 follows a series of C-Class hotties but has a different approach born from extensive market research and (although no-one admits it) the strengths of the M3 V8 and RS4.

“Performance is the overall concept. We wanted to get more emotion. Make it more involving,” Spitzner says. “The C-Class customers wanted it to be more aggressive. They wanted to show off what they have. And more sporty, and with real handling.”

Spitzner even admits the shortcomings of the previous C-Class battleship, “In the C55, the engine was perfect but it was for the challenges of the straight road.”

So the C63 is different, and AMG even detuned its V8 engine from the 386kW in the C63 because the extra power was unnecessary. Anyway, the power-to-weight ratio is better.

It is wider in the track, the front end has been beefed to handle the V8 weight but retain suspension stiffness, the brakes have been tweaked and there are those giant alloys.

Another key is the automatic gearbox, previously a weakness against rival companies' manuals, the SMG auto in the M3 and its upcoming twin-clutch manual. AMG now has three settings, with shifts speeded by 30 per cent between cruise and sport, and another 50 per cent into the 80-millisecond range; for full manual control.

And Mercedes has, finally, given the driver control over traction control. They can choose to wind it back or dump it completely, although there is a safety over-ride that restores full electronics if the driver hits the brakes during a slide.

Inside, the C63 obviously has sports leather bucket seats, paddle shifts for the transmission, a brilliant sports wheel and usual Benz luxury stuff, including satnav and auto aircon.

A decision has not been taken for Australia, but a sports pack is also available for the C63; 19-inch alloys, ceramic brakes, limited-slip diff and a carbon fibre pack; inside and out.

You know you are driving something seriously fast; when you can pull out and pass a Porsche with two gears to go and the speedo twisting fast beyond 200km/h on a de-restricted German autobahn. Okay, it was only a Boxster, but the C63 made it look like a Hyundai Getz.

On the road the C63 is the real deal. It can do everything, from a gentle 30km/h rumble to a redline run to the horizon at 250km/h.

But it does not feel compromised in any area, and that is a big breakthrough for an AMG car.

The C63 is crisp, youthful and damn fast. Floor the throttle from a standing start and the traction-control light will flash as the car struggles to put its power to the road; do it at 80km/h and it is rolling thunder that makes overtaking a laugh.

The engine is a thumper, but still refined and with torque and power that slams into action from just over 1500 revs. Unlike the M3, which needs a good rev to do its best, the hand-built AMG motor is always in range.

The engine pulls happily to 7000 revs and makes maximum torque at 5000, but the real delight is that it makes big numbers almost all the time. And at 110km/h it is barely ticking over, which should be good for economy and emissions.

Auto transmission is surprisingly sharp, the brakes are great, the quality basics of the new C-Class are reflected in all-round refinement and a cabin that stays quiet well beyond Australian speed limits.

The suspension is firm but it's not sharp or intrusive. And, probably best of all, the C63 is a balanced package. You can arrive at a tightening corner and keep tracking without fuss, instead of pushing ahead in an earlier AMG car, which felt more like a lead-tipped arrow such as the six-cylinder Ford Cortina of the 1970s.

What is not to like? You sit a little too high, although AMG is revamping the seat cushions to drop the driver a bit, and the giant alloys are going to be covered in brake soot very quickly.

But that's about it, and even the exhaust has been tuned to give a rumbling snuffle when you lift the throttle. Because AMG can.

Now we cannot wait to drive it on home roads for more than just a couple of hours, and to train its firepower on an M3 and RS4.



Mercedes C63 AMG

Price: estimated $150,000

On sale: early 2008

Body: 4-door sedan

Engine: 6.2L/V8 336kW/600Nm

Transmission: 7-speed automatic

Performance: .... 0-100km/h, 4.5secs, top speed 250km/h (limited)


The Rivals

Audi RS4

Price: $164,500

Engine: 4.2L/V8, 309kW/430Nm

Economy: n/a

0-100km/h: 4.8 secs




Price: $157,000

Engine: 4.0L/V8, 309kW/400Nm

Economy: 12.4L/100km (claimed)

0-100km/h: 4.8seconds

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