Mercedes believes the C63 AMG is a serious contender to the BMW M3 and Audi RS4. Nick Hall finds out if it has got what it takes...
It was the moment when the rear-end of the car jacked out to an ego-preening angle and the tyres continued to smoke round the hairpin at Paul Ricard that it became clear the C63 AMG is no ordinary Mercedes. In fact it marks a total shift in the company philosophy that should have real drivers heading to Mercedes showrooms in droves. This is because in the not too distant past every Mercedes would have hit a sensible button somewhere deep within its soul and taken over, killing the power and hauling the car back to a straight line with more electrical interference than the perfect storm. Not this time. Here it was purely down to me to put in the requisite amount of opposite lock and power round the bend in a deeply satisfying twist of car control. ĎSportsí mode allows for a little tail-out fun before this Merc gives a disapproving look and collects it all, but the good news is the electronics can now be turned off, although they will come back in if you hit the brakes hard enough.
There is more than enough mechanical help though, as the car we took on track was fitted with the optional £4000 Performance Pack that includes a Limited Slip Diff with 40% locking, as well as firmed-up suspension, thicker anti-roll bars and a top-end speed of 174mph compared to the standard 155mph limit. With this in place the car pitched into bends far less and understeer was easier to counter with a dose of power. The downside is it makes the Mercedes even stiffer than the M3 and isnít perfectly suited to the public road. Even without the Performance Pack the C63 is a proper driverís car that will put the fear of God into the M3 and RS4. Priced to head straight into battle with the pair of them this is the first Mercedes since the legendary Cosworth-engined 190 2.5. The C63 comfortably wins the power war with the BMW and Audi. The M3 has 420bhp, leaving behind the 414bhp RS4, but Mercedes has raised the bar way above them now, with its 6.2-litre, 457bhp V8.
For a Mercedes it revs hard too, topping out at 7200, with peak power railing through the road just 400rpm below that redline. But torque has always been the secret of these big, rumbling engines that sound of an old-school fighter plane on a hard charge. And despite the capacity, it weighs in at 199kg, compared to the 202kg M3ís four-litre. Magnesium intake manifolds, aluminium crank case and other high tech materials help, and the engine also comes with coated cylinders and can regulate its own fuel pressure from 3.8 to 5 bar, which sounds pretty impressive on its own. As does the 443lb/ft of torque, which comes in at 5000rpm.
With the seven-speed box never short of a sweet spot, thereís no break in the linear acceleration but it lacks the urgency of a manual change M3. Itís no less impressive though and has a Sports Auto mode, which lets the engine eat the final revs before shifting faster and smoother than we could ever hope to. The standard mode is the one for the Autobahn, with short shifts and low revs giving it a cruising attitude. In full Manual mode, controlled with a familiar paddle-shift system, it will actually run right into the limiter, refusing to change without the order, and slap the throttle, more than blip it, on the downshift. It doesnít boast the full adjustability or outright speed of BMWís SMG, but then that Ďbox is fatally flawed by its total lack of a comfort setting. Mercedesí three available modes each do the job to near perfection.
The C63 still feels nose heavy and the meaty square-bottom steering wheel takes muscle to throw deep into the bends, but the adjustability on the throttle is stunning and the car can be guided through the bend with the right foot. Opposite lock is purely optional, but once pushed into a slide itís easily held with a deft twist on the wheel and not much else. Itís an easy car to drive beyond the limit and AMG expect owners to take it to a track to find out. Before the trip to the test track we were granted access to the kind of coast road that dreams are made of. Sweeping fast corners and switchback hairpins gave us a chance to explore the limits of the car. It felt like a different animal, rolling into the bends but on the mountain road the pitch and natural, gentle understeer made it an easy machine to lean on. It will give you all the fun you can handle on most roads and despite its kerbweight of 1730kg itís more than agile enough for the wealthy free spirit whoíll drive them.
AMG borrowed a front axle from the CLK63 AMG Black Series so the front is 35mm wider than standard and is apparently firmed up by no less than 100% as a result. There is a 12mm wider rear, revised multi-link rear suspension, and bigger driveshafts and joints. It doesnít have quite the razor sharp handling of the M3 but it makes up for that with ride quality and smoothness. It looks the part as well. The mean-looking front grille sits below power bulges on the bonnet that might as well be horns. A new rear apron to accommodate four polished exhausts and a vacuous diffuser joins up with a lip spoiler to sharpen the rear and side skirts. Again itís more conservative than the M3, but only just, bringing it down on the right side of the class/crass divide. Itís a bit spartan inside for a car that costs more than £52,000. The plastics are too similar to the base C Class, although the aluminium trim does lift the cabin slightly. But the C63 is all about function and form has taken a back seat in the hot seat at least.
The C63 may not quite have the handling to slay the M3 or the RS4 but itís close enough and as an all-round package the Mercedes is a much better bet. The brute force of that V8 engine and rear-wheel drive that can be finally controlled with the right foot rather than by computer is enough to swing my vote. This is the best real driverís car from Mercedes since the 190 Cosworth and overall AMG has shown the competition a fading trail of tyre smoke. Who knows where the power war will head next, but right now this is just about as extreme as a daily driver needs to be.