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Wednesday 23rd March 2011


PH FLEET UPDATE: MERC C63 AMG AND LEON CUPRA R

We pour most of the PH budget into a pair of fuel tanks for a cross-continent jaunt to Geneva and back

Who needs the autoroute?
Who needs the autoroute?

I must have done something right in the past six months (seems unlikely, but there you go). Last time I took a car to a major international motor show - last September's Paris show - PH editor Chris-R had me chugging up the autoroute in our endearing but rather hard-going PH Fleet Land Rover Defender.

they park you tight in Le Shuttle
they park you tight in Le Shuttle
But for our recent trip to the Geneva show I found myself pointing a three-pointed star towards the Channel Tunnel. More to the point, in the engine bay behind the grille badge was 6208cc of AMG V8. Yup, Chris-R had only gone and lent me his C63 AMG estate, the newest addition to the PH fleet.

In tow behind us were PH competition winners and fledgling Geneva show reporters Mike and Dan in the oh-so-yellow PH fleet Seat Leon Cupra R (you can read all about their Geneva exploits and their thoughts on the fast Seat in their own words here). Ahead of us lay 600-plus miles of road trip.

Ready to pour money into the PH Fleet
Ready to pour money into the PH Fleet
Only a nagging worry over press accreditation that had not yet arrived for our amateur scribblers (a worry because we had rather rashly accredited them under the bad pun-tastic pseudonyms of Mark Faure and Maurice Oxford) and the inevitable impending pain of high continental fuel prices, coupled with a thirsty V8 and a heavy right foot put a dampener on what ought to be a thoroughly pleasant way to spend a Monday.

A pleasingly empty series of British motorways and a hassle-free Chunnel run had us out into the grey dreariness of north-eastern France (is it ever anything other than sullenly overcast in that part of the world?) before we knew it and, once in France, the C63 munched away at the autoroute with gusto. It whisked us along in comfort, entertaining myself and snapper Steve Hall with a glorious V8 gargle and a sharp shove in the back on the stretches where there were no pesky gendarmes in sight.

Red Bull staves off autoroute drowsiness
Red Bull staves off autoroute drowsiness
The C-class also provided plenty of distraction at more modest motorway speeds, with plenty of functions to fiddle with - cruise control, an in-depth trip computer, a solid and surprisingly bassy sound system with full (and fairly easy-to-use) iPod integration and a sat-nav whose apparent inability to record more than one waypoint (although that could have been the users rather than the system itself) meant regular adjustments and refinements to keep us heading exactly where we needed to be going.

The main reason for this last fiddling was that, as France got more interesting, we planned to take a detour off the prescribed autoroute itinerary and indulge ourselves in some of France's quieter back roads.

D996: Good name, good road
D996: Good name, good road
Our choice for this was the D996 which, broadly speaking, runs from the main autoroute just south of Troyes in a basically direct line south to Dijon, with no town worthy of the name in between. The motorway, meanwhile, describes a banana-esque ark between the two cities. Theoretically, therefore - provided you have a good run of luck with the traffic and are prepared to push on a little - the D996 is a quicker, more direct route between the two cities than the motorway. And you don't have to pay any tolls. What more encouragement could we need?

The lightly trafficked road turned out to be a joy - Well sighted, and as near to empty as you could reasonably expect. And the C63, if not quite the perfect tool for this sort of road, certainly proved itself a more-than-capable companion. The soulful V8 fairly hurled it down the road, while tenacious grip and unerring stability allowed it to deal with the faster, more open sections with nonchalant ease at the sort of pace that would land you in a lot of trouble should one of the boys in blue spot your antics.

It was perhaps a little cumbersome for the tighter switchback sections, with all that weight giving it a slight tendency toward understeer, but a squeeze on the ESP switch and a judicious application of throttle could easily more than neutralise this.

Like we said. Good road...
Like we said. Good road...
But we had a job to do - to get to Geneva (well, Annecy) in reasonable time for an early start the following morning, so the back-road antics had to be cut short. As we rolled into Dijon, the motorway beckoned once more.

The good intentions didn't last long, however, as Steve spotted a wiggly red line in our European road atlas that promised more switchback fun. Unfortunately this turned out to be one of the main routes into Geneva and was clogged with frustratingly slow and heavy traffic. Worse still, it went over what was for all intents and purposes an Alp (yes, I know we were actually going over the Jura mountain range), and what had been balmy spring sunshine became unnervingly cold, with snow lining the sides of the road. But the road remained clear of the white stuff. We (eventually) made it into Annecy, having managed to queue up in every traffic jam in Geneva along the way, at 9pm CET, some 13 hours after we had set off.

So good we tried it in the other direction...
So good we tried it in the other direction...
Behind us, the PH Seat Leon Cupra R had done sterling work, not feeling dramatically outpaced even on the fastest, twistiest bits, although it did lose out in the sound-off through tunnels (no amount of turbo whoosh is going to out-shout 6.2 litres of AMG V8).

Where the Seat most emphatically won, however, was its touring range. Even with fuel consumption that rarely crawled beyond the low-to-mid 20s mpg, the Cupra never needed more than three-quarters of a tank when the C63 was gasping for a drink, despite the Merc's 11-litre advantage over the Seat's 55-litre tank.

The Seat enjoyed playing, too
The Seat enjoyed playing, too
Mind you, that probably says more about the Merc's hefty thirst - and its consequentially poor touring range of little more than about 280 miles - than it does about the economy of the Seat.

The return journey was broadly a mirror image of the outward leg, although we took the motorway straight out of Geneva rather than clambering back over the N5. We also made the brief but more or less obligatory stop by the old GP circuit grandstands at Reims for a few early evening shots.

As we rumbled beneath the English Channel we chatted about our thoughts on our respective mounts.

But all good roads come to an end
But all good roads come to an end
Mike and Dan were pretty pleased with the performance of the bright yellow Seat - and it certainly didn't disgrace itself at any point - but for its glorious V8, and its ability to combine huge cruising pace, space, and deeply hilarious back-road ability I wouldn't swap the C63 AMG for anything. Providing somebody else is paying for the fuel...

 













Author: Riggers