DRIVEN: MERCEDES C63 AMG COUPE BLACK SERIES
AMG gets serious with the C-class coupe. We find out what it's like
It's not always the best of ideas to equate reality with the virtual, but when faced with the prospect of driving round Laguna Seca for the first time, Gran Turismo will at least show you which way the turns go. But nothing on a TV screen can prepare you for the Corkscrew. It's like driving off a cliff. Contender for most thrilling corner on a racing circuit anywhere? It's up there.
Especially in this instance since, for the launch at Laguna, AMG has brought cars decked out with all the tinsel. That means the optional Aerodynamic Package - which adds a functional front splitter, those natty 'flics' on the bumper and a modest snow plough of an adjustable rear spoiler (genuine carbon fibre, the lot) - and the Track Package. The Track Package is a set of exclusively developed Dunlop tyres for extra grip, and an active cooling system for the diff.
As with most things AMG, the Black Series is dominated by its engine. Quite possibly the last hurrah for the naturally aspirated 6.2-litre V8, this utilises a few key oily bits from the SLS - forged pistons, connecting rods, lightweight crankshaft, better cooling - and a remapped ECU to deliver 517hp and 457lb ft. To learn it's the most powerful C-Class ever isn't exactly a shock. Top speed remains electronically limited, but now the leash is increased to 186mph.
So that's the first eyebrow raiser. AMG's Black Series products may well stand proud as its most hardcore models, but we are still talking about Mercedes here; with the possible exception of the SLK55 Black, these cars aren't about to step up and immediately try to kill you. So while the C63 Black makes a noise like armageddon, this is a devil-on-his-day-off kind of deal - cultured, if not refined, and apparently open to a little negotiation.
Supple is far from being the same as wallowy. But instead of a darting, high-precision tool, the Black Series offers muscular fluidity. The steering proves accurate without overloading you with information and the C63 seems keen to build your confidence rather than undermine it - encouraging you to carry increasing amounts of speed into corners and tempting you with the opportunity to exit with a flourish.
If there is a damp flannel in the Black Series' linen cupboard it's possibly the seven-speed AMG Speedshift MCT gearbox. Grab a paddle for a downshift too early and the car simply ignores you, which tends to result in a slightly panicked increase in brake pressure as you barrel into a corner. In the meantime, however, there is an unlikely solution - use the surprisingly deft Sport+ automatic mode instead of full Manual. The quality of the shift programming at full chat is utterly remarkable, and quickly adds to your confidence.
Well, perhaps not quite everyone, since APM is an additional extra on a car that's likely to cost around £100,000 when it reaches UK shores in late January. But the overall message is clear - despite its mean and moody appearance, the C63 Black Series is on your side in almost every circumstance. While respect is required, and its 'friendly' embrace is more like a bear hug, it's keen to nurture your relationship rather than rip your face off. And as a big V8 with rear-wheel drive, you're also always going to have a laugh while you learn something.