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Friday 18th November 2011


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.


But in terms of visual drama the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG Coupe Black Series is a pretty good match. It too has undulating contours a-go-go and the kind of aggressive demeanour that should see the right-of-mind take a thoughtful step back. It looks like an animal; the younger, fitter descendant of the 190 Evo II.

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.


This is on top of a car that already features body work 28mm wider on each side at the front and 42mm wider on each side at the back - accommodating a 78mm increase in the rear track - adjustable AMG coilover suspension, a vented aluminium bonnet and no rear seats. Although you can have those seats put back in and there is no official option for a rollcage it's clear where AMG is pointing this device. And the timing's not bad either, since it's bound to be a while before the new 991 911 spawns a GT3 variant.

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.


Anyways, onwards and upwards - which is to say on with the crash hat and fruity red seat belt, and up and down the pit lane to join the circuit. Setting the pace is a racing driver in an SLS; this frankly seems like cheating, but since he later explains the supercar is less forgiving at the limit than the Black we'll shut up and be grateful for his line guidance around the track.

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.


For starters, the car is much softer than you might expect. True, the suspension is adjustable - six clicks altering damping and rebound in a range that exceeds 50 per cent. But as none other than AMG Ambassador, set-up guru and former DTM champion Bernd Schneider reveals over dinner, the SLS heralded a philosophy shift at AMG, away from the stiffer-means-sportier ethos traditionally associated with German rocketships and towards far greater compliance. The C63 Black is another step along this path, where aerodynamics and components other than the springs are used to stabilise the car (the Aero Package halves front-end lift and reduces the rear to 'effectively zero'); the suppleness here is a revelation that actually delivers better traction.

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.


In fact, it will go so sideways in the half-way house ESP Sport Handling Mode that only real (and possibly foolhardy) show-offs will bother disengaging the system altogether. The wild stuff out of slower corners is complimented by a little shimmy as you complete the faster ones, just to let you know you're trying. The composite brakes deliver stopping power that's easily measured - though the pedal was getting decidedly soft after a full afternoon's session - and even without the standard tyres for comparison no doubt those sticky Dunlops expand the on-track performance envelope. They reputedly knock a whopping 0.3 seconds off the regular 4.2-second 0-62mph time.

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.


The launch cars had one other trick tucked under their wheel arches: the new AMG Performance Media system. This is an astonishingly intricate data-logger, completely integrated with Mercedes Command, which allows you to analyse your circuit performance moment by moment. Initially introduced as an option on the SLS Roadster, this device has got immense potential as a driver-improving aid. Its current capabilities are only just scratching the surface - AMG is already imagining a near future where you'll not only be able to judge your laptimes against, say, Herr Schnieder's, but actually examine exactly where and how he's going faster. Motorsport technology for everyone.

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.

 

 

 

 

Author: cjhubbard