In the same weekend I had the chance to drive two recent releases from Mercedes Benz: the AMG GTS and the C63 S.
Both cars gave birth to a new intermediate engine in the AMG house: the twin-turbo 4.0 V8. Although similar in architecture, with the turbos in the middle of the cylinders (aka the “hot V8”), the engines are quite different. The M177 that equips the new C63 does not have a dry sump lubrication, whereas the M178 of the AMG GT has it.
The year was 2007 when Mercedes released the original C63 AMG. One has to agree that AMG had placed BMW M division in a tough situation. There were a lot of things right about the first C63: the 6.29 naturally aspirated engine sounds like a psychopath with an ax. It certainly put a smile across any car enthusiast’s face.
There was an idiotic amount of torque available, making the then competitor BMW M3 seem out of its league in such department. If BMW would make its drivers explore the rev band to exhaustion, Mercedes would deliver a much more linear performance, accessible at the touch of the right pedal.
Dynamically speaking, there was no denying that the M3 was still a more refined and sportier driving machine, but the gap between the car manufacturers were no longer as deep as they were once. Steering response of the C63 was remarkable. Chassis and suspension of the AMG were really well calibrated without meaning a total compromise in comfort and usability. Only two things were lacking in the first C63: a LSD, to make it more pleasant whenever exploring grip limits, and a more alive gearbox.
THE NEW MERCEDES AMG C63 (2015)
The new C63 is divided into two versions: normal and S. The M177 provides 469 HP and 650 NM of torque in the normal version. The S model gives you 503 Hps between 5500 and 6250 rpm and 700 NM of torque between 1750 and 4500 rpm.
As tested, the C63 S has a curb weight of 3900 pounds. The gearbox, differently from the AMG GT’s double clutch set, is a conventional 7 speed automatic.
Once again Mercedes strikes with more horsepower and torque than the Bimmer. In fact, the figures of the AMG make the current BMW M3 sound childish with its 425 hp and 550 NM. At least, the Bimmer is lighter on its feet by a good 350 pounds and you can opt between either a double clutch gearbox or an old fashioned manual.
Mercedes claims that the C63 S is capable of reaching 62 mph from a dig in 3.9 seconds and achieve a top speed (electronically limited ) of 175 mph.
Inside the car, the C63 S follows the same updated pattern of the regular C class. You have a very good multimedia center thrown right in the middle of the dashboard. Although it seems a bit like an improvised iPad, it is indeed very user friendly. You can also set your preferences from the AMG Drive Select in the system – it will allow you to calibrate your preferred settings for steering, accelerator, gearbox and suspension.
If you are lazy on your ass, you can also pic one of the pre-defined modes through a specific button in the center console: Comfort, Normal, Sport, Sport + e Race. Individual will allow you to pick bits and pieces of each mode.
The cabin feels more special than a standard C class. There is leather all over the place. Alcantara makes its presence noted also. Burmester sound system assures an astonishing quality for your music.
The seats are a bit firm. They are rigid and embrace the driver. A bit exaggerated one may say. They could be a bit softer. Driving position, even at its lowest possible setting, is still a bit high for me. Clearance space for heads and legs for those in the back will also be an issue if you are taller than 6 feet.
DRIVING THE NEW MERCEDES AMG C63 S
I was really anxious to see if the new C63 would impress me as the old model did in 2008. As far as first impressions go, I noticed that things got a bit more complicated. What happened with turning the key and leaving? Now you have a menu of options.
The good thing is that the new car is a much more versatile proposal than the older model. Comfort settings will allow you to go paths on a daily basis where the previous car would be really harsh on the occupants.
I drove the car initially as if its was normal use condition, as this type of car will certainly be more used by its owners on a regular basis. Aside from the accelerator response, which was a bit lazy and temperamental when it decided to do something, I would say that these car is much better company than the model it succeeds.
Enough with the boring part and time came to really feel the C63 S. This time I go directly to the Race mode to experience all animosity the car has to offer.
A day before the test, I went for a ride in the same car, but on the passenger side and under pouring rain. The conclusion was that it was impossible to drive the car aggressively under such conditions. There was simply not enough traction to show even the slightest sporty trace. Electronics made the car, at least, move around.
On dry soil and being in charge of the little beast, as soon as I stomp the throttle, the first thing that bothered me was immediately evident – response came with a noticeable lag. It is as if the car had a mind of its own in deciding whether or not to open the tap.
Mercedes claims that torque is abundant as low as at 1750 rpm, but you can certainly feel turbo lag up until a good 3200 rpm. Once the car reaches this mark of revolutions, an insane search for traction begins and, once the thing grips, you are punched against the seat. This is really distinct from the preceding naturally aspirated power plant, which was, by its own nature, more linear.
Another thing I could notice is that torque delivery comes in graduation as you go for the higher gears. AMG is not outspoken about this, but, to me, it is very clear that after the third gear, there is much more torque available.
The gearbox is definitely an improvement over the old fashioned auto slush boxes of older AMG days. It certainly is better calibrated to interact with drivers, but it is still below the competitors in this aspect. It will allow you to downshift and higher revs than the older model, but the response lag for the paddles is still there. Bottom line is: it is good for a conventional automatic, but do not compare it to a double clutch gearbox.
There was occasions when I pushed the left paddle to downshift into second and take a turn. As I tucked in the front end of the car and entered the corner, it was clear that I was still in third, but, as soon as the car straightened up again, it downshifted into second to my amusement and my friend’s in the car.
Exhaust note is exceptional. It is a class act to current BMW M models. The old sing of the previous engine is not there anymore, but there is still some lunacy there. There are coils in the exhaust seem that seem to simulate “farts” from the pipes as soon as lift off the throttle. Some friends also claim there was some back fire on one or two occasions as they saw me drive by. Those “farts” seem a bit artificial to me, but it is a nice trick.
If there is one aspect that really frustrated me about the car was the steering response in Race mode. It is too damn light. It is really direct and sharp. The front axle is really obedient to steering input, but the lightness of the rack made the experience seem a bit too numb. I knew what I was doing, but I couldn’t feel it.
The end result of the C63 S is car that behaves dynamically in an awkward manner:
- There is noticeable accelerator lag;
- Gearbox is not willing to cooperate with manual inputs; and
- Steering responds too much, but it feels a bit numb.
Bottom line is that you feel isolated from the driving experience.
The car is brutally fast and aggressive under hard accelerations, however, you, as the driver, are not totally in control. There is huge sense of artificiality. It does not matter what you do, all the drama is simulated. It is a completely digital car.
Even when you poke grip limits, there is no graduation in corrections. As soon as the car feels you are going to put yourself in a bad situation, it interrupts all the fun with a violent response. There are no progressive controls or warnings. You decide to let the tail play around a little and it will interrupt you by hammering your head with a stick. Although Mercedes says that the car has an electronic LSD, on wet surfaces, it whips so much you would dare to believe if the thing is actually working.
The C63 S is a fast car. On a straight line is a little beast. It has evolved a lot and became a more versatile car than its predecessor, specially with the AMG Drive Select modes. For those in search of a mid size sedan with great performance on the highway, it will certainly fit the proposal. Internal fit and finish is superb. There is bunch of gadgets and new techs.
However, would the C63 S make me get up early in the morning to go for a spirited drive in an empty road? In my opinion is an incredible evolution over the previous car, but it also lost its simplicity along the way. It is a really good car, but not one that would make you lose hours of sleep just to drive it.
Light steering, accelerator lag and poor interaction with the gearbox are the main sins of the new car.
I really had high expectations for the car given AMG’s recent work in the 45 AMGs and the bigger 5.5 engines. I really believed this car would be brilliant. It is remarkably good, but far from being brilliant. I wish I had that surprise feeling I got when I first drove the original C63.