There will always be debate about how best to hold a steering wheel. Most now say at 9-and-3, thinking of the wheel as the face of a clock, but old school still holds to 10-and-2. This allows more of a turn of the wheel before having to move both hands on it.
But if you’re holding onto the AMG-designed steering wheel of the new Mercedes-AMG C63, there’ll be no debate. Your thumbs slip comfortably over the top of the two horizontal spars, and your fingers slide into place behind the paddle shifters. The wheel is the most comfortable there can be, wrapped in your choice of Nappa leather and what Mercedes calls Dinamica microfibre – and which I’d call suede. It’s filled with so many buttons it could steer a Formula One racer.
Those paddle shifters work a new nine-speed automatic transmission that’s adapted from the E-Class and replaces the old seven-speed; it has a faster “wet” clutch and will eventually see its way into most of Mercedes’ lineup. The powerful V-8 engine is unchanged for 2019, but there’s a new grille and new design for the car’s tail end, as well as all kinds of new techno-wizardry in the software.
This time around, the various changes are intended to make the C63 handle better, and to catch up with the many, many possibilities for gadgetry and electronic playthings. You can set six different driving modes and monitor more than 80 different driving parameters – such as acceleration and brake-pedal pressure – checking them over at your geeky leisure after the drive.
For those who want to get into Mercedes’ AMG performance vehicles, with their “one-man/one engine” construction, the C63 is a popular option. Almost one in five of all AMG models sold in Canada is a C63, starting at $75,700 for this year’s 469-horsepower sedan and rising to $95,700 for the cabriolet with the optional retuned 503-hp S engine. There are no official prices yet for the 2019s, which will be available at the end of this year, but they’re not expected to jump much in cost.
Even so, that’s a lot of money for a C-Class, which begins just less than $45,000 for the most basic C300. The $56,600 AMG C43 does not dedicate an engineer to the building of each of its 362 hp engines and is less exclusive. Is more power and ability on a race track really worth the extra $20,000 of the C63?
Mercedes let me loose on the Bilster Berg track here in Germany to experience just how well the new C63 handles, and I gripped the wheel at 9-and-3 and set off in pursuit of a green GT that led the way. The track is filled with blind crests and deceptively tight curves, and it was a comfort to follow a driver who knew his way around the course.
One of the party tricks of the new C63 is a dial on the steering wheel that can set the amount of traction control on the rear wheels, effectively dialing in however much oversteer you’d like on the go. There are nine different levels, all the way from “on rails” to “full-on-drift,” and the technology is taken directly from the much more exotic (and expensive) GT. I never did get the hang of it, but the professional driver in the green GT showed it off later when I rode as a passenger, and boy is it fun. And only for the track.
As with many powerful cars, the C63 is a waste of money unless you take it on the track. The sensible C300 will be just as comfortable and return much better fuel consumption and the C43 will give you almost the same kick in the pants off the lights. But if you do go to a track with the C63, all bets are off. Dial it in exactly how you want, set the launch control and the timer, and let it rip. Just make sure you hold the wheel properly.
- Base price (2018 models): $75,700, C63 sedan; $84,600, C63S sedan; $77,600, C63 coupe; $85,500, C63 cabriolet
- Engine: 4.0-litre V-8 biturbo
- Transmission/drive: 9-speed “Speedshift MCT”/rear-wheel
- Fuel economy (litres/100 km): n/a (14.4 observed)
- Alternatives: BMW M3, Audi S3
The C63 looks very sharp, but it’s not much different from the current model. The new AMG grille with its vertical bars is reserved for the V-8 models, while the V-6-powered C43 has a horizontal twin-bar design across the grille. The mesh is removed from the front apron to open it up for a better display of some of the hardware: four squared-off pipes distinguish the C63 from the round pipes of the C43. “We wanted you to be able to clearly identify the car as a C63, whether you look at it from the front or from the rear,” AMG product manager Roland Kreutzer says. “That’s a clear strategy for AMG.”
Again, very comfortable and refined and beautifully presented, but not much different from the current model. There’s an improved ambient lighting system, an optional 12.3-inch central digital instrument cluster that can be configured as you like it and a 10.25-inch central display screen. The sporty seats are comfortable and there’s space in the rear for two adult passengers – three in a pinch – without anyone banging their heads into the roof.
Not actually any faster, but the new model benefits from the quicker nine-speed transmission (which can shift down two gears at a time, if wanted) and from much more electronic driving tech. The new “AMG Dynamics” system includes torque vectoring on the rear axle for better control through corners, and you can even set it to four different levels of overall adjustment: Basic, Advanced, Pro and Master. Talk about ego stroking. The S model costs about $9,000 extra for an additional 34 hp and shaves a 10th of a second from the zero-to-100 km/h time of 4.1 seconds. It also has a higher top speed of 290 km/h instead of 250 km/h – try justifying that to the police.
The C63 is almost a video game now, except the consequences of misjudgment are real. AMG’s “Track Pace” settings can be displayed and monitored on the central display screen, showing all your timings and telemetry for drag racing and laps. It even has some famous racetracks preset into the system, or you can input your own. Off the track, in daily driving, the car’s updated for the very latest in Mercedes’ driver’s assistance, including semi-autonomous operation and collision avoidance. It even includes the clever Pre-Safe Sound system that prepares the ear with a high-pitched tone for the noise of an imminent collision.
Unchanged from the current model, with 435 litres of luggage area and a rear seat that folds down to add space for longer items. There’s less room in the convertible, of course, because that’s where the roof goes, but it’s no better or worse than the competition.
The verdict: 8.0
An exceptional car, very capable but also expensive for the extra power that’s mostly wasted on the road. You’ll buy the C63 or C63S either because you’re a serious track driver, which is unlikely, or for the bragging rights of having one of the most powerful and agile cars on the road. The C43 already gives you all you really need, with AWD, but where do you draw the line?