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car review

2011 Mercedes-Benz C 63 AMG coupeDaimler AG - press department

The SLS gullwing sports/race car's engine powers the C63 AMG Coupe.

This is front of mind as I drive on to the Cirquito Monteblanco race track, with factory-employed DTM racer Susie Stoddart leading three journalists. The faster we go, the faster she will go.

Just think: a 6.2-litre monster V-8 rated at 563 horsepower and 479 lb-ft when mounted mid-chassis in a $198,000 two-seater, now reappears in 451 hp/443 lb-ft form in the nose of a two-door coupe that will start at $40,000-something with a base engine.

The cars we're driving actually are up-rated with Performance Package Plus, utilizing SLS connecting rods, crankshaft and pistons, for 481 horsepower and a top speed of 280 km/h.

American muscle cars like the Pontiac GTO coupled huge V-8s and mid-sized two-doors almost 40 years ago. They could burn rubber all day long but couldn't turn a corner.

Stuffing a huge engine into a relatively small car, however, is the sort of mischief the performance division of Mercedes performs quite magically.

The C63 AMG Coupe is intended to compete with the BMW M3 and Audi RS5. It needs to corner. And corner it does - tail-out in the tight turns of Monteblanco but easily controllable with the stability control turned to Sport Plus, quite the opposite to the under-steering, ploughing effect common among nose-heavy cars. AMG claims 53/47 front-rear weight distribution.

It's a fun drive that rewards smoothness behind the wheel, as becomes apparent as the two other journalists who have more track experience and Stoddart steadily pull ahead of yours truly. And no matter how hard I over-drive the thing trying to catch up, scrubbing speed and trimming curbs, the stability control prevents spinning out.

The three-link front suspension is redesigned to AMG specifications and the rear reinforced. Negative camber is dialled into the wheels as in pure racing cars and the side-to-side between the wheels increased.

The transmission, too, is not at all like that of the C250 or C350 apart from the seven gears having identical ratios. The AMG-specific Speedshift (as it's called) dispenses with the more ordinary C-Coupes' torque converter and shifts as quickly as 100 milliseconds. Confirming the emphasis on performance, final drive is 3.060, compared to 2.230 in the civilian models.

The aluminum hood provides visual differentiation with its twin "power domes" as AMG describes the raised lines reminiscent of the SLS and the 300SL sports cars. Viewed from behind, the distinctive black diffuser with four tailpipes communicates the internal monkey business with less subtlety.

Inside, the sports seats are supportive rather than claustrophobic, the steering wheel (flattened top and bottom) feels as good as it looks. Some colleagues find the ride is overly firm even in Comfort mode, but I find no cause for complaint. Toronto-calibre potholes would be jarring, but reality is buyers of this model likely will only encounter them on Kingston Road on the way to participating in track days at Mosport.

I complete my Monteblanco experience in the passenger seat as Susie leads three journalists from Dubai. Soon she's complaining as two of them fall behind. "Not every journalist is a fast driver, Susie," I point out. "But we're not even going fast," she replies as she drives with one hand on the steering wheel, effortlessly, in a different dimension.

In the following weekend's DTM stock car race at Spielberg, Austria, Susie finishes 13th as journeyman Martin Tomczyk wins and former F-1 driver Ralf Schumacher places second. With cars of this calibre, getting the most out of them is always the challenge and the reward.