Mercedes-AMG C63 S

As tough as a woodpecker’s lips but now with newfound bandwidth

ANDY ENRIGHT

THIS MONTH’S FRESH METAL

Model Mercedes-AMG C63 S Coupe

Engine 3982cc V8, dohc, 32v, twin-turbo

Max power 375kW @ 5500-6250rpm

Max torque 700Nm @ 2000-4500rpm

Transmission 9-speed automatic

Weight 1745kg 0-100km/h 3.9sec (claimed)

Fuel economy 10.1L/100km

Price $165,500 (estimated)

On sale September 2018

IF YOU didn’t know it was there, you’d never spot Bilster Berg Drive Resort. There’s a tiny sign off an unprepossessing German country road that leads to a narrow track and then you see it. The Mausefalle (Mousetrap) is the very first part of the track you clap eyes on and it looks like something from Luna Park rendered in bitumen, dropping off-camber into a bend and compression and then ramping back skywards into the stepped Steilwand (Steep Face) before disappearing over a crest at the next bend. We’re here to drive a 375kW car on this manic circuit. My mouth goes a little dry at that prospect. I feel like Chief Brody from Jaws. We’re gonna need a bigger track.

Mercedes-AMG insists that we won’t. Its latest C63 S coupe might be the only V8 in its class, and capable of rattling off the sprint to 100km/h in a mere 3.9 seconds but the Affalterbachers insist that this latest version is so minutely tailorable to your own skill level that it’s a car that can seem as benign as you need or as angry as you can handle. Of course, those familiar with the Dunning-Kruger effect will appreciate that we’re often not very good at recognising our own ineptitude. With that in mind, I start the first session on track with all the electronics dialled up to Maximum Nanny.

Before we get too far into the physics of falling off Bilster Berg, a quick primer on where we are with this car. This C205 generation coupe debuted in 2014 so, in AMG’s planning schedules, it’s due for a mid-life refresh that will take it through to its replacement with a six-cylinder hot hybrid, due in 2020. So, if you feel that there’s no substitute for a V8, you’ll need to fling an order in smartish. The 4.0-litre ‘hot-vee’ twin-turbocharged V8 continues as before, but it’s now mated to a clever MCT-9G ninespeed transmission that’s neither a traditional auto, a twin-clutch, nor even (strictly speaking) a sequential, as it’s capable of block downshifts. It uses a wet start-up clutch to finesse gearchanges to almost twin-clutch smoothness, and the software is so good that it’s rarely to be found hunting between gears.

Two very clever control systems also feature on this generation C63 S. AMG has had a good, long think about how keen drivers interact with the car during limitdriving and the result of that process is the development of AMG Dynamics and AMG Traction Control. Before we get to those, a quick word on the driving mode selector. This now adds a torquelimiting slippery road mode to the usual Comfort, Sport, Sport+, Individual and Race settings. From there, AMG Dynamics introduces smarter, predictive control for both ESP and the torque-vectoring rear diff, with four modes; Basic is assigned to the Slippery and Comfort drive programs, and prioritises stability, Advanced is activated with Sport and targets the sort of handling neutrality you’d want on a country road, Pro switches in during Sport+ mode and reduces the steering’s servo assistance and ups the rear diff’s aggression while Master is linked to the Race mode and introduces more oversteer, even feistier steering while plugging into a spiky throttle map.

AMG has engineered some genuine substance into the latest C63 S

V8 charisma; benign handling balance; clever control systems; ride

PLUS & MINUS

Still hardly the acme of discretion; fuel thirst; weight; options pricing

With ESP ‘disabled’, the C63’s nine-stage traction control can be activated. This cycles through slip levels from 1 (wet roads, locked down) to 9 which really lets you light up the rears. Control is via a Porsche-style rotary controller underslung from the right spoke of the steering wheel. Think of it to traction control what the Focus RS’s Drift Control is to stability control and you’ll get to grips with it. With it set to 3 on track, it allows a half hand of oversteer out of tighter corners. Set it to 5 and it’ll allow you to hold a respectable slide. Dial it out a bit more and you can easily punt the car fundament-first into a wall, as one foreign journalist charitably demonstrated.

Unenthused at the prospect of replicating this manoeuvre, I keep it at the recommended Level 5, and it’s worth remembering that when activating the traction control that the usual stability control safety net is completely dialled out under braking. Bilster Berg is a track that can make a Caterham feel clumsy and if you get greedy with the throttle on the way into a braking zone, you need to be quite handy with corrective lock on the way into and out of the corner. In other words, you need to know what you’re doing if you want to get the best from the traction control settings, and with typical C63 S coupe pricing with options hovering at around $180K, there are some pretty serious consequences should you get a bit ahead of yourself.

If anything, this circuit still feels a bit unrelenting for the C63 S. The AMG rewards a flowing track where you can manage the weight shifts elegantly and sight a line through no-consequence corners. Harrying it through rowdy cambers, blind apexes, over crests and into curving braking zones makes it feel all of its 1745kg. Of course, you’d never drive the car like this on road. Even on some of the most challenging roads we can think of, at vaguely legal speeds, the C63 S would feel as if it was merely getting started.

Mooching about on road demonstrated the friendlier side of the C63 S. Where the old car would always feel truculent on anything other than flawless hotmix, this car’s Comfort mode is now a good deal more supple. We like that.

What’s refreshing about this update is that it probably didn’t need to go anywhere like this far. Orders for the C63 S are already stacked up, and the latest styling revisions that bring the new Panamericana grille, finned front air intakes, a beefier rear diffuser and redesigned headlights would probably have been enough. As indeed would the interior updates that now include a fully digital centre binnacle and a massive 31cm widescreen display for Aussies who like their C 63s packed to the gunwales with kit.

AMG appears to have been stung by suggestions that the C63 seemed a little superficial; all loud noise and shiny detailing. It has engineered some genuine substance into the latest C63 S. When we drove its predecessor last year, we gave it the nod over the Audi RS5 and the BMW M4 because it took you on the greatest departure from the prosaic. That still stands, but now the C63 S can do many of the things that made the RS5 such an appealing everyday proposition. So yes, the gulf between the AMG and the next best is now that little bit wider. If you’re the sort of driver who felt the old car was a bit of a one-trick pony, it’s time to reconsider your position.

ANDY ENRIGHT

01 LOG ON

AMG Track Pace system records over 80 vehiclespecific sets of data (e.g. speed, acceleration) ten times per second. Circuits such as the Nürburgring or Spa are prestored but it’s also possible to record your own track layouts.

02 MOUNT UP

The C63 S gets dynamic engine mounts as standard which improve NVH in their soft mode while giving better steering response and an addictive pointiness to the coupe’s front-end in their stiffer setting.

03 PARADIGM SHIFT

MCT-9G ’box features a multiple downshift function that can rapidly downshift four gears and a double-declutching function in the Sport and Sport+ drive programs that smooths cog swapping to almost twin-clutch levels.

OR TRY THESE...

Lux interior

The cabin of the latest C63 S has also come in for a makeover. The multifunction steering wheel with swipeable ‘touch control’ buttons is the most notable change, but the S also gets an all-digital main dial pack, complemented by a 12.3-inch central display. There’s also the inbuilt data logger and some delicious AMG sports seats with optional climate and air bolstering settings. We’ll have to wait for the full Aussie specs but given local buyers’ insistence on full-fat specifications, it’s unlikely that customers here are going to feel short-changed.

Audi RS5 $156.600

Just as slick as the Merc, a few grand cheaper and with quattro traction to give it a lead off the line, but the 2.9-litre V6 RS5 lacks the aural fireworks of the C63’s cracking 4.0-litre V8. AMG now levels with Audi’s interior polish at least.

Nissan GT-R Premium $189,000

Even quicker and wieldier than the powerhouse AMG coupe, but the cabin still feels Cash Converters to the AMG’s Claridge’s. It’s starting to look a bit dated too, the R35 GT-R shape now 11 years old.