Join Date: Jun 2006
Vehicle: Kleemann K2
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AUTO CAR UK TEST OF THE 63 C-class
What is it?
Only Mercedes’ hottest new C-class. It’s the hottest-ever C-class, come to mention it. And it’s no coincidence that our first drive in one has come along just days before we get our first go in a new, V8-powered BMW M3. It is, in fact, a statement of serious intent; Stuttgart’s in-house tuner AMG says it’s taken a big step up with the C63.
And here’s why. Merc AMGs have always had plenty of power, but they often lack the finesse of BMW M-division models. The new C63 is meant to change all that. New director of development Tobias Moers is promising that he’s left nothing to chance in tackling the new M3 head-on.
The change in philosophy is no better demonstrated than the decision by AMG to equip the C63 with an ESP system that can be switched off completely.
“It was the one thing I really pushed hard to incorporate into the car from the very beginning,” says Moers. “It is essential that our customers can choose to use every last bit of their cars’ performance.”
What’s it like?
So the C63 is unshackled. Does it make any difference? Oh yes. AMG has achieved a tremendous balance between power and poise. As well as being seriously rapid, it also responds intuitively to your actions.
Serious tweaking of the third-generation C-class’s rear-wheel-drive chassis delivers the sort of confidence-inspiring feedback over winding roads that soon prompts you to make the most of the switchable ESP. I can’t remember a more entertaining, more dynamically rounded Mercedes model since the 190 2.5 Evo.
Like almost every new AMG it’s powered by the naturally aspirated 457bhp 6.2-litre V8, but it’s mounted 15mm further back in the engine bay than the normal C-class motors.
AMG’s efforts don’t stop there. The C63 also receives a unique chassis set-up. Central among the changes is the adoption of the front axle from the CLK63 Black Series and greater stiffness at the front end. This delivers sharper turn-in and greater levels of feedback than any current AMG model.
It’s all wrapped in an aggressive-looking body that instantly turns the C63 into a real head-turner.
Inside there are the usual AMG adornments, including a terrific flat-bottomed steering wheel with remote shift paddles for the seven-speed automatic gearbox, new instrument graphics (the speedo goes up to 200mph), a digital readout displaying the current gear and, perhaps most importantly of all, that ESP button high up in the middle console.
Get moving and there’s the kind of breathtaking acceleration AMG owners have come to expect. This time though it’s underpinned with an athleticism we’ve never seen in an AMG before.
The C63 is terrifically responsive, surprisingly communicative and adjustable on the limit – hardly how we’d describe its predecessor, whose bold engine dominated proceedings in such a way that it was ultimately to the detriment of the overall driving experience.
Should I buy one?
That’s the 64-million-dollar question, and we won’t be able to answer it until a) we’ve driven the new BMW M3 on the road and b) we’ve pitted this car against it, wheel-to-wheel, over the very same stretch.
But there’s no doubt about it; when pushed hard, the C63 reveals a multifaceted purposefulness that poses a real threat to the supremacy of BMW’s performance icon.
In the dry, on smooth roads, the C63 is magnificent. There’s decent steering weight and loads of information seaming through it. The suspension hunkers down to provide wonderful stability and big levels of confidence in high speed corners.
For all its inherent tautness, the ride is perfectly acceptable even on heavily pockmarked sections of bitumen, with excellent rebound control helping to quickly quell any nasty vertical movement. The front end is superbly damped, too, allowing the C63 to track faithfully without too much unsettling movement over bumps. Before long you find yourself making big demands on the chassis, marvelling at the directness and body control.
The C63 hits the UK in autumn, priced at around £55k. That’s only £6k more than the old C55, and considering how much better a driver’s car the C63 is, it sounds like an absolute bargain.
That’s assuming, however, that the BMW M3 doesn’t come along and frazzle our senses in every conceivable way. Which, of course, it’s odds-on favourite to do.
First drive data
Price when new £55,000
Price as tested £55,000
0-62 mph 4.5 sec
Max speed 155 mph
Weight 1730 kg
Combined no data
CO2 emissions no data
Layout V8 , 6208 cc
Max power 457 bhp at 4800 rpm
Max torque 443 lb ft at 5000 rpm
06 SLK55 AMG (Kleemann K2)