2015 Mercedes-AMG C63 S First Drive [w/video]
A Story About The Little Pistons That Could
EngineBiturbo 4.0L V8
Power503 HP / 516 LB-FT
0-60 Time3.9 Seconds
Top Speed180 MPH (limited)
Curb Weight3,648 LBS
Warranty4 Year / 50,000 Miles
If the heart of an automobile is its engine, the heart of the engine are its rotating bits – the crankshaft, pistons and the block they're nested inside. It seems fitting, then, that the internals of the twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V8 typify the brand-new 2015 Mercedes-AMG C63 sedan I found myself piloting in Portugal. Whereas the last C-Class AMG availed itself of a brute of an engine, employing 6.2 liters of displacement to make its 451 horsepower the old fashioned way, the latest AMG's V8 engine has been downsized radically.
I had the opportunity earlier in the day to actually hold the pistons of the new 4.0 Biturbo V8 in my hands, alongside those of the outgoing 6.2. The difference in size is staggering, the new lumps looking downright picayune in comparison to the latter. These eight seemingly diminutive pistons turn combustion into crankshaft-spinning power inside a block that is smaller, lighter and more compact than I'd have thought possible, considering the prodigious output the engine spits out.
I had gone into this assignment expecting to pen an ode to lost love; a sonnet of sorrow bemoaning the switch from massive cylinders to wheezing power adders. But I was wrong. In fact, the report that follows may indeed read a little like a love song, except it will heap praise not on what used to be, but instead on what is now possible.
The new heart of AMG more than makes up for its reduction in size by relying on turbochargers and smart engineering to turn just 4.0 liters into 469 horsepower and 479 pound-feet of torque starting at just 1,750 rpm, or as much as 503 ponies and 516 lb-ft in uprated S guise.
Foot to the floor, eyes focused on the turn ahead, a hard right-hander named Primeira that requires hard braking and quick reflexes, I had a fleeting moment of clarity: These are some hard-working pistons.
A few days on the street and track in and around Faro, Portugal, has convinced me that the new Mercedes-AMG C63 is a better car in any meaningful measurement than it was before. And I'll go one step further. Not only is this the best C-Class AMG ever, it's also my new favorite in the hotly contested segment that includes such knee-benders as the BMW M3 and M4.
A Great Place To Start
When setting out to build a high-performance machine, it's certainly preferable to begin with a solid platform, and that's exactly what Mercedes has in its current C-Class sedan. No matter what engine powers it or what interior fitments it boasts, the 2015 C-Class is a good car. It's chassis is stiff, its suspension well mannered, its reflexes quicker than ever. No surprise, then, that the C63 AMG builds on those strengths, adding lots of computer-controlled adaptability in the process.
Where the standard C-Class is styled with grace and restraint, the AMG-spec enhancements end up making the attractive sedan into something altogether more aggressive and fierce. The aluminum front fenders are over half an inch wider than the regular C-Class, there's a deeply cut fascia up front with plenty of body-color or dark chrome treatments, and the car appears to hunker down much lower to the tarmac than its less sporting siblings. In does, of course, sit lower to the ground than something like the C400, but the effect is further pronounced due to its extended side sills and 18-inch (the S comes standard with 19s) wheels wearing staggered 245 front and 265 rear tires.
There's a small lip spoiler on the trunk, quad exhaust tips emblazoned with the AMG logo nestled in the rear valance, air extractors in the fenders and enough badges and emblems to fill a glass-faced exhibit at the local swap meet. Taken as a whole, I see the C-Class AMG as a master-stroke of aggression held back. If the normal C-Class sedan is a whippet and the previous Edition 507 was a Doberman, I feel content considering this latest C63 a muscular yet svelte, prize-winning Greyhound.
A Star Performer At The Track
Fortunately, those toned features aren't just for show, doing their level best, along with the aforementioned and highly sticky rubber, to keep the sports sedan glued to the road. Overall grip is high, and the car breaks away neutrally, except when an overanxious right foot sends too many ponies too soon to the rear tires, in which case power-on oversteer is a foregone conclusion. Smoky drifts are ridiculously simple to summon, meaning a deft touch of the right toe is required to maximize cornering performance at the track. Either way is fun, but only one of them is fast.
On the track, there was a good amount of absolute grip available. Turn in and feedback are very good, and in its sportiest setting, the steering feels completely track-appropriate. It's easy to point the C63 S exactly where you want, hitting every apex along the way.
It's similarly easy to get on the power early when exiting corners in the C63 S, which has an electronically locking rear differential in place of the completely mechanical unit in the regular C63. I didn't get a chance to compare them back-to-back on a track, sadly, but engineers from Mercedes claim that the e-diff helps lay down the power earlier, and I don't have any reason to believe otherwise.
The seven-speed automatic transmission used in all C63 models performs admirably when left to its own devices in Sport+ mode, and shifts felt plenty quick when called upon via the aluminum paddles on the steering wheel. If there's a demerit to the transmission, it's when a shift is called upon in a high-speed sweeper under full throttle, in which case I noticed a few hiccups in the unit's ability to rifle off quick shifts. My S-model test car was equipped with the optional ceramic-composite brake system clamped by six-piston fixed calipers, and therefore exhibited strong braking performance with zero noticeable fade.
Due to the bumpy surface of the track the day I visited, I found that it was best to put the AMG Dynamic Select controller into manual mode, as opposed to trusting in the automatic settings of Sport or Sport+. This customizability is only possible in S-models, which is a real reason to opt for the pricier model if you plan to hit the track, because choosing settings individually allowed me to keep the steering, throttle response and transmission programming in their highest-performing modes while softening the suspension a wee bit to keep the tires in contact with the asphalt.
Get everything right, and you'll be rewarded with a seriously competent machine, as I myself found out at the Autódromo Internacional do Algarve circuit at Portimao in Portugal. See the video just below for two fast laps on the track.
On the street, I defaulted to Sport mode for spirited driving, keeping the traction and stability algorithms in full effect. On longer highway slogs, the Comfort setting softened the car's reactions and allowed me to enjoy the serene surroundings. In the more relaxed enclaves of the highway, I initially noted a strong tendency for the steering to want to revert to straight ahead, but I quickly adjusted and the steering felt natural.
Besides a bit of road noise from the aggressive tires, I would have no qualms using the C63 AMG as a daily driver. The seats are plenty comfortable, and, while there's really only room for two passengers in back, I don't really see that as a demerit; compact interior dimensions are a reality of the segment the C-Class plays in, and similar sentiments can be made of the car's competitors from Audi, BMW, Cadillac and Lexus.
The instruments ahead are easy to read, with real gauges bracketing an LCD screen directly in front of the driver and a tablet-like screen augmenting the view in the center cluster. M-B's COMAND interface serves may still have a somewhat labyrinthine menu structure that is at times frustrating, but at least drivers will have either the touchpad-like input method of the mouse-like palm rest or the rotary knob below, one of which is likely to be easy enough for most anyone to master.
With a clear road ahead, there's more than enough power on tap to make the C63 feel like a muscle sedan – 0-60 happens in 3.9 seconds in the S-model, or 4.0 in the regular C63. I didn't test Mercedes' claim of a 180-mile-per-hour electronically limited top speed (155 mph in the regular model), but it was still pulling hard well into triple digits at Portimao.
In The Garage?
One area the Mercedes-AMG C63 lords over its rivals is in the interior. As we've noted in the past, the latest C sedan is seriously beautiful inside, bristling with technology and a very comfortable place to watch the miles float by. My S-model test car featured a bunch of carbon fiber trim that I could honestly do without – the open-pore Black Ash wood I've seen in other C-Class models is drop-dead sexy, and I wouldn't find it out of place in the muscular C63, either.
The optional AMG Performance Seats are marvelous thrones, and I found the head-up display useful since it projects things like speed, navigational directions and current lap time in an easy-to-read location. Of note, though, is that real leather surfaces come as standard on the S, while the regular C63 gets MB-Tex upholstery with leather an extra-cost option.
In the end, while it's never easy to say goodbye to an old friend – especially when that friend is as lovable, endearing and powerfully competent as the 2014 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG – I walked away from my first drive of the 2015 Mercedes-AMG C63 S impressed. Mercedes tells us that the C63 is its best-selling AMG model, and that seems unlikely to change based on our short time in the brand's latest and greatest.
Mercedes hasn't set final pricing or efficiency figures just yet, but they did ballpark MSRPs in the low $60s for the C63 and low $70,000 range for the S-model, which should match up with the $62,000 and $64,200 asking prices of the M3 and M4, respectively. Everyone cares about efficiency these days, at least a little bit, and engineers from M-B claim the new C63 will be the least thirsty high-performance V8-powered machine in the market.
I definitely prefer the new Mercedes-AMG C63 to the BMW M3 and M4 twins, which have long stood out as the standard-bearers in this segment. Audi's S4 is a nice car, but a big rung down the performance ladder, and the RS5 isn't nearly as practical with its two-door shell, not to mention being pretty hard to come by. I'm eagerly looking forward to Cadillac's ATS-V, but it's going to have to be really good to outgun the latest from AMG.
To recap: It's great on the track and it's lovely on the street. But should you park one in your garage? Let's just say that if wishes and dreams were dollars and cents, I'd have a matte grey 2015 Mercedes-AMG of my very own as soon as they go on sale in April.
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