2017 Mercedes-AMG C63 S Sedan
When Mercedes-Benz brought the W201 platform here as the somewhat oddly named 190E 2.3, it was immediately nicknamed the “baby Benz.” The successor to that car, yclept “C-Class” to fit precisely within Daimler-Benz’s new idiot-compatible nomenclature, became known as the “Cheap-Class” at Mercedes-Benz dealerships.
The car you see above, piloted by Danger Girl at Sebring International Raceway in what was not a violation of the Hertz Dream Cars rental agreement, is no longer baby-sized. Nor is it particularly cheap at the as-tested price of just over $74,000. So what is it, exactly?
Well, it’s absurdly powerful; the Pep-Boys-style block “S” at the end of the C63 badge indicates a full 503 horsepower from a twin-turbo 4.0-liter V8. It’s remarkably well-equipped, although there are a few omissions about which one could gripe and I’ll discuss those below. It’s as competent as you’d expect, being the top-spec sedan version of a car that is surprisingly decent even in its poverty-spec, MB-Tex-equipped four-cylinder form.
Most of all, however, the 2017 Mercedes-AMG C63 S is a sharp reminder that AMG isn’t what it used to be, for better or for worse.
Your humble author has a long association with performance-oriented Benzes. I had a 190E 2.3-16 Cosworth restored in 2005 and ran it in the One Lap of America; that car has just undergone yet another complete restoration at the hands of the fourth owner since I sold it a decade ago. In the years that followed, I spent a lot of time driving various AMG cars from the C43 to the SL65; I also ran a CL55 as a company car about 10 years before Ed Bolian put a couple of bedpans in one and convinced people that he’d set a world record for illegal activity.
The AMG philosophy has always been one focused on straight-line speed and Autobahn prowess, mixed with a healthy dose of luxury. These are not, and have never been, track rats. Even the original 300SEL 6.3 raced by the founders of AMG was more of a straight-line terror than a corner carver.
About 12 years ago, AMG unveiled a bespoke 6.2-liter naturally-aspirated V8 that would find a home in pretty much every style of rear-wheel-drive Benz car, SUV, and G-wagen. If ever there was an engine that could be legitimately accused of possessing a soul, that was the one. It was pure magic from stem to stern, eager to rev and as characterful as it was powerful, finding perhaps its finest expression in the final boomerang-eye variants of the previous-generation SL63, but also capable of turning staid sedans like the E63 into hugely desirable rocketships.
Well, as my future third wife Este Haim likes to say, those days are gone. Now AMG makes do with the twin-turbo 4.0-liter. On paper, it’s more than a match for the outgoing 6.2 naturally-aspirated big-block. Against the stopwatch, it’s a little better, helped considerably by a flat torque curve with plenty of area beneath that “curve.”
Unfortunately for those of us who care about something besides the spec sheet, however, this new biturbo mill is depressingly, frustratingly anodyne, yet another triumph of engineering over enjoyment. I happen to know this engine can shine in the right application, and I’ll get to that in a bit. In the C63 S sedan, though, it’s a bit so-so, even when you flick the plasti-chrome “mode selector” on the left side of the center console all the way to “Race.”
Between the V8 and the rear wheels, we get the “Speedshift MCT” transmission. It’s best to think of it as the old 7G-Tronic automatic with a computer-controlled wet clutch where the torque converter used to be. This sounds like a half-assed measure but there’s a lot to recommend. Mercedes-Benz genuinely understands how to build a strong planetary-gear transmission; they’re one of the few manufacturers who can engineer one from scratch and have it not fall apart in heavy-duty use. The problem with the wet-clutch hack, if you will, is that you have to treat it with respect. With 6,260 rental miles on the odometer when I picked it up, this C63 S was already showing signs of MCT misery, most notably a reluctance to engage properly from a dead stop.
The base price of the C63 S gets you the Burmester sound system, multi-adjustable front seats, and big steel brakes. It does not get you a power trunk closer, Distronic radar cruise control, ventilated seats, window shades, the cabin air fragrance system, Parktronic, surround view cameras, or many of the other features you’d expect from a full-boat AMG. It’s possible to spend another twelve grand or so to get that stuff, if you want it.
In the resale-friendly triple black of our test car, the C63 S is not particularly handsome or impressive. You can actually get more visual bang for your buck with a CLA 43, which will come with carbon-fiber dive planes, matte paint, and all sorts of other frippery. Of course, that would be ridiculous because the C63 S is a proper, traditional, rear-wheel drive Benz sedan while the CLA 43 is, well, it’s something else entirely.
At 187 inches in length, the C63 S is a reasonable size for two adults with luggage or four adults in a pinch. It’s not meant for that stereotypical two-couples-on-the-superhighway-to-Munich scenario unless the couples in question are built to twentieth-century mittel-European blueprints. A six-foot-two driver and a long-legged five-nine girl in the passenger seat won’t leave much room for anybody behind them.
So what’s it like to drive? The best answer is “curiously anticlimactic.” With the mode switch set to “Sport Plus” or above, the power is always ready to kick the tail out from under you and send you TCS-squeaking to triple digits, the tail wagging gently as the rear calipers clip and clop the wheels into compliance with the available grip on the road. If you leave it in Comfort, you’ll have to floor it, count “one one-thousand, two one-thousand” as the MCT wakes up and gets with the program, then the same thing will happen. Ninety-five percent of the time, however, this car is indistinguishable from the Cheap-classes that surround it on the dealership lot.
The flat-bottomed steering wheel is artificially heavy but short on feel in the current German mode. Road noise was surprisingly high in my rental example … I think it might have had a damaged door seal on the driver side. Brakes are strong and firm, maybe a touch abrupt for people who aren’t used to this kind of swept area in a fixed caliper. A/C and heat are both strong and effective, although the auto-stop function causes the A/C to “die” until the engine restarts when you’re stopped at a light or in traffic. There are three center eyeball vents that are fully adjustable; no other brand on the market offers this much control of your HVAC airflow. The automatic-transmission shifter is, to put it mildly, an acquired taste, but the cruise-control lever is the best in the business, offering quick adjustment in 1-mph or 5-mph intervals.
As a track car … well, I can’t say, actually. My rental of the C63 S took me from the MCO airport to Sebring and back. Although I had some exclusive use of Sebring for another project (check my Instagram if you want to learn more), I didn’t actually drive the C63 S at speed on track. We just used it to move people and equipment around. This is good news, because the Hertz Dream Cars program is chock-full of penalties and drama for people who track the cars or abuse them. In my hands, the AMG never saw speeds over 80 mph.
I do happen to have some C63 S track time, but it’s in the coupe, not the sedan. Which brings me to the final point of this review. If you’re thinking about a C63 S sedan, stop thinking about it and start thinking about the C63 S coupe instead. It’s much more handsome, much more focused, and it can be optioned-up into a reasonable facsimile of a DTM race car. Yes, it’s possible to spend $100k on a C63 S coupe, and there are certainly faster cars to be had for that kind of money. But the coupe has a joie de vivre that the sedan utterly lacks. It even sounds better, mostly because with all four windows down there’s no B-pillar to block the exhaust noise. And in my testing during the R&T PCOTY, it was able to match a BMW M4 GTS around a track while offering a superb, luxurious experience on the road.
If you really must have the sedan, then allow me to suggest a better, more characterful way to spend $70,000 on a four-door forced-induction automatic-transmission commuter: the Charger Hellcat. It’s not really that much faster, but it’s a lot more fun. It also has a true sense of its own identity. The C63 S sedan can’t claim the same thing. Is it an old-school successor to the AMG Hammer? Is it the compact sport sedan to end all compact sport sedans? Or is it just the most expensive Cheap-class out there? Until Mercedes-Benz figures out the answer to that question, you’ll want to leave this one in the rental lot where it belongs.
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