Life, etc, Sci-Tech

Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG Coupé: Taming the beast

By Deon Schoeman 19 April 2012

The competition among the Big Three German brands – Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz – has never been tougher, regardless of segment. But when it comes Audi’s RS cars, the BMW M-badged monsters and the Mercedes-Benz AMG line-up, pride also comes into play. The C63 AMG Coupé is Merc’s retort to the Audi RS5 and BMW’s M3. DEON SCHOEMAN tries to tame the beast.

In a segment saturated with prestige, power and performance, the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG Coupé appears to have the right stuff in all departments. The two-door’s hand-fettled V8 ensures there’s no shortage of muscle, while the combination of loads of urge and a comparatively light and compact body suggests the kind of tar-ripping performance we’ve come to expect of any Mercedes wearing the AMG badge.

As for styling, the two-door is a real head-turner. While the standard version rates as one of the brand’s most attractive designs, the AMG’s beefier, more muscular appearance swaps class for visual muscle.

This is a car that always looks hungry for action. No wonder it attracts would-be drag racers like bees to honey, turning every intersection into a potential traffic light grand prix.

To its credit, the muscular coupé manages to retain the sleekness of the standard version, while clearly expressing the personality transformation induced by the introduction of its AMG mechanicals. The body kit adds a hungrier, more aggressive front-end appearance, with the larger apertures ensuring sufficient access to cooling air for the engine and the brakes. Extended side sills emphasise the hunkered-down stance of the coupé, while the bolder wheel arches still struggle to contain the 19-inch alloy rims, shod with ultra-low profile, fat-footprint rubber. 

The rear view is dominated by the four gutter-sized exhausts jutting out from the rear apron, while the pronounced vanes of the diffuser manage airflow in the interests of greater high-speed stability. A compact bootlid spoiler adds further downforce.

Despite those aerodynamic aids, the C63 AMG always feels as if it’s champing at the bit, courtesy of the substantial powerplant under the bonnet.

In the world of AMG, each engine is a work of art. The C63 AMG Coupé is one of the few models in the AMS stable that still commands the services of a normally aspirated 6.3-litre V8, rather than the more modern and efficient 5.5-litre twin-turbo unit found in the latest E63 for instance.

Even so, the coupé isn’t short of muscle: the power and torque peaks come to 336kW and 600Nm respectively.

The V8 is a mechanical work of art, with a linear power delivery that simply cannot be matched by turbocharged designs. And of course, it sounds spectacular.

Not surprisingly, it’s also thirsty: we averaged 19 litres/100km during the test period. The V8 is mated to a seven-speed Speedshift multi-clutch transmission that offers instant gear changes and allows manual control via shift paddles on either side of the steering wheel column.

Drivers can also select comfort, sport or sport plus automatic settings, but really, manual mode is the only way to truly appreciate the coupé’s considerable dynamic talents.

Talking of comfort, the cabin provides a snug and comfy “office” for the driver. In line with the exclusive nature of the C63 AMG Coupé, the interior reflects a mix of high tech and tradition. Round analogue dials deliver key information on speed and rev count, while digital displays look after the rest. The sculpted bucket seats are superb, while the grippy, thick-rimmed steering wheel feels just right.

Rear accommodation is adequate, but taller folk will find the space somewhat claustrophobic. That’s partly because black is the overriding theme of the interior, which may be too monochromatic for some, but suits the AMG Coupe’s performance character. The driving position is superb, with plenty of adjustment scope to suit most shapes and sizes. The equipment levels match the expectations set by the Merc’s one-bar price tag, with a features set that includes just about every conceivable bell and whistle.

However, by latest-generation standards, the display is on the small side, and the multitude of buttons, switches and menus don’t allow intuitive use on the move.

That said, most C63 AMG pilots will be concentrating on controlling all the power on offer, leaving little time to consider any ergonomic anomalies. Skill and circumspection are useful talents if you want to enjoy life behind this coupé’s wheel.

With a power to weight ratio of 194kW/ton, the muscular Merc is a very rapid machine indeed. The quoted zero-to-100km/h sprint time is a mere 4.4sec, while top speed is governed to 250km/h. Mercedes claims fuel consumption is 12.1l/100km, but expect closer to 19l/100km in real-world conditions.

The C63 AMG Coupé feels impatient and out of sorts around town. Throttle response is razor sharp, and if you’re not careful, the rear will want to step out, especially when the tyres are cold and the road surface is indifferent. It’s much more content on the open road, or on a racing circuit, where there’s space to explore its true potential.

Fortunately, Mercedes-Benz has endowed the two-door C63 with some electronic trickery to keep it on the black stuff, should the driver run out of talent. The electronic stability control system will keep things tidy when the rear gets stroppy, or if a pirouette into the countryside seems inevitable.

There’s also a sport mode, which allows a measure of oversteer before the electronic nanny steps in – flattering the driver in the process. Switching all assistance off is only recommended if your surname is Vettel or Schumacher, or if you have the reflexes of a fighter pilot.

Once you get used to the rear stepping out though, controlling the beast with judicious stabs of the throttle and precise steering inputs is a satisfying pastime – but doesn’t do the life expectancy of those pricey tyres any favours.

The chassis is rigid and the suspension taut to the point of harshness, which is fine on smooth blacktop, but can cost you a filling or two on our deteriorating roads. The steering feels just right, though: quick and precise, but with enough heft and feedback to ensure involving and satisfying cornering.

The C63 AMG Coupé may be attractive, well equipped and very rapid indeed. But it can feel intimidating in daily use, especially when power and momentum conspire to turn the Merc into a tail-happy beast. Those prepared to take the time to master the monster can expect a scintillating, high-performance driving experience.

In other words, this is not a car to be dallied with unless you have the skill and commitment to make the most of its dynamic potential. For many, its underlying unruliness will be too disconcerting. But if it’s a hooligan in a Christian Dior suit you’re after, look no further. DM


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