2009 Automobile All-Stars

Charlie Magee

The Unrestrained Powerhouse:  Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG

Prior generations of the C-class AMG model always had an identity crisis, for one simple reason: the AMG performance philosophy doesn't scale down. Mercedes-Benz's mind-set for its AMG cars is to offer insane power in a package that skews toward luxury. Whether it's the S-, SL-, CLS-, or E-class, the AMG treatment features big power coupled with cushy suspension, an automatic transmission, and subtle exterior cues. But that posh-performance recipe doesn't translate to the harder-edged, BMW M3-defined world of the small sport sedan, so previous hot-rod C-classes always felt a little bit too mature for their size, like a ten-year-old doing tax returns.

This latest one, though, flips the formula. The C63 AMG makes the leap to the All-Stars list because it sacrifices some restraint, some of that Mercedes family DNA, in its quest to be a better driver's car. The ride is stiff. The seats don't offer you a massage. The scoops and spoilers that adorn the bodywork are more extroverted than anything this side of a Black Series. But the engine is pure AMG, a handbuilt paean to big-bore V-8 torque. If the Cadillac CTS-V is something like a four-door Corvette ZR1, the C63 is more like a sedan version of the Z06 - ultimately not as fast, but lighter and defined by the raw, rev-happy purity of normal aspiration. It's a fine formula.

With that 6.2-liter V-8 somehow crammed between the front fenders, the C63's defining dynamic trait is its brutal, ferocious, knock-the-wind-out-of-you midrange power. If you're on the gas and hit an expansion joint at, say, 60 mph, the traction control light goes bonkers. That's how hard it's pulling. And with the seven-speed transmission constantly dropping the engine straight into its sweet spot, you might not want to bother with the steering wheel paddles except for downshifts, when manual gearchanges are rewarded with a diabolical, crackling throttle blip.

There are other cars in the AMG portfolio that are faster, but this one is the most fun.

-Ezra Dyer

Base price: $57,175
Engine: 6.2L V-8, 451 hp, 443 lb-ft

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