On the eve of the 2011 Geneva motor show press days, the performance division of Mercedes-Benz rolled out three stark white C63 AMG models -- a four-door sedan, a wagon, and a hush-hush, no-photos-allowed coupe that will be unveiled later this spring at the New York Auto Show. All three will hit the market together, first in Europe this July, followed by a U.S. launch, in September.
All eyes were glued to the cars dominating the center of the big room -- a former sewing machine factory that had been transformed into a high-style lounge with black leather couches and red hanging lamps across the tall ceiling -- where new Swedish head of AMG, Ola Kaellenius, held court all night with AMG's product development boss Tobias Moers and marketing guru Mario Spitzner. They made an enthusiastic, laid-back trio, representing a trio of anything BUT laid-back cars.
You will know the AMG C-Class models when you see them by the big three-pointed star dominating a new front end that channels the bold look of the SL63 AMG, and by two opposing L-shaped bumps on the aluminum hood that the AMG team call "power domes." A tight little carbon fiber tail spoiler, a pronounced shark's fin roof antenna, and dark grey, 18-inch twin-spoke light-alloy AMG wheels also look suitably evil, especially on the sleek two-door coupe.
"We didn't just want it to be a styling thing," said the very young, very self-assured and affable Kaellenius, who most recently has been running the U.S. manufacturing facility in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, but who comes with real performance credentials from a stint in Formula 1. "For forty years now, AMG has stood for performance. C has become the heart of the AMG family."
As we have come to expect from AMG, the C63 AMG is stuffed with the most popular engine in the history of the company, the handcrafted 6.2-liter V-8 engine -- signed by its builder -- that we have loved in the S-class, the E, the SL, and the CL. The 63 nameplate has become synonymous with a thrilling driving experience. It will be even more so in the new C63 AMG with the optional AMG Performance package.
"More than half of our customers want to go all the way, " explains Kaellenius. For those performance enthusiasts for whom the smoking 457-hp 6.2-liter V-8 won't be quite enough of a power leap from the C350 V-6's 302 hp, despite the addition of AMG's Speedshift MCT seven-speed sport transmission, the Performance package's powerplant adds another 30 hp. "With that engine, you can drive in manual mode almost like a race car," says Kaellenius. The MCT has four modes: C (for controlled efficiency), Sport, Sport Plus, and Manual. In C mode, the MCT cuts fuel consumption by 10 percent.
Vehicle engineer Moers is proud of the gains made in the already fabulous suspension. "I know the chassis has gotten rave reviews over the years, but we've gone after it again." Everything has been touched or tweaked, from suspension geometry to parts to adjustments. The front end has a bit more camber and the damper forces were modified, especially for better rebound. "In the past, if you went into a turn too early and got sideways, it felt a little funny. Now, the suspension modifications allow you to hammer down at the apex and it goes -- I'll just say, it beats the M3 at Hockenheim."
The MCT gearbox hardware comes from the E63 AMG, "a perfect fit," says Moers. "People who always talk about twin clutch transmissions drive the MCT and don't know what it is."
The coupe is the same weight as the sedan. The tire compounds and Brembo brakes are also the same. Stability control has been recalibrated to correspond to suspension changes, and the steering ratio will be the same.
All three models will launch in Europe in July, where the sedan will cost 71,340 Euros and the wagon 73,890 Euros. Among a vast array of options, trims, and colors ("Your dreams are our limits," says Kaellenius), the Performance package commands a ten percent premium. Both sedan and coupe are expected in U.S. dealerships in September. The wagon will be available by special order, and U.S. pricing and photos of the coupe will be announced closer to the New York auto show, the third week in April.