Portimao, Portugal – The speedometer reads 152 mph as the end of the front straight of the Autódromo Internacional do Algarve rockets toward us like a 1,000-foot cliff. And still the guy behind the wheel stays flat on the gas. Wile E. Coyote time? Not at all. First, the man who’s put me in this seemingly terminal predicament is Bernd Schneider, ex-Formula 1 pilot, five-time winner of the German Touring Car Championship, a driver who can handle a car like van Gogh cajoled a brush. Second, we’re in the new 2015 Mercedes-AMG C63 S, a four-door passenger sedan, true, but a machine rife with race-bred DNA. A split-second later, seemingly too late to save us, Schneider hammers the huge carbon-ceramic binders. We body-blow against our seatbelts, and the C63S rips across the apex of Turn 1 in a balletic slide. Frankly, I’m surprised the two of us don’t just burst out laughing — that’s how much ridiculous fun this is.
You already know the new Mercedes-Benz C-Class is good: The car easily notched a place on our 2015 All-Stars roster last fall. But what you couldn’t have known is how much potential was built into the basic architecture — and how much the wizards at AMG would wring out of it. The new C63 and its more performance-attuned sibling, the C63 S, are deadly threats to the new BMW M3. Yeah, they’re that impressive.
Pure muscle is part of it. Under the hood lies a twin-turbo, direct-injection 4.0-liter V-8, each one hand-built by a single AMG technician from start to finish. The engine is nearly identical to the unit powering the 2016 Mercedes-AMG GT sports car, the only difference being a wet-sump oil system replacing the GT’s dry sump. In the C63 the V-8 is good for 469 hp (44 hp more than the M3) and 479 pound-feet of torque (73 lb-ft more). The more highly pressurized C63 S delivers an even loftier 503 hp and 516 lb-ft. It’s a beauteous powerplant, too, with the two turbos neatly nestled in a “hot” configuration within the engine’s V (making for a considerably narrower package). Yet despite the engine’s brawn, AMG says it’s the most fuel-efficient high-performance eight-cylinder in the world. Compared with the previous naturally aspirated, 6.3-liter V-8 in the old C63, fuel economy has improved by a claimed 32 percent.
Shifting is handled by a seven-speed AMG Speedshift automatic that replaces the conventional torque converter with a wet startup clutch for improved responsiveness. Three increasingly aggressive shift modes are standard (Controlled Efficiency, Sport, and Sport+) while the 2015 Mercedes-AMG C63 S adds a Race program that shifts fastest of all. Big aluminum paddles on the steering wheel allow easy manual gear selection, though of course fully automated shifting is also available at the touch of a console button.
Underneath lies a new AMG adaptive suspension prioritized for handling precision and grip. The track, both front and rear, is wider than the standard C-Class, while the various pieces are crafted with lots of lightweight aluminum. The C63 benefits from a rear mechanical limited slip, and the C63 S gets an electronic rear locking diff. Four driving modes allow for easy customization of steering response, throttle aggressiveness, and chassis stiffness. The C63 S again adds a Race mode for track laps.
The cockpit is an attractive blend of leather, aluminum, and gloss-black trim. An excellent three-spoke leather performance wheel — standard on the C63 S — dominates the driver’s position, while the center console is set off by a large, iPad-like LCD display jutting from the dash. Options include carbon-fiber cabin accents and performance seats. AMG has smartly allowed separate adjustments of everything from the driving mode, shift settings, and damper stiffness, enabling easy customization of the car to your exact tastes. Driving on a bumpy road but still want aggressive manual shifts? No problem: Set the chassis to Comfort and the tranny to Sport+. I must admit, though, I had no fondness for the “mouse-like” central controller that operates such functions as navigation and the Burmester surround-sound audio system. It’s fussy and overly sensitive, making seemingly simple tasks such as turning the nav voice on and off a pain.
It was a C63 S that I drove around Portugal’s Autódromo Internacional do Algarve — a k a the Portimao Formula 1 test circuit — and, man, the thing is beastly. And sweet. There’s so much torque gushing to the rear wheels, I had to step on the throttle as if it were a sleeping crocodile — or watch the back end swing off toward Lisbon. (Later, back in the pits, I asked AMG chairman Tobias Moers if he and his engineers ever considered all-wheel drive. “No,” he replied with a huge smile. “We wanted the C63 to be fun.”) Yes, even in Race mode, some traction control steps in to keep the tail from committing outright felonies, but this is one playful chassis. Do not think for a moment I’m saying that’s a bad thing.
The standard speed-sensitive electromechanical steering is outstanding, providing lots of cornering and road feel, especially in Sport+ and Race modes. The 2015 Mercedes-AMG C63 S complements the steering system with standard dynamic engine mounts that adapt their stiffness depending on how the car is being driven — reducing vibrations and further improving handling response by helping control the engine’s mass in turns..
Driving the C63 S around the track what’s inescapable is that fabulous V-8 working up front. The thrust is delicious (AMG claims 0 to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds for the C63 S, 4.0 for the C63), and the sound is glorious. Depending on the driving mode, a flap in the forward third of the exhaust system opens to send Maximum Bellow howling out the tailpipes. (Under more restrained throttle, the engine is quite subdued.) AMG claims the C63 S will keep on gunning until reaching an electronic limiter at 180 mph. (The C63 tops out at 155 mph.) As mentioned at the outset, the optional carbon-ceramic binders (not available on the C63) have zero trouble hauling the car down from outrageous velocities.
A drive in the standard C63 in the hills around Faro, Portugal, amply demonstrates the ease at which the car eats up twisting roads and highways alike. Also notable is an excellent optional head-up display that shows speed, rpm, and more. This is a comfortable, handsome, neatly sized car with performance to burn. I have to wonder, though, if most buyers won’t simply make the leap straight to the full-on C63 S. AMG hasn’t yet announced pricing, but figure about $63,000 or so base for the C63 and $73K for the C63 S. For the extra dough, the S offers more power, dynamic engine mounts, 19-inch alloys (versus 18s on the C63), the electronic rear diff, Nappa leather, and available carbon-ceramic brakes.
Either way, though, it’s clear that the new BMW M3 is on notice. With more power and far dressier cabins, both new AMG models have the goods. Expect the streets to heat up when the new toys from Affalterbach arrive on our shores this spring. Meantime, a thorough AMG versus BMW comparison test is headed your way soon.
2015 Mercedes-AMG C63/C63 S sedan Specifications
- On Sale: April
- Base price: $63,000-$73,000 (est)
- Engine: 4.0L twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8/469 hp @ 5,500-6,250 rpm, 479 lb-ft @ 1,750-4,500 rpm (C63); 503 hp @ 5,500-6,250 rpm, 516 lb-ft @ 1,750-4,500 rpm (C63 S)
- Transmission: 7-speed automatic
- Layout: 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, RWD sedan
- L x W x H: 187.2 x 72.4 x 56.1 in
- Wheelbase: 111.8 in
- EPA Mileage: 17/25 city/highway (est)
- Weight: 3,615 lb (C63), 3,648 lb (C 63 S)
- 0-60 mph: 4.0 sec (C63), 3.9 sec (C63 S)
- Top speed: 155 mph (C63), 180 mph (C63 S)