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Speed Week: Mercedes C63 AMG vs Volkswagen Golf R

They might look understated, but these street sleepers pack a mighty punch

  1. Perfect family cars? To those of us without kids – or an unhealthy obsession with films such as Drive – they’re perfect getaway cars.

    Why so? Plentiful space for purloined valuables, the pace and precision required to effortlessly escape the law, and looks subtle enough to fox the casual observer. “What car were they in?” “Er, a blue one…”

    Of course, subtlety has hardly ever been present in AMG history; audaciously smoking rear tyres and thunderous soundtracks are typically dish of the day. And dowdily restrained as it looks, the new C63 will – of course – oblige rapscallion tendencies.

  2. AMG’s bestseller joins the performance division’s twin-turbocharged era in some style; there’s a 470bhp ‘entry’ version, but the more potent C63 S, blazing all of its guns here, uses a wet-sump version of the 503bhp 4.0-litre bi-turbo V8 found in the AMG GT S and squaring up to a Lamborghini elsewhere on track.

    As such, remorseless tyre abuse isn’t much more than a puckish throttle jab away. But the car’s finest trick is satisfying below its limits – crucial, given the sheeting rain as I head out for my exploratory laps of the screamingly fast Red Bull Ring.

  3. Clambering into a 500 horsepower hot rod ought to be a silly way to learn a race circuit, but there’s much about the C63 that welcomes. The steering, for starters. With more weight than big brother AMG GT’s rack, it does a much better impersonation of feel, and it’s also wonderfully quick and accurate for a 1.7-tonne car.

    Filling the empty engine bay left by Mercedes’s ripsnorting old 6.2-litre naturally aspirated V8 was always going to be tough, but this 4.0-litre comes close. I’m assured it burbles away nicely when the various adjustable modes are toggled to Comfort, but we’re on an F1 track. As soon as I realise the
    C63 won’t snap me nastily into the kitty litter, I’ve prodded everything to its raciest setting.

  4. Once done, the noise is pure blood ’n’ thunder. It sounds naughty enough being shunted around the pitlane. Passing 120mph on the straight between Turns 1 and 2? Goonish giggling is involuntary, and only exacerbated by the tight, uphill exit of Remus, should you have curtailed the electronic nannies…

    Drive it hard, and the C63’s bulk naturally leads to understeer. But its front-engine/rear-drive layout – the way cars always used to be – allows you to counter this if you’re comfortable, a smudge of slip at the rear tightening your line and, corner after corner, yielding a properly rapid flow around the circuit.

  5. The C63 sits slap bang in the sweet spot between the spiky M3 and numb RS4. But that description downplays just how riotously fun it proves on circuit, shrugging off its chunky kerbweight, shimmying its way out of corners and thundering down the straights like the staidly suited hot rod that would slip so easily into all of our lives.

    Which is exactly the role most of TG Towers had set aside for the Golf R Estate when Volkswagen whipped the covers off it. The hatch, don’t forget, wowed Speed Week 2014, being fun and interactive in a way the go-fastest Golf simply never had been. Add the wagon body’s Ford Mondeo Estate-trumping 1,620-litre loadbay, and cloyingly overused phrases like ‘world’s best all-rounder’ end up being wantonly flung around.

  6. We’re here to fling the car around, though. After the Merc, you’d forgive the R’s 296bhp 2.0-litre for
    feeling puny. It has half the cylinders, turbos and cubic capacity, after all. But it also has a couple of hundred kilos fewer to haul. Its torque is delivered good and early, as you’d expect from such a boosted engine, but equally it’s not averse to being revved, and while the hatch’s manual option is absent, the DSG paddleshifter is snappy enough to stop your heart aching too much. The steering is overly light and the synthesised soundtrack is a bit of a dud, but real bugbears stop there.

    After the RWD Merc, the AWD Golf casts a forgiving safety net very wide with oodles of grip at both ends. Once the circuit dries, in fact, it takes real juvenility to extract anything other than behemoth traction from it, a hot hatch-esque bung unsettling things and finally revealing the exploitability I enjoyed so much on my most memorable experience of the hatchback R. On slippy, bumpy British roads rather than a silk-smooth Austrian racetrack, I admit.

  7. It remains a classy thing, and with barely fallible grip and bombastic pace, it acts the diddy Audi RS6 for less than half the price. But I’d argue its talents are so well acknowledged now, the Golf R’s shock value has, somewhat inevitably, evaporated.

    No, the surprise factor this year belongs to the repmobile that thinks it’s a race car, the AMG that’s so much more than an overburdened rear axle. We knew the C63 would be good, but no one dared bet on it being great. Wannabe getaway drivers need look nowhere else.

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