Calling all kids of the 80s & 90s, remember these things?
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My word, that’s a good-looking bit of kit. Isn’t it? The C63 Coupe is the sort of car you make involuntary noises around. An ‘ooof’ at the swollen wheelarches – which the four-door C63 saloon and estate do without. A ‘hnnng’ at the front wheel’s negative camber. Corrr. That ducktail spoiler… And now for 2018, a ‘hmm’ at the Hannibal-mask front grille that’s been inherited from the AMG GT R. It’s one of very few visual tweaks Mercedes has made for the revised ultimate C-Class. New all-LED headlights and bigger (fake) tailpipes will be obvious to only kings and queens of anorak-dom. Classic German car facelift then. Any more poke? Nope. The standard C63 still develops 463bhp from its bombastic 4.0-litre bi-turbo V8, and this £72k(ish) C63 S remains pegged at 503bhp. Even though it’s good for 577bhp in the GT R, and 602bhp in the E63, AMG’s not felt the need to turn up the boost. Probably because it’s still a good 50bhp pokier than an Alfa Giulia Quadrifoglio, the Audi RS5, or BMW’s newest M4.
In the name of frozen Hell – it’s no faster? Not a bit, despite the headline change: a new gearbox. Out with the old seven-speed automatic, and in with the new ‘9G Tronic’ nine-speed auto from the E63. You’d imagine that shorter stacked gears and quicker shifts would unlock swifter acceleration, but the numbers remain the same: 0-62mph in 3.9 seconds – 0.1sec quicker than the ‘non-S’. The S has its top speed raised from 155mph to 180mph, but it’s officially less economical now, regardless of the longer top gear for settling into the cruise. New testing regulations mean a claimed 27.9mpg, down from 32.8mpg. Unlike its E63 brother, the C maintains rear-wheel drive. Is the gearbox actually better to use than before? Sorry, BMW M, Alfa and Audi RS, but the C63’s Achilles’ heel has been properly armoured up this time. In the old car, the gearbox was the weak link in the crackers powertrain. It was the flaw you drove around, hesitating for downchanges in particular. That’s gone now. The throttle blips when you drop from fourth, to third, to second are crisp and the changes slot home accurately. I reckon the highest compliment you can ever pay any technology is to stop noticing it working at all. After half an hour in the C63 S Coupe, I forgot the gearbox used to be a pain in the backside. In fact, I was changing up and down for fun. Worth doing too, just to provoke the furious change-up lights as the inertia-free V8 scorches towards its 7,000rpm redline. Inside, the new C63 gets a cinema-scale fully digital dashboard screen as standard, and while you can endlessly swipe and flick between info-overload submenus via the fussy steering wheel’s touchpads, its party piece is an angry red strobe effect as the engine rampantly accrues revs. It ought to come with an epilepsy disclaimer. Warning: This Car Contains Flashing Images. It’s ridiculous. It’s hilarious. Pretty much sums up the C63, really. Wait, what are those earrings hanging from the steering wheel? Ah. They’re new too. And very cheap-feeling. But the plasticky switches are a clue to the other big change for the revised C63: configurability. What’s the one on the right? It’s a rotating dial with a screen in the middle. Think of it as AMG’s version of the Ferrari mannettino switch. Twizzle it around and the car cycles through its factory-approved modes: Slippery, Comfort, Sport, Sport +, and in this C63 S, Race mode. Click the button face itself and no matter which setting you’re in, you’re shortcutted straight to your tailored Individual setting. It works well.
How exactly do I Individualise my C63? Look to the other new cheap-o-toggle on the left: two buttons which cycle through the suspension, exhaust, stability control and (weirdly) stop-start settings. Meanwhile, you tweak which mood you want your powertrain in on the main Comand menu screen. Like matchmaking, there’s a lot of pressure to get the set-up right here.
It’s ridiculous. It’s hilarious. Pretty much sums up the C63, really.And I haven’t finished yet. Turn the traction control completely off and, in the C63 S, that right-hand clicky dial now morphs into a nine-stage traction control toggle, like the AMG GT R’s. Each click turns the assistance level up or down a bit. It’s like having a driving coach on board. Select setting 1, 2 or 3 for quite a lot of interference, when you’re nervous. Ratchet it round to 4, 5 or 6 when you’re getting confident. And to have a really extravagant, embarrassing accident on the way out of Cars’n’Coffee, dare you brave position 7, 8, or 9? Steady on, you hero. Now, you’re on your own. Phew. That’s a LOT of configurability. Still not done. Also new for C63 v2.1 is an electronic differential on all models – previously it was reserved just for the C63 S. Now, via the AMG Dynamics sub-sub-sub menu, you can choose four different characters of torque-vectoring and diff behaviour, which also talks to the stability control system. Depending on what mode you’re in (Slippery, Comfort, Sport, Sport + Race), AMG Dynamics offers four extra settings to trim the car’s assistance. You can be, erm, Basic, or select Advanced mode, then there’s the Pro setting, and a really worrying ‘Master’ option. Are you an AMG Master? Thought so. Step right up. That’s literally the most German thing I’ve ever heard. Indeed. The C63 is now quite complicated. After the initial excitement of dropping into its firmly padded bucket seat and summoning the rumbling V8 to life, you don’t move for the next ten minutes. Manual gearchange or automatic? Which of the three suspension stiffnesses would you prefer? ‘Balanced’ exhaust note, or ‘Powerful’? And there’s the driver coach parameters to play with – and hone your abilities against. Happily, once you’ve committed your favourites to the Individual mode, selected first gear with a cool metal paddle and burbled out onto the road, a truly wonderful machine is waiting beneath you. Besides the more attentive gearbox, the new C63 doesn’t feel that different on the road. Steering remains reassuringly weighty without the sticky, doughiness of an M4’s or the airy nothingness of the RS5’s wheel. But the Audi has it licked as a GT. Suspension-wise, this is still on the taut side of firm, which means it gets away with the ride comfort in Germany, but will feel rigid in the UK. That’s becoming a bit of an AMG trait. See also: the current E63. Its brittle ride is pretty much the only chink in its armour. Wish AMG had given the C63’s Comfort ride setting a bit more… comfort. There’s still Sport and Sport + modes for troubling the trim mountings. So, all those modes, all that gadgetry, and it’s good new gearbox aside, not that much different from the old C63? Not until you get to a track. And what a track. The sadists at AMG decided to show off how confident they are in their new microchips by launching the new C63 at the Bilster Berg race resort in north-west Germany. Designed by F1 circuit architect and motorsport boredom enthusiast Hermann Tilke – during what must have been one hell of a night on the Weissbiers – Bilster Berg is a devilish, deceitful 2.6-mile ribbon of undulating bends, brows and not-quite straights modeled on the gnarlier bits of the Nürburgring. What you need here is a friendly chassis, and the C63’s always had that in spades. It’s a benevolent muscle car, with more depth of character in its indicator stalk than in a whole Audi RS5, and none of the vindictive spite of a turbocharged BMW M4. Handy, when the GT3 racing prodigy you’re following for your first ever laps – pacing you in an AMG GT R – tears off to the horizon. It’s like being asked to make the Kessel Run having never flown the Millennium Falcon. You’re a wuss. I’ll take that. Needn’t have worried, though. Despite being a bi-turbo V8 500bhp rear-drive uber coupe, the C63’s got some safety understeer built in (thank heavens for that), but after three laps I’ve finally remembered which way the track goes over the preposterous crests and been able to indulge the traction control ratchet. That’s how much confidence this car gives you. 503bhp, 516lb ft, and yet after eight miles of a totally new and completely sadistic track, I’m graduating AMG School. It’s time to be a Master. In Race mode, with traction control at Defcon 5, you’re left with enough to do – enough to catch, enough to enjoy – without feeling like you’re on a greased tightrope of ‘it’s-not-if-I-crash-but-when’. Over fast crests it sometimes feels a bit out of sorts, like the vertical movements are robbing the rear axle of the traction it craves, but it remains friendly even as the revs spike. The best thing is, you could have it like this on the road, and unlike the vast majority of modern fast cars, feel like you’re actually getting a good chunk of the car’s ability from it without an unmitigated risk of falling off, and – crucially – without going absurdly fast to unstick it. Of course it’s seriously quick – quick enough to peg a new Aston Martin Vantage – it sounds outrageous (the AMG Performance exhaust/artillery piece is no longer an optional extra, but standard-equipment), and yes, you could argue that the mere presence of a nine-stage traction control toggle is asking for trouble. You’re going to see these things pinballing into the scenery on Instagram before long. But it won’t be the car’s fault, because the car is affable, funny yet extremely clever. Like Stephen Fry. It’ll be the nut that holds the wheel getting way too cocky due the blame. You like this car, don’t you? Unremittingly. It’s fabulous. Not just because it has mega character and lots of toys and it looks plain wibble-tastic, but because it’s been set up to have fun no matter where your talent or fear threshold lies. As long as you’ve got the patience to set it up. It’s such a special piece of kit, the C63, only now it has a better gearbox and an ugly steering wheel with pound-shop jewellery affixed. Not to worry. Picking a single, quantifiable ‘best car in the world’ always seems a bit futile to me, but right now, this is undoubtedly my absolute favourite. 9/10
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