Moss retires at 88: TG takes a look back at his astonishing motorsport career
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What’s this, then?
It’s the new Mercedes-AMG C63 S, a subtle name change to reflect the super-saloon’s subtle new styling. In fact, this Mercedes C63 is hardly more aggressive than any C-Class busied up with a few choice AMG styling touches.
But when you look a bit closer, there are tell-tales that this is a bit more than a C250 CDi with swanky wheels. First up, there are a couple of AMG powerdomes on the bonnet, and a front bumper with a pair of massive airdams through which you can see nothing but radiator - always a good sign.
Then there are front wings gently flared to cover a wider track, and the cars sits low but not ridiculously so on 19-inch rims - 18s on the standard car. Front and rear are linked by a set of subtle sill extensions, and there’s an almost vestigial stub of a rear spoiler on the bootlid with a pair of rectangular exhausts either side of the rear valance.
Yes, there are a few ‘V8 Biturbo’ badges knocking about, but visually lairy, this is not. It is, however, one of those quiet, bookish types who happens to be a part-time ninja.
Well, under the bonnet of this sober-looking saloon is a wet-sumped version of the AMG GT sports car’s 4.0 V8 Biturbo (their codenames are only one digit apart, being ‘M177’ and ‘M178’).
That means 510bhp and 516lb ft for the ‘S’ we have here, 476bhp and 480lb ft as a standard C63. Rest to 62mph is dealt with in four seconds flat, and the car is limited to 155mph. Which - on paper at least - makes it a proper thundersaloon.
What about the chassis?
This is a proper re-working rather than an enhancement of a top-end Merc. The front suspension consists of four links and a wider track than the previous generation C63, the rear a similarly slightly fatter-tracked traditional multi-link with independent mounts.
Both ends are tied together by AMG’s electronically-controlled ride-control system, offering three strata of firmness: comfort, sport and sport+, accessed from a series of buttons around the touchpad controller. The S also gets a further option in the COMAND system called ‘Race’, that allows the driver to play with the various functions (engine response, damping, ‘box and exhaust) to optimise their own preferred set-up, linked to an S-specific electronic rear differential.
And the transmission?
It’s Merc’s ‘AMG SpeedShift MCT-7’, but uprated to punt out what the company refers to as ‘significantly quicker shift times’. The standard car gets a straight mechanical locking rear diff, and the S gets that electronic version which apparently reacts a little quicker and adds a level of finesse when matched to the bespoke modes in the Race function.
Other fun stuff includes a Race Start function (left-foot brake in either Sport+ or Race, pull both paddles, acknowledge by pulling the right hand paddle, floor the accelerator and lift brake), which gives picture-perfect starts every time.
Also, there’s the usual suite of traction and stability controls to keep everything pointing in vaguely the desired direction, a completely re-worked set of complicated algorithms that mean that the C63 should help you be a hero without feeling patronised.
Does it work?
Oh yes. The engine feels barely turbocharged, with a delivery that is elastic, responsive and hammer effective. There’s a vague feeling that there’s too much torque in the mid-range for a normally-aspirated car, and there’s a faint turbo whistle, but it really does just feel like a car with a much bigger, non-turbo motor.
What that means is that it reacts faithfully to the throttle, every time. No muss, no fuss. Of course, you can play with the way it delivers its power via the various modes, but it’s never anything short of impressive.
How does it sound?
Magnificent. The C63 warbles away like sub-bass through a thin wall at idle, and then sonically transforms into a howling bass at full throttle in Race and Sport+. It also does the most delicious backfires and crackles on the overrun - and unlike some manufacturers who ‘engineer in’ identical off-throttle cackling that sounds the same every time (and hence makes you feel a little hoodwinked), the new C63 has a full range of spits, gobbles, cracks and bangs.
Can it go round corners?
It can. This isn’t just a C with a big motor dropped into it. There’s sophistication running through the whole thing. The ride is firm - even in Comfort mode - but the staging is well-judged to the point where you really can drive it in Sport+ without needing to be on a track.
And when you really start to drive hard, the car immediately comes with you. Turn-in is sharp rather than darty, and the C doesn’t seem to lean - just like the AMG GT, it features active engine mounts that slacken to reduce vibration and NVH from the engine/gearbox combo during cruising, and tighten during more committed driving to improve response.
It basically reduces disturbing inertia in the oily bits during cornering, leading to a more instant-feeling response from the steering wheel. Result? You can pick a line and stick with it without constantly second-guessing the balance between under and oversteer.
The gearbox is quick, although not quite as slick as a DSG, but is regular and useful and predictable, even when it shifts itself rather than using the paddles.
Will it drift?
Delete the electronic minders and there’s plenty of slewing about like a hooligan to be had if you desire, but the C63 rewards tidiness more than anything. And if you really just want to smoke antisocially, it will also do quite ridiculous rolling burnouts.
I know it’s pointless, but interesting that AMG still let you take the reins if you want to be silly. It’s a real feel-good car, and I think even more so when you get out of it and realise it just looks so normal. I hesitate to use the word ‘boring’, but there’s a defined under-the-radar vibe to this car.
It has good brakes, too. Just in case you get too enthusiastic, which you probably will. Try 390mm discs at the front and barely smaller 360mm discs on the rear. I would, however, option the carbon ceramics if you like going fast or intend any sort of track work - on our test route we managed to sort of set fire to the optional set-up, so I doubt the steel stoppers will be better.
What’s it like on the inside?
Special without being gaudy or overdone. There’s a flat-bottomed, slightly too-thick steering wheel, fabulous deep, contoured seats and lots of little carbon and AMG touches that make the car feel reassuringly expensive. Top options include lovely Burmester surround-sound audio, an even louder variable AMG sports exhaust, head-up display and intelligent LED headlights.
There’s also an ‘Edition 1’ variant for the UK, which costs £73,500 and gets bespoke finishes and extra bobbins. Basically it’s a gussied-up S to celebrate the launch of the car.
Another little kicker comes in the shape of the C63 Estate from £60,995. Just about the perfect size, pretty much all of the performance (same top speed, only 0.1 seconds added to either model’s 0-62mph time, less than 1mpg less efficient) and even less likely to attract attention, it’s a properly attractive semi-sleeper. But we’ve always been suckers for a fast wagon here at Top Gear.
Is it, um, economical?
Officially, the new engine is a third more efficient than the old 6.2-litre naturally-aspirated V8 in the previous generation C-class. That’s impressive, and apparently provides the new C63 with the ability to do nearly 35mpg driven carefully. For a car with more than 500bhp, that’s extraordinary. Also pretty unlikely - we got around 25mpg.
Should I buy one?
The obvious competition comes in the shape of BMW’s M3, and I have to say that, for me, the C63 is a better car. More duality, more confidence, all of the performance. But when you have a car that’s subtle-but-good-looking, an absolute joy to drive quickly without scaring you witless, capable of carrying the family and putting the wind up a serious sports car, you know you’ve got a winner.