With back-to-back Formula 1 Drivers’ and Constructors’ champ-ionships in 2014 and 2015, and a range of road cars that includes such mouth-watering machines as the AMG GT coupe and C 63 saloon, it’s probably fair to say that as the builder of enthusiast-oriented automobiles, Mercedes’ stock has never been higher. Indeed, the most recent efforts from the Stuttgart-based company and its AMG division in Affalterbach have been so convincing and desirable as to threaten to unseat BMW from its long-occupied pedestal as Germany’s pre-eminent manufacturer of high-performance vehicles.
Central to Mercedes’ challenge has been AMG’s expertise at designing and building high-output turbocharged engines, which some claim to be the best of their kind in the world. Take, for example, the inline, 2-litre four-cylinder unit of the giant-killing A and CLA saloons, an engine that packs more firepower than any other production motor of its size. And then there’s the hand-assembled, 4-litre biturbo V8, a masterpiece of compact packaging that debuted in late 2014 with the GT and C 63, and has already become the stuff of legend.
The latter engine’s reputation is set for further burnishing with the imminent arrival of the AMG C 63 Coupe, which tops the recently launched line-up of sleek, two-door variants of Mercedes’ sophisticated, best-selling C-class saloon. Much like the less obviously sporting four-door, the C Coupe largely resembles a scaled-down facsimile of its S-class equivalent, and is in more or less perfect proportion to the bigger car.
The AMG version, however, is distinguishable by its broader front and rear track, and redesigned nose, flanks and stern, with flared wheel arches to accommodate tyres as wide as 285mm at the back (it departs so radically from the template, in fact, that only doors, roof and boot lid are shared with standard models). Suffice to say it looks sensational: svelte but infinitely more fierce and muscular than its lesser coupe brethren.
Two versions of the 4-litre V8 are available for AMG’s variation on the C Coupe theme. The C 63 gets “just” 470bhp and 650Nm, while bragging rights go to the even more potent C 63 S, whose engine produces 700 whopping Newtons at an impressively lazy 1,750rpm, with output raised to 503bhp.
Top speed with either unit is restricted to 250km/h, though a Driver Package available with the S Coupe offers the option to raise the maximum to a lairy 290. Likewise, while there’s little between the two in terms of acceleration, the availability of Race mode with the S helps shave a tenth from the “standard” C 63’s four-second 0-100 time – and that’s not only terrifyingly fast but also (and some would say crucially) four tenths of a second quicker off the line than the benchmark BMW M4.
Superficially the C 63 S – a fleet of which Mercedes has obligingly shipped to Spain’s Costa del Sol for us to play with – follows the old-school, muscle-car recipe of a big, front-mounted V8 driving the rear wheels only. Modulating all that kinetic energy, however, does require some high-tech solutions. A quick-shifting, seven-speed, multi-clutch transmission delivers power to a hyper-reactive electronic rear differential, which intervenes to optimise traction and enable higher entering and exit speeds on corners. And the suspension – a complex, 12-link arrangement that contributes to greater wheel control and balance, as well as a more fluid ride – is equally state of the art.
Of course, no amount of technological ingenuity can guarantee total immunity from the laws of physics, so when taming a brute such as this, caution is invariably the better part of valour. If, for example, you’re brave – or foolish – enough to switch the C 63’s Dynamic Select control to its most extreme Race setting and then boot the throttle while turning into a bend, you’ll almost certainly end up facing the way you came, quite possibly with a tree embedded in the boot.
Fortunately that doesn’t happen during my test drive around the byways above Malaga and Marbella. For with the Electronic Stability Programme (ESP) engaged – which it is in Comfort, Sport and Sport+ modes – the C 63 S is composed, controllable and unbelievably forgiving. And that’s even the case whenever I unleash the 500-odd horses, which explode thunderously into activity as we fling ourselves between one corner and the next on a twisting, 140-kilometre route through the Andalusian hills.
It’s my first experience of the 4-litre biturbo and I’m staggered by the instant delivery and unquenchable reserve of power, so that regardless of whether I’m drawing from the engine’s deep well of torque or snapping up through the gears with the paddle shifters, the speed piles on relentlessly. Thanks to the exhaust system’s three selectable flaps, it sounds glorious too as it ascends the scale from a resonant, basso profundo growl to the roar of an enraged animal, with throttle inputs in Sport+ and Race modes also throwing loud crackles and pops into the sonic mix.
AMG’s Dynamic Select system offers a wide choice of engine, transmission and chassis modes, with four preset menus or the à la carte option of creating your own using the touch-screen controller. The firmer damping and meatier steering of Sport+ mode are clearly the default choice for the track (we spend a few laps at the Ascari circuit vainly attempting to keep pace behind five-times DTM champion Bernd Schneider), but off-piste they soon become wearing.
Narrow roads such as these – and unlike major thoroughfares in Spain, many are poorly surfaced – require a softer ride, so the combination of relaxed suspension with more aggressive powertrain settings seems the way to go for me. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that Comfort mode cedes little in the way of controllability or ultimate adhesion, so the C 63 S slices precisely through corners while offering an almost limousine-quality ride.
Thus comfortably cushioned as we dash here and there across the landscape, the Merc demonstrates convincing credentials as a long-range tourer, albeit one that’s ever ready to whip off its velvet gloves in favour of a pair of boxing mitts. With such speed and agility it’s hard to imagine the car weighs almost two tonnes, though mercifully the brakes – crossed-drilled, ventilated discs front and rear, and with the option of carbon-ceramic rotors – are heroically up to the task.
Which brings me belatedly to the cabin, a cocoon of extravagance from the contoured, sculpted performance seats to the brushed-aluminium grilles of the Burmester speakers on the doors, the red-detailed instruments and the IWC-branded clock at the centre of the fascia. Carbon fibre adorns most surfaces that you can’t sit on, and a contrasting strip at 12 o’clock on the leather-clad wheel helps ensure your aim is true – when it comes to bling, Mercedes could easily teach P Diddy a trick or two. My only criticism here, and a minor one at that, concerns the column-mounted gear-selector wand, as cars of such sporting mien really should have the shifter on the console; once in gear and on the move, however, it hardly matters where it is.
So you’d be right to surmise that I’m hugely impressed by the Mercedes-AMG C 63 S Coupe. It’s a car of massive abilities and, thanks to that monstrously powerful, flexible and sonorous engine, equally engaging character and attitude. It offers fearsome, near-supercar performance. It looks tremendous. And it has one of the best interiors in the business.
On this persuasive evidence, then, I’d willingly hazard there’s no better high-performance, premium compact coupe on the market. And I reckon the competition in Munich will be worried, very worried indeed.