First Drive: 2008 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG


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Senior Member
May 22, 2005

First Drive: 2008 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG
Hostile over-taker: Check your blind sport, BMW. The M3's doors are about to be blown off.

With its M3, BMW has owned the C-segment hot-rod market, winning hearts, minds, and comparison tests for decades. Others have competed, few have been competitive. Now Mercedes-AMG is plotting a hostile takeover of this popular niche. Your brows are furrowing, recalling that the last four fat-tired, big-motored C-classes to roll out of Affalterbach have won drag races only to be outmaneuvered by the Bavarian. You're thinking, can the C63 AMG possibly be that good, or has AMG wined and dined this guy into senseless parroting of the PR flack's hyperbole? I claim the Fifth on the subject of alco/gastro inducements, but present the following evidence for my enthusiasm:

This is the first AMG product to be designed from its computer-conception for extreme performance. Its predecessors (like most AMG models) are essentially tuner specials, with bolted-on performance. This time, practically everything forward of the firewall (except for the two energy-absorbing frame-rail stubs) is unique to AMG. The front track is 1.4-inches wider, standard 18-inch wheels permit larger knuckles, and a new engine cradle accommodates longer diagonal links that completely change the geometry. A lower roll center, for example, helps the car corner flatter while preserving ride quality with an anti-roll bar that's only 0.04-inch thicker. New ball bearings offer twice the rigidity of the stock front-axle bearings. Camber increases from 0.5 to 1.4 degrees and caster is reduced by 15 degrees. The steering ratio tightens from 14.5:1 to 13.5:1, and there are new bearings atop the struts. The effect of all this front-end work is vastly improved steering feel and agility with reduced understeer.

The 6.2-liter V-8 weighs about 70 pounds more than the E350's V-6, and it's about four inches longer, but by moving it two inches closer to the firewall, weight distribution remains at a respectable 54/46 front/rear. An all-new front end stretches the nose 3.4 inches. Power output is dialed back to 450 horses and 443 pound-feet-enough to vanquish the M3 without crowding AMG's pricier 63 models. Coaxing the CLK63 Black's 500 horses and 473 pound-feet out of this setup will be child's play for the aftermarket, if AMG doesn't offer power-spiffs of its own. A Performance Package will include a mechanical limited-slip differential (offering 30 percent lockup under power, 10 percent or less on overrun), and compound steel brake rotors with aluminum centers (for vastly improved fade resistance and slightly lower weight). Springs and dampers are stiffened by 10 and 15 percent respectively, and the speed governor is raised to 174 mph. Europe's optional 19-inch wheels and tires won't be offered, as they can't survive urban-America's potholes.

One chink in the C63's armor: there's (still) no manual transmission. But the paddle-shifted 7G Tronic automatic runs with the converter locked except when the car stops, it bangs off shifts as crisply and quickly as the best SMG/DSG/F1 boxes, and its sport-automatic shift programming is incredibly astute. Rev-matched, throttle-blipped downshifts happen exactly when you want them, up-shifts never happen when you don't. Manual-mode shifts are slightly quicker, and you can happily bounce along on the 7300-rpm redline if you so choose. The Black Series's 2.82:1 rear axle is fitted, but without the auxiliary oil cooler-that car is intended for extensive track use, this one isn't. Diff-oil temperature is monitored, and the car will preserve itself with a limp-mode in the event of an extended summer track-day workout.

C-class buyers are AMG's youngest, and-especially in SoCal-they're more interested in making a statement than in keeping a low profile, so the C63 gets extroverted DTM-racer styling cues, like huge front-wheel arches wrapping the 235/40R18 PZeros, air extractors, hood bulges, and aggressive fascias. An edict to preserve all the stamped and welded steel parts leaves the rear-wheel arches looking a bit mismatched with the fronts, and little appliqus are required on the back sides of each wheel arch to fully envelop the jumbo 255/35R18s. Inside, there's a flat-bottomed steering wheel (covered in alcantara suede, on Perf-Pack cars), sport bucket seats with integral head restraints, and AMG gauges with a race-lap timing function in the body computer. It looks mean. It is mean.

An extended photo session put me way behind schedule, with about 50 miles of Maritime-Alpine switch-backs and corniches to negotiate in under an hour. Not a problem. The C63's big-motor-in-small-car formula approximates rocket-propelled acceleration, but the throttle is never jumpy, making it easy to exit corners smoothly. The stability-control system's "sport" mode allows reasonable drift angles (it was programmed so as to allow the car to circulate the Nurburgring Nordschleife just as fast in the ESP-Sport mode as with the system switched off). With ESP switched off, the rear-axle brakes still work to keep the wheels spinning at the same speed, and full ESP functionality returns if the driver brakes hard in the middle of a corner. Where this engine will trump the forthcoming M3's V-8 is not with its 30-plus extra horsepower, but with its titanic 148-pound-foot torque advantage. Musclecar love means never having to wring a car's 8300-rpm neck to pass an RV.

Ah, but Euro-sport sedan love means dancing through esses with the chassis sharing its most intimate secrets via the steering wheel. It's here that AMG takes the most startling swipe at the M3. Turn-in is quick, effort builds naturally with cornering intensity, and the chassis responds in ways that would make a blindfolded Bimmerphile surprised to find a three-pointed star on the airbag cover. There's less of the rim twitching and wiggling that describes road-surface friction in the best Porsches and BMWs, but this may be the best-steering Mercedes extant. The standard six-piston front, four-piston rear, all-steel vented and drilled brakes demonstrated deep reserves of power, and they apply as smoothly as the throttle.

On day two of my drive in one of two AMG development mules, the car was refitted with the Performance Package and race-compound brake pads for hot-lapping at Circuit Paul Ricard. The track's abundant runoff made it an ideal place to test the ESP-off mode, in which the car breaks traction with ample warning and is easy to control. A ride with DTM champ Bernd Schneider at the helm, making liberal use of the FIA curbing demonstrated that the extra-firm (pothole-patrons beware) suspension makes for exceptional body-motion control. It was amazing to watch him sawing at the wheel and applying stabs of throttle and brake to achieve his desired line as friction levels varied around the track. There's clearly no lash in the driveline or steering system. Perhaps the most intoxicating aspect of car is its engine note-pure NASCAR stocker outside (it's impossible to believe this car passes the 75-dBA Euro noise regs), just enough mechanical music inside.

And get this: the base C63 AMG will cost about $63K-that's at or below the anticipated M3 price. Yes, the BMW coupe may be more svelte, its many-tranny more involving, but when you gotta get somewhere mach schnell, and there's pokey tourist traffic to pass along your twisty route, this is the steed for the job. And, Scout's honor, this ain't the Chateau Lafite talking.

source and more pics : 2008 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG - First Drive - Motor Trend

Random Post Every 5 Minutes

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