Mercedes-Benz's smallest U.S. sedan, the C-class, continues to impress us, this time with the sport-tuned 2009 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG version. We previously reviewed the C300, and found that its updated electronics put to shame the tech in more expensive models from Mercedes-Benz. With the AMG version we have a car that competes with the BMW M3, not only in cabin tech but also in sheer performance and the exhilarating drive it offers.
The cabin electronics in the C63 are the same as in the C300, with the latest version of Mercedes-Benz's navigation and phone system. The sound produced by the audio system blew us away, as did the sound from the engine. The C63 gets the same 6.2-liter AMG engine it uses in the much bigger S63, resulting in better power-to-weight. The car's shorter length and sport-tuned suspension result in nimble handling.
Test the tech: Sound off
The C63 AMG's engine produced a vicious bark when fired up, the kind of sound that sends small dogs running, makes any ninjas in the vicinity go into a fighting crouch, and puts even the most macho gearheads into a swoon. At the same time, our ears were delighted by the silky purr of an Italian in our garage. We decided to enlist Wayne Cunningham, Antuan Goodwin, and Mike Markovich as judges to determine which had the best engine sound, the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG or the Maserati GranTurismo. Our judges gathered around each car and listened to the engine note as we turned on the ignition, then revved it up. Because the Mercedes-Benz limited the revs to 4,000 in Neutral and Park, we set that as the upper limit for both cars.
The C63's 6.2-liter V-8 is a work of art, hand-built by an AMG engineer.
The GranTurismo was first up. It uses a 4.2-liter V-8 with variable valve timing and four valves per cylinder, producing 405 horsepower at 7,100rpm and 339 foot-pounds of torque at 4,750rpm. Its redline is 7,500rpm. The engine started with a little cough, and then whirred as the revs built up. We built up engine speed to 4,000rpm, let it drop, then revved it up again. Markovich said of the GranTurismo's engine, "It doesn't have that sort of rasp I would expect from an Italian engine; more refined, befitting the character of the car." Goodwin agreed that it was a refined sound, and he had expected it to be more high-pitched. Cunningham felt that it wasn't quite like a Ferrari's engine sound, but it seemed to benefit from Italian tuning, eschewing harshness for a fine, silky rumble.
Next up was the 2009 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG, the tuned-up version of the C-class, featuring a 6.2-liter V-8, also with four valves per cylinder and variable valve timing. This engine produces 451 horsepower at 6,800rpm, with a 7,200rpm redline, and 443 foot-pounds of torque at 5,000rpm. The C63 started with an immediate bark, and was overall louder, as we would expect from the increased displacement. Cunningham noted the staccato quality of the sound, that you can "hear the valves and injectors working." Goodwin appreciated the immediate roar from the engine at the start. "The C63 sounds harsher than the GranTurismo," Markovich said, "but it's putting out a lot more power."
Our judges give a good listen to the C63's engine.
Our judges also admired the look of the engines, although they noted that most of the GranTurismo's engine is hidden by black plastic cladding, with just a nice Maserati trident badge on the intake manifold. The C63's engine is more exposed, with a gray crackle finish on the intake manifold and a small plaque with the signature of the engine builder.
In the final assessment, the judges favored the sound from the C63. The GranTurismo didn't stand out enough, with its more refined and muted song. As Goodwin pointed out, "As a sports car guy, I like the C63 better. It sounds like its going to beat you up and take your lunch money."
To hear the engine noise and our judges, listen to episode 79 of Car Tech podcast.
In the cabin
In the cabin, the flat-bottom steering wheel and AMG logo on the instrument cluster let you know this is the sport-tuned version of the C-class. The prominent side-bolstering on the seats is also a good clue. But the rest of the gear is standard for the C-class, with a mostly black interior accented by silver trim here and there. No two-tone fanciness for the sporty C63. The car gets the Mercedes-Benz Command interface, which mostly consists of a knob/button/joystick on the console augmented by back and clear buttons. This minimal switchgear does a good job of letting you access all the car's functions, including navigation, stereo, and cell phone system. You also get a set of quick access buttons for navigation, stereo, and phone on the instrument panel, along with a keypad.
The Command controller is fairly simple, but works well with the car's software interface.
The navigation system stores its map data on an in-dash hard drive, allowing much more data than a DVD-based system and extra space for music storage in something Mercedes-Benz calls the Music Register. The maps are high resolution and street names have white outlines around black lettering, making them very readable. We were impressed by how quickly it calculated and recalculated routes, and we also liked its route guidance graphics, which even gives lane guidance on freeways. Destination entry is fairly easy using voice command or the Command interface. Lacking are advanced features such as traffic or text-to-speech.