From the first throaty growl of the engine, we knew what the 2010 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG was all about. Although based on the smallest of Mercedes-Benz's U.S. models, the C63 AMG hints at its aggressive nature with shark vents in the air dam and a bulging hood.
In the driver's seat, the flat-bottom steering wheel signals that Mercedes-Benz meant the car to handle. And handle it does. Even maneuvering through a parking lot it feels taut. Turning the wheel reveals a strong connection to the wheels, with a firmness afforded by few other cars.
The C63 AMG delivers a driving experience that makes us want to do very bad things. Blasting up the road, then downshifting behind slower traffic makes the engine burble in a way that sends other cars looking for friendlier lanes. Each black-topped turn engenders an evil grin as we hit the gas midcorner, making the back end slide out in a perfectly controlled manner.
An unequalled automatic
There is a reason why the C63 AMG is one of our favorite sports cars. Aficionados might scoff at the automatic transmission, insisting a real sports car has a clutch pedal. But this seven-speed automatic, tuned by Mercedes-Benz's AMG division, takes slush out of the equation.
It uses a torque converter, but AMG engineers designed it to lock into gears with minimal shift time. The result is something that feels like a dual-clutch gearbox, delivering hard and quick shifts.
Mercedes-Benz's seven-speed automatic transmission eliminates slushy gear changes by locking in each gear.
A button on the console changes the transmission response between Comfort, Sport, and Manual modes, but in any mode we could sequentially choose gears by moving the shift from side to side or hitting the steering-wheel-mounted paddles. In Manual mode, the car doesn't interfere with driver shifting, even letting the engine speed run to redline, which sits at a high 7,200rpm.
As we crushed corners with the transmission in Sport mode, attempts at manual gear changes often resulted in double-shifts, the car's logic and our own following the same course. After hitting a few corners with the engine screaming close to redline, we let the Sport mode have its way, taking over manual shifting only with the transmission in Manual mode.
The Sport mode showed itself to be very capable, keeping the car in the power zone based on our brake and accelerator input. On the approach to a turn, we got onto the brakes, the AMG calipers--six pistons on front and four on the rears--allowing fine modulation. As the C63 AMG slowed, the transmission automatically downshifted, the engine barking as the revs went up.
The handling from this car is exceptional. The traction control let the back end come out just enough to help us through the turns, flashing on before we got into a complete spinout. It took very little time to learn how much back-end slide the car allowed, and we approached each turn with it in mind.
Six-piston brakes in front allow easy modulation when approaching corners.
As good as this car proved in cornering, it apparently can be better. Mercedes-Benz did not include the limited slip differential, a $2,000 option, in our car. Nor did we get the P31 Development package, which brings in even better brakes and more power. The package might be a bit much for an everyday driver, but the limited slip differential would have been nice to try out.
Mercedes-Benz doesn't go particularly high tech with the C63 AMG's suspension, using conventional stabilizers, struts, and springs to keep the car settled in the turns. Though the result is good, it also means the car lacks settings for different driving conditions. Whether driving home after a long, hard day at work or surging down a switchbacked mountain road, the ride quality is pretty much the same.
Competitors, notably the, maintain dual personalities. Turn off all the performance gear and the car meanders down the road, leaving no hint as to its competitive spirit. But push a few buttons and suddenly the car wants to devour racetracks. The C63 AMG may have a Comfort setting for its transmission, but we only felt a minor change to the car's driving feel.
The C63 AMG gets its thrust from a hand-built 6.2-liter V-8. Although tuned to an inch of its life, this engine lacks efficiency technologies such as direct injection or any kind of forced induction. Its big displacement outputs 451 horsepower and 443 pound-feet of torque, numbers that result in the rear wheels fighting the traction control at every launch.
Each AMG car includes a plaque on the engine inscribed with the name of the builder.
We found no reason to doubt Mercedes-Benz's claim of 4.3 seconds to 60 mph, but achieving that capability comes at a price. The EPA fuel economy rating for the C63 AMG is 12 mpg city and 19 mpg highway. Forget about breaking the 20 mpg mark. We tempered our canyon carving with steady freeway travel, ultimately turning in 14.2 mpg. The car doesn't want to be away from a gas station for too long, and requires frequent fuel-gauge checking.
Because of its very poor mileage, the C63 AMG is subject to the gas guzzler tax. Mercedes-Benz could learn from Audi, which ekes out a compromise between high performance and fuel economy with its latest. Although it's not as fast as the C63 AMG, the S4 delivers a satisfying sport-driving experience and fuel economy in the 20s.
Standard cabin tech
The Leather package brought Mercedes-Benz's sport seats into the cabin, which at first felt too tight. Then we found the buttons on the side of the backrest that loosened the bolsters. After a little adjustment, we had the seats perfectly set to keep us planted in the seat during the hardest cornering.
Unlike the firstwe reviewed, our 2010 model lacked the Multimedia package. That package includes a hard-drive-based navigation system with traffic, 6GB of internal storage for music, and a Logic7 Harman Kardon audio system. This cabin tech suite is very good, a must-have for the C63 AMG.
As it was, our test car's cabin tech was very similar to that in thewe reviewed earlier this year. The car still gets the COMAND system, consisting of an LCD on the center dash and a knob interface controller on the console. COMAND controls the stereo and phone system.
We like the old-time look of this radio tuner.
The COMAND interface gives radio tuning a nice treatment, showing an old-time tuner on the LCD, but no HD tuner without the upgraded cabin tech. The car also comes with satellite radio. The single-CD slot in the dashboard reads MP3 CDs, and the interface made it easy to browse through folders.
iPod integration comes with the Multimedia package, but is not standard in the car. Mercedes-Benz included its a-la-carte iPod adaptor in our car, but this system is a hack. Rather than show the music library on the LCD, where the car shows all other audio information, it uses the speedometer display.
The standard audio system uses eight speakers, but is inferior to the optional Harman Kardon system. Although better than an average six-speaker system, the sound was a bit hollow.
A Bluetooth phone system is also standard in the car, but without the Multimedia package, it is not very robust. Rather than downloading a phone's contact list, it requires contacts to be pushed to the car, something not all phones do.
Although we love driving this car, in some ways it is very primitive. It is no surprise that a big engine leads to lots of power but poor fuel economy. We would like to see Mercedes-Benz use some of the efficiency technologies coming in vogue, such as direct injection, to keep the power up but also deliver more miles per gallon. The C63 AMG earns points for its seven-speed transmission, which shows technical brilliance.
Our car certainly wasn't equipped with the cabin tech we would prefer, but as Mercedes-Benz does make the Multimedia package available, and we have used it, we give the car credit for the option. We also like the distinct design of the car, which manages to stand out as a Mercedes-Benz despite the fact that it fits in the midsize sedan class, one of the more uninspired segments on the road.
|Model||2010 Mercedes-Benz C--class|
|Power train||6.3-liter V-8|
|EPA fuel economy||12 mpg city/19 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||14.2 mpg|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Disc player||MP3-compatible single-CD|
|MP3 player support||iPod integration|
|Other digital audio||Onboard hard drive (with navigation option), USB port, satellite radio|
|Audio system||8-speaker standard, 5.1-channel Harmon Kardon optional|
|Driver aids||Rearview camera|
|Price as tested||$66,500|