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At first glance, this 2018 Mercedes-AMG C63 S sedan doesn't look stand out that much compared to your average C Class. While its rivals have received progressively more outlandish styling updates, Merc has decided to keep its most hardcore C sedan looking fairly understated. It's a move that seems to say, "this car is for me, not the gawkers at curbside." I dig that.
But just as fashionistas can tell a a tailored designer label from an off-the-rack suit, enthusiasts will immediately know the difference between this handcrafted AMG and the C300 parked nearby. They will recognize the unique front and rear bumper, the "V8 Biturbo" badges and 19-inch wheels that fill the arches. They'll see the slightly more athletic ride height and hear the exhaust's burble and know that this car is something special.
Let's start by diving right into the engine bay where you'll find a hand-built and signed 4.0-liter biturbo V8 AMG engine on display. There's very little in the way of plastic engine cover here, and you can see the "hot inside V" turbochargers plainly between the two cylinder banks. The C63 makes 469 horsepower and 479 pound-feet of torque, but our C63 S has been massaged and re-tuned to deliver 503 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque from the same power plant.
That juice flows to the rear wheels through a 7-speed multiclutch automatic transmission (MCT). This gearbox operates mostly like a conventional automatic transmission but uses a wet startup clutch instead of a torque converter for improved performance and efficiency. The advantage is that it can fire off 0.1-second upshifts and rev-matched downshifts in its manual mode, launch harder than a torque converter automatic could and handle more torque than a dual-clutch transmission.
The driver controls the attitude of the C63 S and its AMG heart with a Dynamic Select wheel on the center console which toggles between Comfort, Sport, Sport+ and Race modes. Each setting adjusts the performance of the throttle response, transmission programming, suspension damper firmness, and traction control. Our example was also equipped with an AMG Performance exhaust that gets louder and less restrictive in the Sport and Race modes. Of course, each of these systems can also be individually adjusted with buttons also found on the center console.
Beneath the subdued look is a suspension that's firmer, a wheel track that's wider for better stability in turns and tires that are wider and stickier than those on non-AMG C Class models.
Zero-to-60 mph happens in just 3.9 seconds for the C63 S (or 4.0 in the C63) with a top speed of 180 mph (just 155 for the C63). Aiding drivers in reaching those times is a Race Start launch control system that's almost too easy to activate. Just put the car into Sport+ or Race mode and grab both paddles shifters for a moment to activate Race Start. Then just plant the brake pedal, matt the throttle and release the brake for maximum acceleration.
500-plus ponies at the rear wheels on damp and twisty roads can be scary in a car like the Shelby GT350, but the C63 S isn't scary at all. It goes about the matter of speed in a most business-like manner with tons of grip, excellent steering feel that's never too busy and throttle responsiveness and power delivery that never seems to let up. There's a fantastic roar that comes from the exhaust, but none of the crackle and pop that you'd get from, say, Jaguar's 5.0-liter V8. The C63 S is a serious car for serious drivers. This is the sort of car that makes whipping up a mountain road at almost double the speed limit feel like just another day at the office.
That's not to say it can't cut loose and have a bit of fun, just that the sport sedan's performance limits are so generous that it takes a deliberate effort to, say, break the rear wheels a little loose in a corner and preferably the safety of a race track to push the C63 S to lose its composure. Fortunately, AMG has seen fit to equip the sedan with big 14.2 inch performance disc brakes all-around -- and larger 15.4-inch front stoppers on the C63 S -- which should be able to handle the demands of closed-course driving.
However, most of my days with the C63 S were spent around town and in commuter traffic.
The C Class chassis also makes for a very comfortable daily driver; just pop its Dynamic Select switch into the Comfort mode and feel the AMG Ride Control suspension settle into its softest setting, the optional AMG Performance exhaust quiet down, and the 7-speed automatic transmission relax. The V8 biturbo engine, which can be quite ferocious at speed, still feels effortlessly athletic on the interstate. The sedan prowled the busy streets around Roadshow's San Francisco HQ like a lion on a stroll, with its deep growl hinting at its power.
You'll probably want to disable the stop-start system under most conditions. The system stops the engine when idling -- say, at a traffic light -- to save fuel. And while it fires the engine up instantly when I lifted from the brake pedal, it seemed to take ages to actually re-engage the transmission and start delivering power when I reached the gas pedal. I get the feeling that Mercedes has smoothed over the MCT's engagement to keep the V8 from jerking the sedan during the stop-to-start transition, but it mostly just left me with an inconsistent accelerator pedal feel around town. Fortunately, the system is easy to toggle off with just a single button press.
Driven in a relaxed manner, the C63 S will deliver 20 combined mpg (or 18 city and 24 highway mpg) which is on par with the likes of the Alfa Romeo Giulia and the BMW M3 which use smaller 2.9L and 3.0L turbocharged V6 engines, respectively.
Along the way, I was treated to a well appointed cabin with with black Nappa leather trim, an AMG carbon-fiber dashboard, silver metallic accents and gorgeous saddle brown quilted Nappa leather seats. The exterior design is extremely understated, but the interior of the C63 S just pops in the best possible ways.
Now this is "just a C Class" and its AMG sport focus somewhat limits the creature comforts available, so don't expect massage seats. However, I was pleased to find Benz's color ambient lighting and cabin fragrance systems on the options list, as well as a host of more useful creature comforts like hands-free trunk access with power closing and a tasty Burmester premium audio system that looks almost as good as it sounds.
The dashboard is where I start to run into a few hangups. The C Class continues to use an older generation of Benz's COMAND infotainment. I've a number of issues with this system: My biggest gripe is with the awkward three-tier menu system on every screen that is confusing to use, poorly organized and makes even the large 8.4-inch display seem cramped and cluttered. I'm also not a huge fan of the COMAND touchpad controller, which never really felt natural.
The voice command is quite good, allowing me to use fairly natural language to input addresses or destinations, and the onboard maps are quickly and crisply rendered. The "Dynamic Route Guidance" navigation would often send me into a surface road traffic jam while trying to avoid highway congestion, but it's no worse than most OEM traffic software.
Mostly, though, I found it disappointing to go back to using this setup after experiencing the much-improved newer generation found in the S Class and the upcoming MBUX system at CES this year. I'm not sure when the C Class is due for its next refresh, but I'm hoping we see better tech as part of a midcycle upgrade sooner than the next generation, which may not be here until 2021 if previous generations are any indicator.
One final cabin tech oddity is one of packaging. You can get the C63 with either the aforementioned navigation system (a $2,200 package) or check a different box to get Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity for $300, but it doesn't appear that you can have both. It's a weird choice to have to make, especially in households where one driver loves smartphone integration and the other just wants to use onboard maps, but I think the less-expensive option is the better choice for this generation.
This AMG version of the C Class doesn't trade any of its available safety tech in the pursuit of performance. You can still spec all of the driver aid features available to the sedan ranging from the AMG head-up display to the wealth of advanced driver aid systems (ADAS).
The standard loadout includes active LED headlamps with automatic high beams, driver-attention monitoring, blind-spot monitoring, rear-view camera, crosswind assist and precollision alert systems, but a single $2,250 Driver Assistance Package adds most of the available ADAS in one go. It's a pricey package, but it totally transforms the daily driving experience with features that boost safety like pedestrian-sensing forward collision alert with automatic braking, a rear-collision safety system, lane-keeping assist steering and more. The blind-spot monitoring system gets smarter with steering assist to avoid collisions and rear cross-traffic braking assist when reversing.
The package also makes commuting easier and more relaxing with adaptive cruise control that works on the highway and in stop-and-go traffic with low-speed steering assist.
Another $1,090 checkbox adds a surround-view camera system and Benz's Parktronic semi-autonomous parking assist, which can automatically steer the car into a parallel parking spot at the touch of a button. Mercedes' interface for this system isn't as intuitive as I'd like, but it's a worthy addition for nervous parkers and urban dwellers who want to avoid curb-rashing those $1,250 19-inch AMG forged wheels.
The 469-horsepower 2018 Mercedes-AMG C63 Sedan starts at $66,100, while the more potent 503-horsepower AMG C63 S Sedan goes for $73,700 before a $995 destination charge. With options and packages, our example had an as-tested price of $90,500.
Too rich for your blood? Well, Benz also offers the still pretty sweet 362-horsepower C43 sedan, but for the money, the C63 S is a pretty awesome ride. It's powerful and composed under pressure, but also comfortable and relaxing on a commute. The exterior design is probably the most understated in its class, which is a strong positive for those weary of overly aggressive designs like that of the Lexus IS-F. And it's a smart car that can be loaded up with intelligent driver aid tech. If not for the frustrating dashboard tech, which just has to be updated soon, and the awkward stop-start fuel-saver system, the C63 S would be a near-perfect sport sedan.
But it's not alone at the top. BMW's M3 sedan is perhaps the C63's most fierce rival offering a slightly different, more nimble performance and comfort balance. Cadillac's ATS-V is also a favorite recommendation of mine for drivers more concerned with lap times than commuter comfort. Meanwhile, upstarts like the Alfa Romeo Giulia and (don't laugh) Kia's