2019 Mercedes-AMG C63 first drive review: Once more, with feeling
Bilster Berg is an absolute monster of a track. Nestled in a hilly pocket of Middle of Nowhere, Germany, the 2.6-mile race course is like a rollercoaster for cars. Its 19 turns are largely blind, with super quick elevation changes that challenge even the most skilled drivers. And in a sports car as ferocious as Mercedes' notoriously unhinged AMG C63, the experience is as delightful as it is terrifying.
Right from the start, the AMG C63 roars to life with a demeanor more Mustang GT350 than prim-and-proper Mercedes-Benz . The 4.0-liter biturbo V8 engine carries over unchanged for 2019, with 469 horsepower and 479 pound-feet of torque in its standard spec, or 503 horsepower and 516 pound-feet in S guise. It's still as grumbly and burbly as ever, with two levels of exhaust volume that really ought to just be branded "loud" and "louder."
The C63 eschews its seven-speed automatic transmission for 2019; in its place, there's a new nine-speed AMG Speedshift gearbox. This dual-clutch transmission uses a wet clutch design that allows for smoother starts without the need for a torque converter. Plus, with two additional ratios in its gear set, you'll likely enjoy a little bit better fuel economy, though official EPA data is still forthcoming.
You'll notice the tiniest bit of lag off the line, but when the C63 S' full 516 pound-feet smacks you at 2,000 rpm, there's no turning back. You'll be able to buy both versions of the C63 as a sedan, coupe or cabriolet in the US, and in S spec, all three will rocket to 60 miles per hour in under four seconds.
Bombing Bilster Berg
On track, the C63 S sedan and coupe are mostly indistinguishable from behind the wheel. The C63 S sedan has a roughly 200-pound weight advantage over the coupe, but the two-door has a slightly lower center of gravity. You'll notice small amounts of roll in both while cornering hard, but neither car really feels far and away superior to the other, even driven back to back. Both wag their tail a little if you mash the throttle from a standstill -- a good reminder that, while the majority of Mercedes' AMG models have moved to 4Matic all-wheel drive, the C63 retains a rear-drive setup.
In Sport mode with the traction control on, there's still enough playfulness that the C63 will slide its rump 'round a corner, the limited-slip differential making sure things don't get too out of hand. Opt for the S model and it'll come with the AMG Traction Control first used in the GT R coupe, with nine different levels of slip prevention.
The C63's thick-rimmed steering wheel feels great in my hand, with large, metal shift paddles that offer satisfying action while swapping cogs. The steering has a touch of on-center deadness that you really only notice on long straights (or, off track, on the highway), but there's no shortage of feedback or weight while hanging on during Bilster Berg's long, back sweeper, or knowing exactly where your wheels are on the deceptively tight, decreasing radius left-hander leading into the start/finish line.
C63 S models can be fitted with ceramic composite front brakes that offer incredible performance and no signs of fade after an afternoon of track time. Stopping power is strong and solid, with surefooted initial bite and progressive pedal response. The C63 will dive a little under heavy braking, and given the tail-happy nature, there isn't a lot of room for error should you brake too late going into a turn. But set the car up properly before turning in and you'll enjoy incredible grip from the Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires, with a little controllable slide as a devilish reward.
You could certainly track the C63 Cabriolet, as it comes with all the same performance prowess as its hardtop siblings. But on a warm summer day, I'd be remiss not to experience the droptop AMG along tree-lined winding roads, the roar of its V8 engine and crackling exhaust filling the cabin at full volume. There's no tangible performance loss by choosing the Cabriolet, and with its standard rear wind deflector and fantastic Airscarf neck-warming tech, it's a convertible you could live with year round.
Rambunctious as it is, the C63 is a car you could truly daily-drive without complaint. Leave it in Comfort mode and the beast settles down, the steel suspension offering a comfortable ride quality with enough compliance to negotiate broken pavement on rural German roads. Yet even in its most sedate setting, a simple kick of the throttle unleashes thrilling sensations while passing slowpokes or quickly pulling away from stoplights.
Comfort, to me, seems like a great baseline for the C63: Aggressive enough to never let you forget you bought the AMG, but not so overpowering that you feel like the car is constantly trying to get away from you. Move up to Sport and Sport+ modes for sharper throttle response and transmission programming that'll keep you in lower gears for longer periods of time. I can't really feel a discernible difference between these two modes along the hilly roads of northern Germany, but both feel wonderfully tuned for the sort of spirited back road blasting that the C63 does best. In its sporty drive modes with that incredible V8 leading the charge, the AMG C-Class is a more enjoyable steer than its Audi RS5 and BMW M4 rivals.
Toggle the Drive Select switch to Individual mode and you can choose your own adventure with separate adjustments for the powertrain, suspension and exhaust, as well as a new AMG Dynamics menu with Basic, Advanced, Pro and Master profiles that alter driving parameters like engine response and stability control. Finally, a new Slippery setting is best reserved for inclement weather, and Race mode, well, that one needs no explanation.
If I'm to register any real complaint about the AMG C63, it's that this myriad adjustability frankly feels like overkill. "We tried to spread the programs a little wider," a Mercedes-Benz product planner tells me, saying Comfort is supposedly more comfortable than before, and Sport a bit sportier. Still, the automaker knows its customers "won't use everything," but it would rather offer too much adjustability than not enough. "That," they say, "is always welcome."
Spot the differences
Despite serving as the mid-cycle refresh for the W205-generation C-Class, visual enhancements for 2019 are decidedly minor. Sure, you might be able to spot the slightly reshaped lighting elements or subtly tweaked front and rear valences, but I'll bet dollars to donuts the first thing you notice is the fitment of Mercedes' Panamericana grille. The vertical slat design is quickly spreading across AMG's entire lineup, and it looks absolutely killer on the C63.
Inside, the C63 gets the same updates as the rest of the 2019 C-Class range. That means you'll find a redesigned, flat-bottom steering wheel with thumbpad controllers for the instrument cluster and central infotainment display. The C63-specific wheel adds a dial in the lower right opening to control drive modes and the AMG Traction Control, as well as a pair of buttons on the left side for separate exhaust volume and suspension stiffness (yes, even more adjustability).
Like its AMG C43 counterpart, the C63 comes with a larger 10.25-inch infotainment screen atop the center stack. It still runs the old version of Mercedes' COMAND software, though Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, and the C63 gets the AMG Track Pace performance data app, too. Optional extras include navigation, a Wi-Fi hotspot and wireless phone charging, as well as a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster with reconfigurable displays.
If it ain't broke, don't fix it
Given how minor these updates really are, don't expect a huge price hike when the 2019 C63 models hit US showrooms early next year. Look for base C63 sedan and coupe MSRPs to start just below $70,000, with S models adding a few thousand more to that. The C63 Cabriolet, meanwhile, will start in the mid-$70,000 range, with the S cresting $80,000.
Really, Mercedes-Benz didn't have to move the needle too far to keep the AMG C63 at the top of its game. Whether on full track attack or blissfully cruising down through the countryside, the C63 provides an engaging, visceral experience -- just like it always has.
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