There's a route I like to use for testing cars late at night. It's a mixture of bumpy and smooth surface streets as well as a few freeways, including on- and off-ramps, cloverleaf interchanges and long, straight shots to see how a car behaves at speed. These exploratory expeditions really let me get to know a car, and the late-night timing means there's very little traffic. With most vehicles, I make the run once and head home for the night. But cars like the 2020 Mercedes-AMG C63 S Coupe goad me into staying out longer.
Things get interesting from the moment you push the C63's engine start button and the 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V8 engine roars to life. Its low, rumbly exhaust note at idle lets you know that 503 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque are wide awake and ready to party. That's in the S model, anyway, which has a nice increase over the 469 hp and 479 lb-ft in the regular C63. AMG says the S can hit 60 mph in just 3.7 seconds and top out an electronically limited speed of 180 mph. The non-S is a tenth slower to 60 mph and tops out at 155.
Put the C63's engine to work and it doesn't take long to realize it's a special piece. It's muscle-car strong with thrust everywhere in the rev range. Peak torque arrives at just 1,750 rpm and it continues to pull hard to the 7,000-rpm redline, making fantastic sounds all the while.
Delivering power to the C63's rear wheels is a nine-speed dual-clutch transmission. With the car in Dynamic or Race modes, manually selecting gears using the metal steering wheel-mounted paddles is worth doing. Responses to shift commands are nearly immediate, which makes it easy to keep the engine boiling during acceleration and rapidly drop a cog or two while braking.
When you aren't wringing it out, the C63's drivetrain is happy to just chill with a Comfort setting. This dials things back some -- the power delivery isn't quite as hyperactive and the gearbox provides smooth launches and swaps. If you can keep your right foot in check, the EPA estimates a fuel economy return of 17 miles per gallon in the city and 26 mpg on the highway. Not too shabby considering the engine's output.
The C63 goes like hell and sounds the business doing so, but it's no lightweight, at 4,134 pounds. But you never feel that heft in motion. Every C63 S has adaptive dampers, a limited-slip differential, variable electromechanical steering and a mind-numbing number of traction and stability control settings to aid in its handling mission. My test car is armed with a couple of other optional goodies like staggered Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires (255/35ZR19 front, 285/30ZR20 rear) and carbon-ceramic brakes.
With the C63 in Sport Plus, the thing grips hard while rounding corners with the body staying nearly flat. The steering is direct, communicative and responsive, and the car goes exactly where you point it. The carbon brakes are strong, offering the right amount of initial bite and a progressive pedal behavior. Because of all that, the C63 feels much lighter and more tossable than its weight number might suggest.
It's happy to let the good times roll -- or slide, rather -- with defeatable stability control in the Pro or Master drive settings. In Basic or Advanced, however, the C63 kills sideways fun in a hurry. But you can totally dial it in to your preferred level of expertise. There are four stability modes, nine settings for traction control, four drivetrain options, three suspension modes and two exhaust programs to tinker with. It's a bit overkill; I'll just stick with the preprogrammed Comfort, Sport, Sport Plus and Race options.
The dynamic downside here is ride quality. Even in Comfort mode, the C63 is pretty rough, and you'll feel every road blemish. If you're willing to accept a firmer ride in exchange for higher cornering capabilities, you'll be fine.
Backing up performance are the C63's attractive looks. It's clean and curvy with some aggression mixed in by way of Mercedes' Panamericana grille. The vertical slat design makes for a great-looking front end, unlike the schnoz on the new BMW M4. My tester also has some other optional visual touches like the matte gray paint, carbon fiber bits, gloss black trim and five-spoke wheels with polished lips. All are tasteful and add to the coupe's handsome and sinister stance.
The cabin is also slick, with a stylish and intuitive layout built from high-quality materials. The dashboard and large portions of the door panels are wrapped in leather and nicely stitched together, and there's a smattering of brushed aluminum and carbon fiber trim breaking things up. It's light and airy thanks to the panoramic sunroof and the optional AMG Performance Seats boast lots of support without being uncomfortable. The 10.5 cubic feet of space in the trunk is serviceable, but the back seat isn't quite so accommodating.
Overseeing infotainment is Mercedes' tried-and-true COMAND system with a 10.2-inch center screen. Since there isn't a touchscreen, controlling the nice-sounding Burmester audio setup, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Bluetooth, optional navigation and AMG Track Pace data recorder primarily falls to the rotary controller on the console. Entering addresses into the navigation is a pain and the changing satellite radio stations takes a noticeable second, but COMAND remains an intuitive interface to operate. It can't compete with the modern MBUX tech, though.
On the driver-assistance technology front, the C63 gets forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring and attention assist standard. If you want things like adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, rear cross-traffic alert, head-up display, parking sensors or 360-degree camera, they are available as options.
As much as I like the optional wheels, gloss black and carbon fiber exterior parts, the added cost is steep. This car wears a hefty $106,440 price tag, including $995 for destination. I'd exercise a little more restraint for my ideal car, still splurging on some visual enhancements like a $2,020 Selenite Gray matte paint job and $900 carbon fiber interior trim. I'll also go for the $5,450 carbon ceramic brakes and $2,500 AMG performance seats to make it more trackworthy, and the $200 wireless charge pad is an added bit of convenience. All in, my perfectly spec'd AMG coupe rings in at $88,645, which isn't too high of a climb from the $78,495 base price.
Driving the C63 S is an experience that appeals to all the senses. It's got head-turning looks and wonderful V8 noises, and has a rawer personality than competitors like the Audi RS5, BMW M4 and Lexus RC F. The AMG is simply a more interesting and involving driver than the others, which makes me run my nighttime route over and over again. Who needs sleep, anyway?