► Quickest AMG C63 yet
► New 'box and driver aids
► Accessible sideways silliness
Affalterbach sells more C63 Coupes than any other bodystyle over here in the UK, with 47% of buyers plumping for the tin-top two-door. Of those, the majority are hotter S models, whereas Saloon and Estate buyers go for lower-spec (and power) standard models.
And rightly so, frankly, because its wider rear track makes Coupe the most focused drivers’ car of the lot. Sure, an estate with a 4.0-litre hot-vee turbo motor is a wonderful thing to behold, but its handling simply isn’t as engaging.
Now, following a mid-life facelift the rest of the C-Class range recently enjoyed, there’s an updated version for CAR to get its hands on. The subtle exterior tweaks – front and rear bumper changes, exhaust trims, new wheel designs; so minor they’re almost imperceptible – belie far more extensive upgrades under the skin.
There’s a new nine-ratio automatic gearbox, evocatively named AMG Speedshift MCT 9G, to replace the ponderous old seven-speed ‘box found in pre-facelift cars. Engine output remains the same, however. But to better harness that explosive performance, a set of new electrical handling aids are thrown in.
We went out to the Bilster Berg drive resort in northern Germany – a custom-built non-FIA circuit with huge elevation change, very little run-off and some seriously challenging corners – and the surrounding country roads to try out the tweaks.
What’s the new Mercedes-AMG C63 S Coupe like on the road?
Out onto the public roads first and our primary focus was testing the new gearbox. Is nine speeds too many for a motor that spins with so much ferocity? Work’s been done to mitigate: with a kickdown the ‘box will jump ratios (also possible in manual mode if you pull the left paddle for more than a fraction of a second) so you can leap down from seventh to fourth, or fifth to second, dropping you higher in the rev range far quicker than would be possible with the outgoing one.
The extra ratios in the gearbox seemed of less use as we dialled up the speed, however. The engine’s rampant performance means it’s got a lot of work to do, and this resulted in an extremely busy experience, especially using the paddleshifters in Manual mode. It’s smooth and quick to shift, sure, but you’d only notice the difference driven back-to-back with a pre-facelift car.
That isn’t to say it’s a bad gearbox, though – just that we don’t think it moves the game on in a big way from a driver’s perspective. It simply means better emissions and fuel economy.
It does have a startup clutch bathed in oil to allow full performance from a standstill, which hints this is a car built to be driven hard.
We were happy to oblige, because the C63 is an easy car to get to grips with. The handling’s been softened off a little via revised bushings, and it feels friendlier than ever at all speeds. The excellent adaptive steel suspension helps, doing a great job of putting clear air between Comfort and the livelier modes on offer: Sport, Sport+ and Race.
We found Sport to be fine on the roads around the Bilster Berg circuit, but every now and then a sharper bump reverberated through the car to remind us it may be a little firm for the UK’s poor road surfaces.
Thankfully you’re able to decouple many of the C63’s drive characteristics – steering weight, damping, exhaust volume, engine and gearbox responses along with torque-vectoring – from one another so you can set up your own ideal configuration in Individual mode.
Just add steel
You notice this is no air-sprung suspension thanks to the body control the C-AMG exhibits. An E63 is a far less composed machine driven quickly on-road, whereas you’ve got full confidence that you know exactly what’s going to happen in the C63. There’s less of the unsettled ride that air often creates.
It’s quick to change direction too, despite being 20kg heavier than the out-going car, and while the steering doesn’t have the sort of feedback we miss from old hydraulic setups, it’s chatty enough and endowed with sufficient heft to help the driver feel properly engaged.
But as with many cars of this sort of performance nowadays, to explore everything the new C63 has to offer in relative safety you’ll need to head out onto a race track. So that’s what we did next…
Driven: Mercedes-AMG C63 S Coupe on track
This was our chance to look at the myriad modes on offer that affect the 2018 C63’s handling. There are four settings available for AMG Dynamics, which allegedly offers torque-vectoring assistance according to the driver’s selection. Choose between Basic (assigned to Slippery and Comfort modes), Advanced (for Sport mode), Pro (for Sport+) and Master (only available on C63 S), which is linked to the Race mode only and set up for ‘mild oversteer’. Sounds ideal. Let’s get cracking.
To engage Master mode – and why on earth would you pick anything else for circuit driving – turn the drive mode dial to Race using the new rotary selector on the steering wheel. Then you’ll need to switch the stability control to Sport handling mode via the switch on the bottom left of that new wheel or hold it down to turn it off altogether. Still with us?
Master configuration prompts the electrically controlled slippy diff to factor mild oversteer into the 63’s character while also nibbling torque to the inner wheel mid-corner for tighter lines – which in effect makes for a more agile drive.
Race-spec traction control
And C63 S models now get the sophisticated traction control system from the AMG GTR, which has nine stages of slip selectable via the rotary dial on the steering wheel that also controls drive modes.
We tested all of them, and the main takeaway was that the intervention is so subtle you’re never really sure when it’s working if it weren’t for a logo flashing on the dash. We found on circuit that stage seven made for a seriously engaging but not-too-wild drive, with judicious application of a quarter of a turn of opposite lock all that was needed to get that rear end back in check.
Turning up to eight had the S feeling far more tail-happy, and in this mode we were able to initiate and maintain slides lasting a good few seconds; but when the angle of attack gets too much the car will subtly wind things back in before you head off in a 360-degree embarrassment of tyre smoke.
Level nine switches off the traction control altogether, so you’re fully in control of your own fate. You’ll need to be awake here, because the Coupe’s softer rear end and wider track means it breaks away quickly, albeit predictably and without much malice.
The slides are easy to catch in the top three settings, but they’re even easier to initiate once you get your head around the C63’s handling under braking. It feels like an old racing car in this respect thanks to the lack of stability control, and the torque vectoring will deliver quite considerable oversteer if you miss a braking point and go too deep into a corner. Intentionally or otherwise…
It doesn’t suffer fools gladly in maximum attack mode, the S, but thankfully it’s so beautifully engaging with the safety stuff still working and set to your personal preference that you won’t ever really need to go that far.
The update for the C63 S Coupe adds useful driver assistance to a car we already rated. There’s something unashamedly appealing about tweaking the nine stages of rear-end slip depending on the next corner you’re going to tackle, and the torque vectoring does a non-intrusively decent job of tightening lines where necessary. The drive feels natural despite these additions.
Its new nine-speed ‘box doesn’t set the world alight in terms of technological advancement, however. But perhaps the fact that it’s no worse than the out-going seven-speed and still makes for efficiency gains should be applauded regardless.
The reality is that for the driver, the C63 S Coupe is better than ever.
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