So this is Merc’s answer to the new BMW M3...
Got it. Hot C's have long been part of Mercedes' line-up, but none has had us quite as excited as this, the C63 which as the name suggests, gets the big 6.3-litre V8 from the car right at the top of Merc's range, the CL63. It’s worth pointing out that while Audi and BMW have only just got around to slotting V8s under their cars’ bonnets, Merc has been at it for years starting with the C43 back in 1997. The C63 doesn’t go on sale in the UK until mid-2008, but when it gets here it will only have the M3 to beat as its other obvious rival, the Audi RS4, is about to die and won’t be replaced until 2009.
How will I spot it?
Try the flared wheelarches, new front and rear bumpers, quad exhausts, twin bonnet powerdomes, rear diffuser or wing vents. And if you get close enough, peek through the window at the unusual sports seats that look like they came out of an ’80s 911, the leather-wrapped wheel, rubber-studded aluminium pedals and SLR-style silver instruments that look great but aren’t that easy to read. Any way you look at it, this isn’t your usual sobre-suited Merc.
So run me through the highlights
That 6.3-litre V8 is the same one you’ll find in the CL63 but detuned slightly to deliver 451bhp and 443lb ft of torque. So it trumps the new M3 to the tune of 37bhp and a gigantic 148lb ft. It drives through a tweaked version of Merc’s seven-speed auto with three modes: Comfort (typically Merc smooth upshifts, reluctant downshifts), Sport (30 percent quicker shifts, blips on the way down) and Manual, which swaps ratios in half the time needed in Comfort mode.
So it's not slow then?
Not unless your regular car is a top fuel dragster. The new M3 does 62mph in 4.8sec but Merc says the C63 will hit the same benchmark in 4.5sec, so reckon on nearer 4.0sec dead to 60mph. And even that doesn’t fully illustrate how rapid the C63 feels, particularly above 100mph. Any gearbox snobs out there need to know that the auto ’box works really well, Sport mode being enough for day-to-day stuff and manual the right tool for when you really want to have some fun.
But it’s whipped in the bends, right?
Wrong. Unlike some rival cars the C63 comes with no buttons to change steering or suspension settings, although if you think the standard car isn’t going to be hardcore enough or expect to be doing a lot of track work, you can specify tauter suspension, bigger brakes and wide 19-inch tyres when you place your order. But even the standard 18-inch wheel car is a delight. With ESP set in Sport mode, every deviation from the straight-ahead as you turn the wheel results in a three-way conference call between accelerator, throttle and rear suspension. The steering retains the standard car’s 13.5:1 ratio but the rack is repositioned, the front track is 35mm wider and the brakes are serious: six pots up front, four pots at the back and full of feel. Switch ESP out altogether and it’s an absolute riot. The RS4 doesn’t really do oversteer, at least not in the dry, and the M3 needs more provocation than before to perform. But the C63 has the torque and balance to let you play all day, if sliding is your thing.
It’s sounding like a full five-star car
Factor in the expected £50k price and, yes, it looks like the C63 has it all sewn up. But there is a niggle and it’s to do with the way the C63 deals with lumps and bumps. Traditional Merc customers won’t like it. Even the M3 rides better. While it’s easy to get carried away applauding Mercedes for not fitting gimmicky buttons to change the suspension sittings, Porsche proved with PASM on the GT3 and RS just how useful such systems can be. It's the one chink in the Merc's armour.
The C63 is a great car – and for all sorts of reasons we weren’t expecting. It’s agile, has great brakes and steering, the auto gearbox works well and it’s even good value for money. On top of that it’s blisteringly quick, but then you knew that already. This is an AMG you need make no excuses for and it could just be the best sports saloon on sale. We'll be hunting down a group test with its rivals soon to deliver the definitive verdict on that one...