“It’s about great cars on great roads.” The late David E. Davis, Jr., said this of Winding Road when he took the reins as editor-in-chief in 2006. Our mission at that magazine was to not just review cars, but to describe the emotional experience of piloting brilliant machines down beautiful roads. “The art of driving,” per David E.
This all comes flooding back into my mind as I pull out of a Shell station onto Angeles Crest Highway, just south of the 210 freeway in La Cañada Flintridge, CA. I’m in the 2015 Mercedes-AMG C63 S. I’ve got a full tank of fuel, the whole day to myself, and I’m staring down one of the finest driving roads in the country.
Prior to this moment, I spent two days bombing around the greater Los Angeles area in this sinister-looking C63 S. This car is a villain, and looks appropriately so in black paint with the $750 AMG Exterior Night Styling pack. The C-Class as a whole is far more upscale in this latest generation, with its long hood, cab-rearward design, and short rear deck. “Baby S-Class” is not an exaggeration. Thankfully, the addition of AMG bits don’t detract from the new C’s more premium aura. Where a BMW M3 just looks like a brash 3 Series, the C63 is more like a C400 with a trick up its sleeve.Start the engine, and there’s no question you’re blessed with the power of AMG. Any worries I had about the new, twin-turbocharged, 4.0-liter V8 not providing enough aural delight are gone, especially with the $1,250 AMG Performance Exhaust. At start-up there’s a low, burbly sound quality, typical of a V8. At full throttle, it’s loud, angry, and passionate. I will always miss the naturally aspirated, 6.2-liter M156 V8 from the last C63, not only for its noise, but for its character. That said, I eagerly welcome Mercedes’ new turbocharged techniques. The 4.0-liter V8 is an exceptional engine.
In C63 S guise, the M178 lump makes 503 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque, the latter of which comes on in full force as low as 1,750 rpm. That’s a ton of power for the 3,935-pound C63. But it never feels like there’s too much to handle. Power comes on progressively, and when I mash the throttle on a straight stretch of pavement, the car is composed and controlled. And quick. Seriously quick. Zero-to-sixty-in-under-four-seconds quick.
The balance between viciousness and grace is perfectly met in this new C63. Whereas the outgoing car was a tail-happy banshee at times, the new model is a professional, poised beast that only breaks with sanity when thoroughly provoked.Really, the C63 S is whatever I want it to be, thanks to the AMG Dynamic Select functionality. In Comfort mode, the car is quiet, subdued, and a perfect gentleman around town. In Sport and Sport+ settings, it’s a more visceral statement of enthusiasm. In Race mode, it feels like there is nothing this car cannot do. The fifth, Individual mode lets me pick and choose my preferences from the entire suite of tuning. Throttle response, shift programming, traction control, and exhaust sound can all be controlled here. My only wish is that the car would stay in its last-selected mode upon start-up instead of defaulting to Comfort each time.
Never mind, a quick toggle of the dynamic selector puts me in Sport+ as I head down Angeles Crest Highway. The engine is on full boil. The transmission is left to its own devices. Stability control is fully intact – there’s no need to deactivate this on public roads. And of course, the performance exhaust is switched on, meaning the engine is singing its loudest song.
With each bend in the pavement, I’m carrying more and more speed, braking later, turning quicker. The car stays flat through corners, and the ride quality is sensational. Even with the traction control fully enabled, the AMG electronic limited-slip rear differential allows enough flexibility for quick moments of slip. The rear end rotates around tight turns, but there’s exactly zero drama as I stomp the throttle and power out of each corner. The steering is direct and instantly responsive, with a thick-rimmed wheel that’s a joy to work. I’d like a bit more feeling on-center; still, the car changes direction with immediacy. The massive, 15.4-inch front brake rotors and six-piston fixed calipers claw into the pavement and stop with urgency, but never feel grabby during short bursts of scrubbing off speed before entering a turn.
Sport+ mode strikes the best balance of performance and civility for canyon carving. I switch the transmission to full manual mode, working the seven-speed, dual-clutch gearbox with the thick, steering wheel-mounted paddles. Upshifts fire off with a quick snap of the paddle. Downshifts are just as precise. But because the engine’s 516 pound-feet of torque is available so low in the rev range, you can run in higher gears and still have adequate power. After a short stint of manual shifting, I switch back to automatic. The AMG Speedshift ‘box is a smart companion, and good enough that I trust it to do exactly what I
After many, many miles, I stop critiquing any facet of the C63 S’ driving experience and succumb to the euphoria of driving a great car on a great road. Angeles Crest never stops giving you more of what you want. And when you run out of road, you turn around and do it all over again. I’ve driven this highway in many cars, but none as good as the C63. This sedan feels like it’s been tuned specifically to my specifications. And I never want to stop driving.
Aiding in the driving enjoyment, the car’s AMG sport seats are supportive and comfortable. Beyond that, every last surface in the cabin is exquisite. I could do without the swaths of carbon fiber trim, as well as the brothel-spec red-and-black color scheme, though it does drive home the more aggressive nature of this C63 S. The sedan’s exterior styling is relatively subdued, and I’d personally prefer an interior that speaks to the same levels of discretion.
I’m not a fan of the touchpad functionality for Mercedes’ updated COMAND infotainment system, but it’s easily worked around with the same large, rotary knob as before. Still, all of the necessary functionality is there, with a head-up display that projects important information right in the driver’s line of sight. The Burmester surround sound system is quite good, as well – should you decide to exercise some restraint and not have the exhaust turned up to 11, of course.
What’s best about the C63 is how it excels at being two cars at once. On one hand, it’s the same luxurious, poised W205 C-Class that’s now the standard for excellence in its segment. On the other hand, it’s a full-bodied AMG stunner – powerful, menacing, and absolutely delightful. It’s more refined than its predecessor, and that’s not a bad thing. It packs all of the necessary AMG punch in a package that’s far easier to live with day to day.
At $72,825, including $925 for destination, a C63 S is nearly $10,000 more expensive than a base BMW M3. But it’s got 78 more horsepower, more standard equipment, and it’s much better to drive – frankly, I’m not in love with this latest round of BMW M cars. And of course, there’s also the non-S C63, which still gives you 469 hp for $64,825 in the same svelte package.
The C63 S is a great car. That part is obvious. More importantly, it’s an injection of raw emotion for driving enthusiasts. It is a reminder that the art of driving is alive and well, and that it exists in a truly exquisite form.