I like to imagine a scene. Sometime earlier this year, near the town of Affalterbach, Baden-Württemberg, Germany, near Stuttgart, a man named Alexander Kasarez readied himself for work, poured a cup of coffee to gird against the late-Winter chill, kissed his wife and tousled his children’s hair, and made his way to work at the Mercedes-AMG factory. Alexander spent this day like other days, meticulously assembling by hand an AMG motor, in this instance a 4.0-liter, twin-turbo V8, engine code number M177, his specific skills honed over many years of delicate craftsmanship in the name of mechanical precIsion and accuracy. At the end of the day, the motor, having been measured and tested and validated against Alexander’s exacting standards (and the quality control processes of Mercedes-AMG), was placed in a crate and labeled for shipment. But before that, just at the end of the process, Alexander placed a silver badge engraved with his signature on the engine cover, proudly marking that the engine had been handcrafted by him: One engine, one man, assembled by hand. At the end of his workday, Alexander perhaps stopped off for a stein of the local brew with his mates, before making his way home through the chilly German evening. It was a good day.
While the details of my imagined scene are likely way off, what I do know to be absolutely true is that the engine Alexander assembled made its way from Affalterbach all the way to Vance, Alabama, USA, where it was installed in the car you see here: A 2017 Mercedes-AMG C63 S Sedan.
(Many thanks to the fine folks at Mercedes of Kansas City for the extended test drive.)
AMG has always been the most organic of the German high-performance shops, the So-Cal Speed Shop of the Black Forest. Started in 1967 as a racing engine builder by former Mercedes engineers Hans-Werner Aufrecht and Erhard Melcher in an old mill in Burgstall an der Murr, Germany, AMG ultimately began building racing versions of Mercedes roadcars and eventually became the de facto “factory” tuner. In 2005, the relationship was made complete when Mercedes-Benz acquired AMG entirely, morphing them into the corporate brand structure. Unlike their brethren at BMW M and Audi Sport, however, AMG’s ambitions were always to build their own bespoke automobiles, and in 2010 they released their first official ground-up car, the gull-winged SLS, followed soon after by the slightly more accessible (though equally orgasmically appealing) AMG GT.
AMG's foundational recipe was simple: Take one refined and otherwise substantial and adult Mercedes-Benz sedan, bolt in the biggest, honkin’ist motor they could conjure, slap on some gussied-up suspension parts, add some subtle but aggressive visual accoutrements, and fire that sucker up. Tires? Hell, man, those are disposable parts of a car! And thus it has been, even after the corporate overlords moved into the AMG lunchroom, with even the dowdy G-wagon receiving the steroidal AMG treatment.
The C-class Sedan on which this particular AMG is based is an otherwise lovely, aspirational “mid-luxury” sedan, Mercedes’ answer to the BMW 3-Series, Audi A4, Lexus IS, Infiniti Q50, and Cadillac CTS. It’s a crowded segment, astoundingly competitive, with the perennial class-leading BMW setting the long-time benchmark for the others. Competition has improved the breed across the board, with each of these series of cars having qualities, performance, and technology unimaginable just ten years ago. The current-generation C-class (the W205 in the vernacular) arrived on the scene in 2014 and has spawned Sedan, Coupe, and Cabriolet (aka Convertible) versions in the US (with the Wagon sadly unavailable domestically).
The top-shelf C63 S has a base price of $72,800, but the car you see here was loaded up with all manner of goodies, some essential, some perhaps not so, and will set the greedy buyer back $93,290. It's a lot of cheese but such is the cost for competing at the high-end of this class. Contributing to the cost inflation are the AMG Performance Exhaust System, Panorama Roof, AMG Performance Seats, delicious black cross-spoke forged wheels, and several other electronic and visual packages. The seats are a bargain at $2500 (more on those later), and $975 for the luscious designo™ Cardinal Red Metallic paint, the color of Vatican sin, is worth every penny. (This may be my favorite red hue on the market today.)
The C63 S Sedan exemplifies the brutalist approach to performance long expounded by AMG. While the design of the non-AMG C-class versions is elegant and mature, if perhaps a tad conservative, the C63 S has beefed up just enough to make a passerby notice: Hey, there’s something different about THAT one. AMG broadened the car's stance front and rear, installed a menacing front fascia to slurp air into the intercoolers, and tweaked other surfaces just enough to give the car a vaguely menacing air. It’s a subtle sort of violent intent, the Ray Donovan of performance sedans.
As with all things AMG, the car's personality starts with the motor. Mr. Kasarez’s engine is a 4.0-liter V8 Biturbo, which makes 503-hp at 6250 RPM and 516-lb/ft of torque at a loafing 1750 RPM. Turn the key and fire it up; it’s not subtle. The exhaust note begins as sonorous and burbling, almost reserved, but then utterly explodes under acceleration. The note is organic and raw, like walking in a prairie outside of Bozeman and accidentally stepping on a sleeping bison’s tail. You won’t forget the sound. When the final chapter is written on the internal combustion engine in fewer number of years than most of us thought possible (I’m guessing ten to fifteen), it’s the sound of engines like these that will be most missed. (And massive kudos to Mercedes-AMG for resisting the piped-in sound nonsense found in the M-cars from BMW). All that grunt propels the C63 S from 0 to 60mph in 3.9 seconds, bettering its arch rival from down Munich way (the BMW M3 DCT Competition Pack) by a tenth of a second. So bragging rights go to the Merc. I doubt that’s coincidental.
Power is transmitted to the rear wheels through a 7-speed, dual-clutch automatic with a manual shifting mode, which comes standard with launch-control for those brave enough to give it a try (and for those who could care less about the long-term maintenance prospects of this key piece of the drivetrain). The transmission architecture is as unique as the hand-built motor, with the automatic gearbox forgoing the traditional torque converter for a multi-clutch pack, the idea being to combine the best attributes of a torque-converter automatic and a dual-clutch manual. Shifts are crisp and quick and set a standard for autoboxes that others in the field (such as the Cadillac CTS-V) should emulate. But the C63 S still doesn’t rip off upshifts and downshifts as quickly and cleanly as the true double-clutch transmission in the BMW M3/M4. Mercedes could remedy that performance gap easily since they have a dynamite double-clutch 7-speed in their own parts box, which they install in the AMG GT. But their choice to go this route doesn’t disappoint; shifts are flawless and smooth, gentle and seamless when loafing around town in typical driving and equally aggressive when you want them to be. It’s the best automatic transmission I’ve ever driven, full stop.
All of the engine’s power makes its way through an electronically controlled limited-slip differential to the rear wheels of the car. The C63 S (and it’s slightly tamer sibling, the C63) forgoes the AWD system in most AMG models for good ol' rear-wheel drive. AMG’s decision to put this much power and torque through only the rear wheels means that the careless (or carefree) driver is never far from having the back tires break away, the rear of the car swaying hither and yon in the most amusing manner. And thus, it requires some thought and careful throttle application to get the most out of the C63 S, and for that I stand up and give Mercedes-AMG a hearty and heartfelt… <slow clap>. All that power is channeled through fetching AMG-specific 19” wheels shod in Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires, which generate a true cacophony of tire noise on pretty much any pavement. It’s a small blemish on the otherwise pitch-perfect suspension tuning, but it does serve to constantly remind the driver of the forces flowing through the contact patches.
Handling is largely neutral and predictable, the aforementioned ease of breaking the rear-end loose notwithstanding, and it’s a simple task to get the car up on its toes to sample it’s moves. For such a heavy car (pushing 4000 lbs), the C63 S handles its mass with ease, with gobs of front-end grip and little body roll to ruin the tippytoes-feel of the car dancing under speed. AMG’s three-mode electronically-controlled suspension allows the driver to choose damping levels ranging from firm to track-harsh, but even the “softest” firm setting (oxymoron alert!) is pleasant and comfy for around town daily driving. The steering itself is nicely weighted and gently talkative, with no dead-spots in feel even when the wheel is centered.
Inside, Mercedes has clearly decided to overcompensate for its stodgy interiors of yore. The C63 S builds on Mercedes’ modern nautical design motif, with a wide and high center console trimmed with elegant brushed aluminum for all vents and knobs and switches. It’s a cozy cockpit that provides a sense of intimacy and isolation while also exuding absolute quality. Every material surface is first-rate, and the tactile quality of switchgear matches anything from industry-leader Audi. The central screen for the COMAND vehicle control system is bright, easy to navigate, and straightforward. I still find the BMW iDrive system the industry leader in terms of vehicle interfaces, but Mercedes has closed the gap significantly.
Another glorious old-school detail for those who have had to listen to me rant about modern cars with no specific place to store the key fob: In this car, and indeed all C-class cars, you can actually stick the fob into a dashboard receptacle and twist your wrist to start the car. Nostalgia! Sometimes, it’s the little things…
One small nit: The gear shifter is a simple, plastic stalk on the right side of the steering column, which demands all the delicacy of chopsticks to manipulate. This unremarkable little appendage is entirely at odds with the Sword of Damocles power summoned when you put the car in gear. Hey, Mercedes, how about giving your friendly hooligan a friggin’ proper gear lever on the console or something?
One other small nit: The rear-view mirrors are too small in the car, so you’ll quickly learn to lean on the electronic blind-spot indicators built into the mirror frames. No matter, though, since you’ll typically be coming up on cars from behind anyway, given the intended use-case of this animal.
But the seats! The optional AMG Performance Seats are absolutely magical, my new favorite seats in any car I’ve driven in the past two years. Not only do they look fabulous and have a Chinese menu’s worth of adjustments, but they’re bolstered and cushioned in Goldilocks fashion, allowing no gluteal sliding while remaining comfortable over longer distances. If you order a C63 S, get these seats. Just trust me on this.
The downside of a car with this much power, and a platform that encourages using it, is fuel economy. While the EPA figures on the Monroney claim 18mpg City and 24 highway for a combined average of 20mpg, let me just stress that, well, your mileage may vary. The C63 S drinks gas like a like a drunk on a bender, like a parched cactus during monsoon season, like a greyhound after a long night at the track, like…you get the idea. How this car escaped a “gas guzzler” tax from the regulators can only be explained by graft and backroom deals. I swear I actually saw the gas gauge needle move towards E under hard acceleration. You’ve been warned.
The C63 S makes the best argument yet for NOT plunking down your ninety grand on a fully-loaded BMW M3. In fact, I’m happy to admit I’m rather smitten by the car, it’s sharp-edged combination of brutal strength, cosseting luxury, and subtle aesthetics making an appealing and convincing case for being the best 4-door sports sedan on the market.
All of Mercedes-AMG should be rightly proud of this car. And to Alexander Kasarez especially, I say: Job well-done.