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    Top Gear Review : C63 AMG

    Mercedes C63 AMG

    This car is a V8-powered dump of rain on the new BMW M3's parade. Mercedes held a driving event for four European journalists at Paul Ricard circuit in the south of France at the same time as the rest of the world's media were down the coast in Spain, driving the new M3.

    Tom Ford tells that story in his blog, and - in precisely the way Mercedes planned it - I'm telling you about the C63 AMG here. Bitter rivalry? About as bitter as it gets.

    We weren't given final production C63 AMGs to drive, because the launch proper will happen at the Frankfurt motor show in September, and there are still a few bugs for Mercedes to iron out. But they were close, and despite hundreds of laps of the Nürburgring, seemed tight and rattle-free.

    Expect this most extreme version of Mercedes' new C-Class to be priced line-ball with the M3 at around Pounds50,000. The C63 comes in two forms - standard and Performance Pack. The PP option will add about Pounds4,000 and includes a higher-set speed restrictor, up from 155mph to 174mph. PP cars also get stiffer, lowered suspension, thicker anti-roll bars and a limited slip differential.

    It's a track-going version, then, with a harder ride. I thrashed the living hell out of the PP at Paul Ricard, and drove the standard car more sedately on the roads around Le Castellet. I can tell you now, I wouldn't hesitate in opting for the Performance Pack. More on that later.

    First, some numbers. This is the same 6.2-litre, normally aspirated V8 we've enjoyed in other monster Mercs, including the CL63 AMG.

    In this level of tune, it develops 457bhp, comfortably eclipsing the new M3's 420bhp. Called the M156, it's tunable to 580bhp with relative ease, and AMG engineers describe it as 'unstressed' at 457bhp. This is one the world's great engines.

    It's worth noting that it develops its max power at 6,800rpm and revs to well over 7,000rpm. So it's packed with high-tech stuff, like variable cams, magnesium intake manifolds, aluminium crank case, clever valves and tappets, expensive low-friction coating on the cylinders and other expensive things, and it's also blessed with 6208cc's of bigness - 443lb ft of torque kicks in at 5,000rpm.

    Again, that seems a high rev point, but a minimum of 370lb ft is available from 2,000rpm all the way through to 6,250rpm. That's cubic capacity for you. Get the picture? Revvy AND big. In a smallish, rear-drive saloon weighing 1,730kg. The noise is fantastic, too. If you've heard the safety car at F1 races, then you'll know all about its big-chested V8 roar.

    And here are two more numbers before we get behind the wheel - according to official weights from BMW and Mercedes, the AMG engine weighs 199kg, compared to 202kg for the M3's four-litre V8. So it's light for its size.

    It's all down to the influence of Bernd Rammler, the engine's creator. His CV isn't too shoddy - he designed the Porsche Carrera GT's V10, along with many DTM (German Touring Car) engines of the past. A master, is our Bernd.

    Anyway, you can now forget all of that high-tech wizardry, because it pales into insignificance next to a simple plastic switch on the centre of the dashboard. It's marked 'ESP', 'SPORT' and 'OFF'. The last of those words is by far the most interesting. This is the switch for the Electronic Stability Control programme - press it for a few moments and a light on the dashboard tells you ESP is off.
    When Tobias Moers, AMG's head of development, explained this in the Paul Ricard pitlane before I took to the track, within two trilliseconds I'd asked whether it meant 'off' or 'not-quite-f**king-off', the annoying killjoy mode that ruined previous AMGs on the track, where the computer lets you slide a little bit before cutting the power abruptly.

    "It means off," said Moers with a smile. "Try it out on the track, be my guest. If you get it wrong, you will spin. It comes on again if you hit the brakes. Enjoy."

    Yes, yes. A fast, focused Merc that you can enjoy on a circuit. This is the beginning of an important awakening for the three-pointed star and we approve.

    It's all very noble and proper, having an ESP safety net for every car in the range, and that's how things have been before this one, even on AMGs - now, Mercedes is taking a good look at the market and realising that serious drivers, the kind who are willing to accept responsibility for a spin, are paying big bucks for cars that allow them to switch ESP off. Like the BMW M3.

    Moers was keen for this little 'off' button to mean 'off' and the final decision is the right one.

    This car will give the new M3 a very hard time indeed. Unlike the CLK63 Cabriolet I drove recently, the chassis isn't overwhelmed by the incredible power and torque of the engine. It not only copes, it feels natural.

    Look at the oversteer photos on these pages and be aware that the car is flattering its driver. Drifting a C63 on a circuit like Paul Ricard, with big run-off areas and a smooth surface, is amazing fun.

    Even on brand new Bridgestone tyres - now wasted, sorry - the rear end kicks out instantly with a quick lift and squirt of the throttle. The engine has so much torque, it requires no finesse. And once the tail's hung right out there, the steering has enough feel and quickness - and, crucially, the chassis enough precision and tautness - to give you the confidence you need.

    Moers and his chassis team have done some good work, starting with a new front axle borrowed from the CLK63 Black Series. There's a wider track front and rear than the standard C-Class, and uprated springs, dampers and anti-roll bars, honed over countless laps of the Nürburgring. The result is the most focused Mercedes for 18 years - you need to go back to the 190 2.5-16 EVO for any sort of comparison.

    You still have the option of leaving the ESP on, of course, which activates the moment the wheels slip and is fine for road use - or choose 'sport', which allows a lot more drift before the engine cuts power. Moers says that the lap time around the Nürburgring with the ESP set to 'sport' and 'off' is identical.

    Bernd Schnieder, five-times DTM champion with Mercedes, was on hand to demonstrate just how fast the car would travel around Paul Ricard. Yes, it's fast alright. And having Schnieder there rammed home the point that Mercedes is capable of making a tin-top car lap a track quickly. BMW hasn't dared take on Mercedes in the DTM.
    The car looks good, too - not overblown, but understated and quietly evil in the way a fast Mercedes should be. That includes the twin bonnet bulges, which are purely cosmetic, 19-inch titanium grey wheels (18s are standard) and excellent dark inserts in the headlight clusters. The whole effect is superb.

    What doesn't work so well - yet - is the transmission. The 7G-TRONIC seven-speed automatic is smooth enough when left to its own devices on the road, but it's too slow to react in manual mode - you hit the paddle behind the steering wheel and there's almost one second's delay before the car changes gear, up or down.

    That's not good enough, especially when the new M3 will come with a dual-clutch robotised manual from next March, which will give instant changes. Hopefully, AMG can work some magic here before the car hits the showroom.

    Interesting that we're almost at the end of the story and I haven't mentioned the car's performance on the road. That's a good sign, because its prowess on the track speaks volumes.

    The roads around Le Castellet are too smooth to make a final judgement on ride quality, but I'd hazard a guess that the stiffer suspension of the Performance Pack version still has enough compliance to make it comfortable in most conditions. I'll never have the money to buy one of these cars, but if I did, I'd splurge the extra few grand for the PP spec.

    The standard car still handles well, but it's significantly softer. Once we've tried them on British roads, we'll make a proper judgement. The new C-Class's best qualities are all here, though - superb build quality and trim materials, high levels of refinement and a comfortable cabin, front and rear. Especially so with the superb AMG bucket seats.

    Ultimately, a comparison between the CL63 AMG and the new BMW M3 - and we shouldn't forget the Audi RS4, a car the AMG boys have studied closely and respect greatly - will be close, and will boil down to what the owner wants from the machine.

    Maybe the M3 will be more precise, the Merc a better all-rounder, with the Audi somewhere in between as the best all-weather car. But 'all-rounder' might not be good enough.

    Talking to AMG boss Volker Mornhinweg , seems like he's aiming to beat BMW M-Sport at its own game. I told him I didn't like the transmission much, thought it was too slack and soft, and his eyes lit up at that.

    "Just wait," he said. He wouldn't tell me what he's up to, but he's definitely up to something.

    Bill Thomas

    Re: Top Gear Review : C63 AMG

    A fitting challenger to the M3... these two cars belong to be pitted against one another.

    Re: Top Gear Review : C63 AMG

    Thanks, with 600 nm in a "small" car like the C-Class, the optional sport pack with LSD is almost mandatory

    Looking forward to C63 vs M3 vs RS4 tests
    The C63 will most likely be the easiest car to live with and use daily of the three because of the wast torque and automatic gearbox. It should also be fastest, in a straight line at least.
    It would make a perfect "taking the kids to school car"

    Re: Top Gear Review : C63 AMG

    and it will be tuned beyond 500 hp belive me!

    Re: Top Gear Review : C63 AMG

    Heard that they have really focussed on the suspension set-up - clearly targeting BMW. Despite that weight in the nose I bet a surprising result is due...

     
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