Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing
Everything you need to know about the 2008 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG is made clear the instant you prod its 451-horsepower V8 engine to life. When the 6.2-liter beast lights off, the engine revs spike in a programmed "look at me" blip before the Merc's idle settles into a deep, throaty burble. Cue the goose bumps.
We haven't yet released the brake or slotted the shift lever into gear, and we're already trying to figure out an angle to finance one of these muscle-bound sport sedans, all $54,625 of it.
But we have to wonder if the 2008 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG — essentially a hot-rod C-Class sedan — can possibly deliver the goods in direct proportion to this testosterone-infused exhaust note. There's only one way to find out.
The 90-degree DOHC V8 engine in question displaces 6.2 liters or 379 cubic inches. It has an 11.3:1 compression ratio and variable valve timing. It delivers its 451-hp peak at 6,800 rpm out of a possible 7,200. Torque builds from the basement to a 443 pound-feet peak at 5,000 rpm. That ought to do it.
It's bolted to a seven-speed automatic transmission with three shift modes and two shift paddles on the steering wheel. That adds up to about 12, or something. The traction and stability control systems have three settings, one of which is "Off."
Time to brake-torque this lump to the torque convertor's stall speed and drop the hammer.
The C63 lays rubber through the first three gears — two broad strips of it because our AMG has the limited-slip differential that comes with the optional AMG Performance package.
We're instantly overcome by the strong desire to write, star in and direct a film we'll call, Schutzmann und der Bandit. All we need now is a German analog to Sally Field.
But possible movie investors will want to see numbers. If we restrain ourselves and apply a more delicate touch to the throttle with the three-stage traction control in Sport mode, the tires spin less and the C63 AMG passes through 60 mph in 4.4 seconds on its way to a 12.5-second quarter-mile at 113.7 mph. That ought to keep us clear of old Schutzmann.
It Looks the Part
You won't find a fire-breathing chicken on the hood of our 2008 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG. Instead it has two thin longitudinal protuberances that actually make room for a broad, twin-chamber intake plenum, not the cylinder heads.
A less restrictive front grille allows extra cooling air to penetrate the radiator. The products of combustion and the grumble of the rollicking V8 shoot out the back through quad exhaust outlets and a unique rear valance. Words can't describe the glory that is the C63 AMG's unashamed exhaust note at full boil — or partial boil, for that matter. Or even simmer.
More visually striking are the pronounced front fender flares and broadened front bumper cover. A 1.4-inch-wider front track, revised steering geometry and meatier 235/40R18 Pirelli P Zero front tires are to blame for this. A trio of cooling slits sits just ahead of the tires. No rear fender bulges have been added, but the aft wheelwells are fully stuffed with 255/35R18 rubber.
Individually, none of the visual changes to the C63 AMG are radically different from the last C350 Sport sedan we tested. But their combined effect gives the C63 AMG a suitable dose of much-needed street presence.
The unique C63 AMG front suspension changes have been made to help improve steering precision and tire grip at the front. But with the stiffer sport suspension setup that comes with the optional Performance package, our C63 feels "pushy-loose" on the slalom. It understeers past the first couple of cones before small bumps that other cars barely acknowledge tend to pitch this rock-hard suspension sideways. A cone-free run at 68.6 mph takes some doing.
The C63 tends toward push on the skid pad, too, achieving 0.89g. When we try for more with a little throttle (and the stability control off), the tail slithers out and it all goes sideways in clouds of tire smoke. It'll look great on the big screen, though.
Lapping around the ultrasmooth surface of Spring Mountain Raceway in Pahrump, Nevada, the suspension comes into its own. A strategic lift of the throttle as we enter a corner gets the nose pointed toward the apex. As long as we don't overcook it, it's possible to put the throttle down early. On fast sweepers, the Merc likes to carry a sustained tail-out drift. The stopwatch doesn't say it's fast, but it sure is a riot.
You also get impressive-looking six-piston fixed calipers and two-piece "compound" front rotors (aluminum hub, floating cast-iron rotors) with the Performance package. They're drilled and slotted and ventilated, and it all results in 114-foot stops from 60 mph.
We've seen shorter stops with less flamboyant hardware, but our Merc does weigh 3,993 pounds. While we're lapping, bystanders radio in reports of brake smell, but we don't feel any fade. We back off anyway.
On the street, the optional AMG performance suspension that comes with the Performance package is just too bloody hard. Any sort of imperfection is transmitted in the form of a kidney punch through very aggressively bolstered front seats. There's no subtlety or compliance here.
It would be easy to say "Don't buy the AMG Performance package." After all, the standard AMG suspension worked great on a C63 we drove on the track recently, and it still has the tires, forged aluminum wheels, widened track and other chassis improvements.
But then you'd miss out on things we like about the Performance package (the suede-covered steering wheel) and things we need (the limited-slip differential.) After all, two stripes of burned rubber are always better than one. If the differential was available as a stand-alone option, the choice would be easy.
Actually, the choice is easy for early adopters, because the $3,900 AMG Performance package on our test car isn't available until summer 2008 anyway.
Call It a Production Expense
A front-row seat in a 2008 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG costs a surprisingly reasonable $54,625. The Steel Grey Metallic paint that helps toughen our test car's look costs $710 more.
Typical C-Class options are available on the C63 AMG. Ours had the same $2,950 Multimedia package that includes navigation (to help Bandit find shortcuts,) Harman Kardon premium audio, a six-disc changer, 30-gigabyte hard drive, Bluetooth and an iPod connection (to deliver the Jerry Reed tunes.)
TeleAid GPS-based emergency assistance ($650) is there if it all goes pear-shaped. Seat heaters and leather seats that go by the name of AMG napa leather upholstery cost another $2,950.
As it sits, our test car's total price is $65,785, although $3,900 of that is the previously mentioned AMG Performance package that isn't for sale initially. At press time, no word on the possibility of a gas-guzzler tax was available. The C63 AMG is rated at 12 mpg city/19 mpg highway, so it might escape the tax.
This all is starting to get expensive, but it still adds up to less than a Corvette Z06. We're not saying the C63 AMG is as fast or as nimble as a Corvette Z06; it isn't. But this four-door sedan connected with us on a visceral level like no other recent Mercedes has.
We Have a Hit on Our Hands
Like the Bandit's Firebird Trans Am, the C63 AMG is happiest charging from stoplight to stoplight and running from the law. Sinuous back roads are not its thing. While the 451-hp V8 connects with us on a gut level, so does the too-stiff optional performance suspension. Buy this upgrade only if you plan on track days.
To us, the 2008 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG is a hoot, which is what the old hot-rod guys would say. Though it lives in a German wrapper, this is classic muscle-car stuff — a big V8 engine with heaps of power and torque to generate speed, not to mention oversteer, brodies and burnouts.
We're serious about the movie. If nothing else, we'll be able to write the car off as a production expense. But Coors isn't German enough. We'll smuggle Jägermeister instead, and Hasselhoff can play the singing truck driver. It'll be a big hit. All we need is a script.
Second Opinion Editorial Director Kevin Smith says: True confessions: Some Mercedes feel like trucks to me. Luxurious, solid, high-tech and beautifully crafted trucks, to be sure, but a little too hefty and functional when a touch of frivolity and fleetness of foot would be nice.
So here's one that confounds my prejudices. Yes, the C63 AMG still has a little more numbness in the steering than seems entirely necessary, and its turn-in behavior can suggest a fair bit of mass in the nose. But that's about it for the latent truckiness. Everything else about this close-coupled sedan says speed, power, response and character. Especially character. This AMG's aggressive exhaust rumble gives the musical Audi R8 a run for the distinction of Most Mellifluous Tone out of a stock production tailpipe. Between that and the downright stiff ride of the Performance package suspension, this car speaks to a sports-performance fan in clear and convincing terms.
And it's fast, the ultimate justification for any other compromises the engineers might have made. There is forward thrust everywhere: off the line, up an on-ramp and finding out what she'll do out in the desert. Even in full-auto, the transmission upshifts crisply on hard acceleration and downshifts smartly — with throttle blips — on braking. Love it.
Throw in some of the most boldly bolstered bucket seats we've tried in a long time and you have the basics for a serious go-fast experience. Your driving record has been warned.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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