The new radiator grille on the forthcoming Mercedes-AMG C63 represents much more than a facelift of AMG’s most popular model.
Due in SA in the fourth quarter of 2018, the C-Class halo model is yet another step on the AMG evolution towards producing not just hairy-chested super-sedans with Godzilla-like power, but cars you can enjoy tootling along with the family on a trip to visit grandma.
On a trip to Germany, we exploited the full telephone-book-ripping power, as well as the car’s mild Clark Kent nature on backroads. The consensus was that under the management regime of Mercedes-AMG CEO Tobias Moers, Mercedes’ performance division has moved light years beyond the "hot-rodding culture" of a few years back.
That Panamericana grille with its distinctive high-gloss chrome vertical slats represents current GT class racing glory and also harkens back to the early 1950s when Mercedes re-established itself as a mega-force in international sports car racing, notably with its crushing victory in the Panamericana road race across Mexico.
The way that new grille has been integrated into the C-Class sedan shape (as well as in the coupe and cabriolet) is actually understated. The new look for 2019 has been extended to the rear of the car with new tailpipe trim elements, and on the S models, a new diffuser. The boot spoiler has also been reshaped.
The light-alloy wheels have also been subtly restyled, which Mercedes-AMG says are "aerodynamically optimised", with outer rim aero rings and spoke design. Standard on the C63 are 18-inch rims, while the S models get 19-inchers. On the flanks of the facelifted model, there are re-defined side-skirts, and this combination is said to be rendered with optimising brake cooling in mind.
Inside there are new details too, most importantly a new AMG flat-bottomed sports steering wheel with functionality that enables you to exploit its performance to the max.
So much for the looks, but what about the "go" department? Well, it may come as a mild disappointment to those fixated on horsepower numbers to realise that the power and torque outputs for the new car remain the same. Those figures from the awesome twin-turbo 4.0l V8 remain at 350kW and 650Nm for the standard C63 models and 375kW and 700Nm for the C63 S versions.
"The idea was not to increase power, because that is sufficient," said AMG powertrain specialist Hannes Loerhrmann in the pit lane of the marvellous Bilster Berg Drive Resort in the Bad Driburg area near Paderborn. "More important is how that power is delivered, and in this case we have installed the new nine-speed gearbox in the car, as well as various drive function programmes."
The new nine-speed gearbox is key to this car’s blistering track performance, as well as its functionality as a burbling back-roads cruiser in keeping with the Bad Driburg area, famous for the soothing properties of its mineral hot springs.
En route to the Bilster Berg private track, I found myself thinking that this effortless V8-engined device reminds you of a super-powerful V8 speedboat, easing down the river on a light throttle, requiring only a quick hoof on the accelerator to unleash enough acceleration to turn the still-life scenery into a blur of fast-forward motion.
It helps enormously that AMG cars these days have the braking systems to cope with any amount of power that their engine department can deliver. Even better, though, is the way the new transmission reacts.
The use of nine ratios (previously there were seven) in the new AMG Speedshift MCT 9G transmission means that here is now an optimum ratio for just about any occasion. The new transmission enables lightning quick up and downshifts. And, testimony to all the computer-optimising carried out by AMG engineers, the new transmission adapts to your driving style. It never second guesses itself (or the driver’s intentions).
This was made even more apparent when we drove on the track. It is a daunting venue for the uninitiated, with huge elevation changes and zero run-off area. AMG thus employed race drivers with DTM and GT sports car category experience to guide journalists around the track.
Once these pro drivers were assured that we had a basic handle on the lines, they exhorted us to try the Race mode on the steering-wheel-mounted dial, which removes most of the traction control, sharpens up all the throttle responses and, in fact, introduces a tad of oversteer on entry to some corners, and on exiting, if you lay on a bit too much power.
For technically-minded readers, it should be noted that this new gearbox is not a dual clutch manual gearbox, as used by many other manufacturers. Rather it is a traditional automatic gearbox, but instead of a torque converter, it uses a wet clutch pack, hence the name MCT, which stands for Multi Clutch Transmission. Some motorcycles use a similar wet clutch system. It offers more reactive responses to even the smallest of load changes fed through from the engine.
When the manual mode is selected, this device can up-change and downshift in just 100 milliseconds, using the steering wheel-mounted paddles. But even if you leave the device in full automatic mode, as I did when learning the difficult Bilster Berg track, the shifts are appropriate for your speed.
AMG has also gone to great lengths to make this halo model an appealing track-day device. There are six different driving programmes from low-power slippery mode to Race. It was great to be able to select Race merely at the twist of a knob mounted on the right-hand spoke of the steering wheel.
There is also an AMG Dynamics function which precisely manages the amount of torque directed to the rear axle. The torque vectoring can be set in modes from Basic to Master, which offers a degree of oversteer. There is also a race timer to display lap times on the 12.3-inch screen located ahead of the driver, and if a Track Pace option is ordered, you can download additional data after doing a hot lap, such as sector times, and you can also overlay your lap on a more ideal lap to see where improvements can be made to your lap speed.
The S sedan models we used on the launch register 0-100 km/h in 4.0 seconds, with a top speed of 290km/h. An even faster time of 3.9 seconds for 0-100 is quoted for the coupe, while the cabriolet S is a tad slower (4.1 seconds and 280km/h). The sexy estate car was also on offer at the launch, but will not be available in SA.
After an afternoon of hardcore fun at Bilster Berg, the remainder of our international launch was taken up with cruising on beautiful undulating tree-lined roads in the Paderborn Lippstadt area.
It is here that the genius of the C63 really shines through. You don’t have to go flat out to enjoy this car, because the emotion of that engine and drivetrain is in perfectly articulated communication at all times. For me, this is the real breakthrough that AMG has made in recent times, building a thoroughly civilised sedan (or coupe or cabriolet) that is pleasing whether you are doing 90km/h or 290km/h.
Pricing in SA for the new C63 and C63 S models was not available at the time of going to print. We can confirm the sedan, coupe and cabriolet models will all be offered here for sale in the last quarter of 2018.
This article was originally published by The Business Day.