Merc's factory tuner turns up the C-Class wick to unparalleled levels. Few other super saloons can compete for sheer petrol-burning exuberance

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Most enthusiasts will find it hard to acclaim the arrival of the new Mercedes-AMG C 63 without mourning the departure of its predecessor.

The previous model was the first to be built by AMG from the ground up and, boy, did it show. Its shadow, cast chiefly by the memory of the extraordinary naturally aspirated 6.2-litre V8 in its nose, looms large over the latest car – if only because its maker has done its best to gamely stick to the same formula the second time around.

The previous C 63's character was spliced into the throttle response and bellowed from the quad exhausts

That turbochargers were to be stuck to the next generation of AMG engines was clear even at the previous C 63’s introduction, but where some of its rivals – notably, BMW with the current M3 and M4 – opted to reduce the cylinder count, too, Mercedes has stuck rigidly to its V8 playbook.

The provenance of the new unit, introduced to us already in the Mercedes-AMG GT, is worthy of a 21st century creation. Already famous for being the result of shunting two four-pot Mercedes-AMG A 45 engines together (there’s rather more to it than that, of course), the new V8 delivers more power, more torque, less weight and, naturally, far greater efficiency.

Nevertheless, its forebear can be neither described nor succeeded solely through numbers. The C 63’s character, certainly it’s most likeable side, was spliced into the throttle response and bellowed from the quad exhausts. Equalling it means doing the same.

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Fortunately, the early word is good. The previous model was AMG’s first real attempt at overhauling BMW’s M division in the handling department, and the hard work done to modify its chassis has been replicated the second time around.

It’ll also come in four bodystyles - saloon, estate, coupé and cabriolet - and power derivatives  - the entry-level 362bhp C 43, the standard 469bhp C 63 tested here, and a more expensive S-badged model with 503bhp.

The full-blown AMG models are more powerful than the BMW M3 although, starting at £62,180, they’re a little pricier, too. But now its time to see if the latest C 63 is worthy of wearing the AMG badge it adorns. Let’s begin.

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Mercedes-AMG C 63 rear

Mercedes’ efforts to make the latest generation of Mercedes-Benz C-Class an even more slippery, more elegant prospect have not particularly paid off in the C 63’s favour.

Typically, we expect some exposed sinew from our V8 muscle cars, and the Mercedes-AMG is well short of the BMW M3’s appearance in that regard. Mostly this is because of the tapering rear end (the automotive equivalent of a weak chin) and the absence of blistering in the wheel arch department.

The new twin-turbo V8 displaces 3982cc – precisely what you get when you combine two 1991cc cylinder blocks in the same closed-deck crankcase

Instead, AMG has relied on new front and rear bumpers, widened front wings, fatter sills and a power-dome bonnet to get the job done – and, certainly in white, they don’t quite manage it.

Nevertheless, even if the car’s presence comes in a stately whisper, the quad pipes do at least remind you that the C 63 has something large within it to shout about. Having said that the estate certainly looks more imposing, while the coupé and cabriolet's sleek design certainly suits the AMG mantle more.

Whatever its application, the new twin-turbo V8 displaces 3982cc – precisely what you get when you combine two 1991cc cylinder blocks in the same closed-deck crankcase. In the C 63, the engine is designated M177 – a wet-sump version of the dry-sumped M178 that features in the Mercedes-AMG GT. The C 43 which heads up the C-Class AMG range is a 3.0-litre V6 acting solely as the warm-up act to the main event V8 models.

As you might expect from something built at Affalterbach under the ‘one man, one engine’ principle, the V8 is a symphony of exotic materials and technologies.

The pistons are forged aluminium, the cylinder heads are made from zirconium alloy, spray-guided combustion comes courtesy of high-pressure piezo injectors and, most impressive, its two turbochargers are mounted in a ‘hot inside V’ configuration, meaning that they nestle between the cylinder banks to make the unit as compact as possible.

The power is directed exclusively to the rear wheels via a heavily revised version of the seven-speed Speedshift MCT transmission – AMG’s version of the 7G-Tronic automatic that does away with the torque convertor in favour of multiple clutches and bands for each gear.

In the S version, 503bhp and 516lb ft are distributed between the rear wheels via an electrically controlled locking differential. In the standard guise driven here, 469bhp and 479lb ft are split using a mechanical limited-slip differential.

Both variants sit on the same modified chassis. There’s a 25mm drop in ride height and the front track is 31mm wider than that of a normal Mercedes-Benz C-Class. At the back, new wheel bearings allow the car to be set up with greater negative camber. Firmer springs and larger-diameter anti-roll bars are included all round, as are stiffer bushings and three-stage adjustable dampers.

The C 63 comes as standard with 18in wheels and 360mm disc brakes. The S gets 19in alloys and 390mm front discs. The brakes can be upgraded to ceramics for £4285, and the AMG exhaust system – whose extra throatiness really ought to be the default sound – is an additional £1000.


Mercedes-AMG C 63 dashboard

It’s a long time since the likes of AMG’s original 190E 3.2 set the template for generations of compact sports saloons.

In the decades since, the concept has been refined in more ways than one. Luxury and technological sophistication now matter almost as much as anything else, and AMG packages both better than any of its competitors.

A digitised owner's manual is useful, but it doesn't give instructions on how to operate the Race Start launch control, which is quite involved

The C 63’s key advantage is that it’s a Mercedes-Benz C-Class, so it brings innovations filtered down from bigger Mercedes-Benz models along with a material lavishness that you simply won’t find in any of its rivals.

The SL’s Frontbass audio system comes as standard, as do the Mercedes-Benz S-Class’s latest Collision Prevention Assist Plus crash mitigation and Attention Assist fatigue-monitoring systems.

The C 63’s fixtures and fittings bristle with more matt chrome than any rival sports saloon and almost all feel solid and expensive. The glossy black plastic of the centre console is less attractive and prone to dirty fingermarks and, to us, the silvery plastic on the steering wheel seems slightly low-rent.

But the feathered aluminium trim across the dashboard and door consoles is worn very well indeed, and finding a button or knob that lets the side down on perceived quality is impossible.

Cabin space is good in both rows, and although the boot is quite shallow, it’s big enough to swallow all but the very bulkiest items. The instruments are conventional analogue dials and fairly plain, but with its lap timer, boost gauge and engine and transmission oil temperature readouts, the AMG mode of the central trip computer screen adds the performance drama.

As for standard equipment, the C 43 comes with 18in alloy wheels, a sporty bodykit, leather upholstery, red seatbelts over the standard AMG Line C-Classes. Upgrade to the C 63 and you'll find a mechanical locking differential, LED headlights, a Nappa leather upholstery and splitting rear seats, while hardcore S comes with 19in alloys, an electronic locking diff, cruise control, performance seats, and a leather and microfibre steering wheel.


4.7-litre V8 Mercedes-AMG C 63 petrol engine

Mercedes-AMG’s new M177 4.0-litre V8 seems little short of stellar here. Suitably dramatic sounding, it’s also crisp under your right foot and so muscular through the lower revs that you can’t believe it’ll spin so keenly to the 7000pm cut-out. And yet it does.

We can pay it no greater compliment than to record that, even after the over-square, atmospheric awesomeness of the C 63 Black Series’ M156 V8, this feels like progress.

Against the clock, the C 63 fell short of the accelerative marker set by the BMW M4, mostly because of insufficient traction off the line

But of equal significance, believe it or not, is the gearbox. The multi-clutch Speedshift unit has been totally reworked and now shifts almost exactly as you want it to. Select Sport+ mode and the paddle-shift changes come through almost as fast and hard as a BMW M4 can deliver them.

Hold the left-hand paddle down and it’ll block-shift down to the lowest available ratio, even to within a few hundred revs of the redline; leave it in Comfort and it’s the heart and soul of smoothness.

Seldom have we been so impressed by a transmission from AMG, but the firm is evidently keen to address recurrent criticisms of the past few years and put itself in a position to be rated by hardcore purists as highly as by the old autobahn faithful.

It may, in fact, be too keen, because in opting to tie this car to the road surface so intimately, AMG has fallen short of the kind of rolling refinement you might want in a modern super-saloon.

Usability is crucial with these cars because they’re everyday drivers for most owners. And although those owners aren’t likely to baulk at the idea of struggling towards a real-world 25mpg, they may just object to the road  and chassis noise this car produces, because it’s considerable. It's also unbecoming of a performance saloon of such refinement and sophistication in other departments.

Against the clock, the C 63 fell narrowly short of the accelerative marker set by the BMW M4, mostly because of insufficient traction off the line.

It’s a postscript in this section for two reasons. Firstly, because the quality of the C 63’s performance is easily good enough to excuse a slight shortcoming on quantity, and secondly, because if you really want to blow the competition away, you’ll buy the more powerful and bigger-wheeled C 63 S.


Mercedes-AMG C 63 cornering

We’ll get straight to it. The C 63’s ride is coarse. The car’s axles are entirely the work of AMG so it’s deliberate – an inevitable by-product of the consistent, communicative, closely controlled handling that Affalterbach considered more important overall.

For the most part its a background uncouthness, but it punctures the calm of the cabin with added bite every time you cross a crumbling edge of asphalt or a slightly sunken drain. The suspension’s clunks and thumps get quite percussive over cat’s eyes.

The C 63 was stable, communicative and adjustable but felt heavy and hard on its front wheels through faster bends

It’s more like rawness than crudeness, though, and it’ll either bother you or it won’t. For one tester, it was an acceptable trade-off for the way the C 63 handles; for another, it would have been enough to cost Mercedes-AMG a sale. No prizes for guessing which of the two spent longer at the wheel.

The C 63’s handling proved less divisive. Although it’s neither as grippy nor as fast around MIRA’s Dunlop circuit as a BMW M4, the car acquitted itself with the greater conviction of the two on the road thanks to weighty, feelsome, trustworthy steering and a sweeter balance of grip at lower speeds.

Body control is firm; not brilliantly damped, but with enough suppleness to deal with a testing surface, if you leave the suspension set to Comfort mode.

Mercedes-AMG is evidently powerless to add much subtlety to Daimler’s stock stability control system, but turn it off and you can enliven the C 63’s directional responses with your right foot on demand – and do so with confidence, too, because the car is controllable and benign in its every response.

You have to go a lot faster and harder than you would on the road to become aware of what separates the car from a BMW M3 or M4 in objective terms. Ultimately, it’s grip. On 19in wheels and Michelin Pilot Supersport tyres, the BMW clings to a circuit harder than the heavier C 63 does on its Continental-shod 18s.

But at the limit of adhesion, the AMG almost always runs out of grip up front first, which makes it more forgiving than the BMW when push comes to shove.


Mercedes-AMG C 63

Parsimony is probably not the AMG buyer’s primary motivation. Nevertheless, better efficiency is one of the key criteria of the engine downsizing effort, and no owner will complain about gains in economy.

The latest C 63’s official claim improves on its predecessor’s paltry 23.5mpg by a full 11mpg. However, even with a True MPG test not possible, we found ourselves still averaging about 19.4mpg, lengthened to only about 25mpg on a cruise. Better than before perhaps, but still well short of the 35.6mpg touring figure we managed in the BMW M4.

The C 63’s official claim improves on its predecessor’s paltry 23.5mpg by a full 11mpg. However, we found ourselves still averaging about 19.4mpg

The emissions battle, particularly if you opt for the cheaper manual BMW M3, goes to the Mercedes – no small feat when you consider the relative cylinder count. However, choose the BMW’s M-DCT gearbox, as most buyers do, and the difference is inconsequential.

According to our residual value experts, the C 63 is strong enough to trump the BMW M3 in DCT automatic form and, predictably, Vauxhall's VXR8 GTS over a four-year lifespan.

Given that the C 63 proved slower than the two-door version of its chief rival in our hands, it’s hard not to recommend the S model right out of the gate, which penalises running costs only very slightly in return for an extra 34bhp and 37lb ft, not to mention larger wheels, bigger brakes and better front seats. But then you’re forking out £10k more than you would for an entry-level BMW M3.

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Mercedes-AMG C 63 rear quarter

The BMW M4 we tested and praised was a new-age turbocharged performance machine in every way. Lighter, leaner and quicker, its overwriting of its forerunner was unsentimentally rabid.

This C 63 saloon, in contrast, feels more like a chip off the old block, which is criticism and praise rolled into one. Some old irritations remain: the ride harshness, the non-premium level of background noise and the car’s tendency to drain its fuel tank in great gulps.

The Mercedes-AMG C 63’s capacity for goading you into petrol-burning exuberance is undiminished

However, the C 63’s capacity for goading you into petrol-burning exuberance – a quality we still consider paramount in a 469bhp saloon – is undiminished.

AMG’s insistence that a ferociously quick-tempo V8 bassline remains at the heart of the experience pays off – as does the fitment of a gearbox and chassis designed to work harmoniously with it.

In standard guise, that congruity puts it as near as damn it neck and neck with the leash-straining BMW M3, but the S version only goes and blows it away, and the same can be said of the coupé version against the M4.

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Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Mercedes-AMG C 63 2016-2022 First drives