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► Mercedes-AMG C63 S E Performance review
► Hybrid four replaces turbo V8
► All-wheel-drive, all-wheel-steer
On paper, the new Mercedes-AMG C63 is definitely progress. Who could fail to be wowed by an increase in peak power from 503 to 671bhp, and a torque peak that climbs from 516lb ft to 752? An improvement in the 0-62mph time from 3.9 to 3.4sec seems pretty convincing, too. And although we’ve all learnt to be sceptical about hybrid economy figures, there must be something in an improvement from 26.0 to 40.8mpg, mustn’t there?
Well, we’re about to find out how all this on-paper improvement feels on road and track, because we finally get to drive the new Mercedes-AMG C63 S E Performance – a car that’s junked its predecessor’s 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 and rear-wheel drive for a 2.0-litre four with an electrically assisted turbo, an electric motor in the boot, all-wheel drive and rear-wheel steering.
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Mercedes-AMG C63 S E-Performance review: a techfest super-saloon
It’s a highly complex piece of kit which needs to be set up properly to deliver. This set-up procedure takes time since it involves selecting one of eight drive modes (new to the AMG game are Electric and Battery Hold), four recuperation stages, three ESP settings and four AMG Dynamics programmes labelled Basic, Advanced, Pro and Master, which in turn control numerous sub-functions, including three different steering calibrations.
The day kicks off on the private Ascari race track close to the Spanish Golden Coast. For the test drive, Mercedes has selected the shortest of three loops, reducing the laptime to roughly two minutes by avoiding the second longest straight. We can only guess, but since maximum boost expires theatrically after a 10-second showdown, two flat-out sections in a row might have prematurely exhausted the system.
When the extra punch fades away, the battery’s contribution drops to a steady 94bhp, which brings the permanently available combined output to 563bhp – still feisty enough, but not quite as daunting as the advertised 671bhp.
A track-day hero?
On the circuit, the 2023 AMG model collects one brownie point after another. The four-cylinder engine supports turn-in thanks to the lighter axle load, the front end bites with accordingly enhanced determination, and all-wheel drive helps by shifting plenty of torque towards the rear wheels, especially in ESP Handling Mode, which enjoys waltzing creamily along the limit of adhesion.
The stellar cornering entertainment is aided by the rear-wheel steering, which dampens premature oversteer by supporting the stable and linear carving action with a subtle tweak here or there. Overall, this is a really reassuring and confidence-inspiring set-up – for a car this powerful, the C63 S E Performance is surprisingly easy to drive, and it gives plenty of warning before eventually overstepping the mark, which it does with the smokey flamboyance of a true drama queen.
And yet even on track there are a couple of downsides, the most unavoidable of which is the weight. At 2111kg, the saloon is the new sumo champion in its class, even though the weight distribution is evenly balanced and the centre of gravity is lower than ever thanks to the 89kg battery pack stuffed into the car’s belly.
But start pushing the C63 S hard, and there’s no escaping the weight – at the suddenly less fast exit of a slow bend, in the middle of an unintentionally interrupted uphill drift, when braking hard and late on the approach to a bend. Subjectively, the extra body fat is particularly obvious under kickdown in the 70-90mph bracket, when the transmission slackens for a tenth of a second before the e-motor shifts into the higher of its two gears.
What about on road?
Away from the track, nailing the throttle does not feel quite as explosive as you would hope. Yes, it ignites the rear wheels, but there is a brief time delay between the instant electric torque peak and the fol- low-up effort of the 2.0-litre four. The old car’s torque peak was a relaxed 1750-4500rpm, not at an exhausting 5250-5500rpm. So, yes, we do miss the V8 lump for the way it delivered its feisty grunt – and for the soundtrack that came with it.
The new C63 S E Performance exudes true greatness in many areas, but its undeniable charm and charisma don’t have much do with the hybrid drivetrain and the idiosyncrasies it entails. Instead, the latest creation from Affalterbach excels as a mix of driver-focused super saloon, highly competent four-seasons all-rounder and exceptionally well balanced long-distance cruiser.
It rides so much better even on optional 20-inchers than an M3 shod with the smallest tyres and the dampers locked in Comfort.
Although the commendable compliance meets its match on certain Spanish back roads dug up by the Devil himself, the underlying composure always remains intact. Hurtling along one quiet road at an enchanted pace, neither big bulges nor yawning expansion joints would deflect the car’s trajectory.
Full marks also to the steering. The three calibrations – labelled Comfort, Sport and Sport+ – subtly adapt to the driving situation with the help of a miraculous algorithm in an unpatronising manner which puts you in charge without hidden haptic suggestions and autonomous corrections. Nice, that.
Brakes: anchors ahoy!
The applause extends to the steel brakes, which feel a bit heavy and exhausted after two stints on the track but come back to life in full on the winding roads which curl through the mountains above Malaga. They combine reassuring response, intuitive modulation, progressive action and a distinct willingness to perform a series of fade-free downhill deceleration manoeuvres. The Michelin 4S tyres grab the blacktop with that rare 3D grip which talks to the driver through the arms via the steering wheel and the torso via the shapely bucket seats. Feeling secure but not confined, well planted but not tied down, is a key virtue of this Benz on steroids.
Mercedes-AMG C63 S E-Performance review: the verdict
The new C63 S combines the ground speed of a sports car with the composure of a GT. It is totally accessible, handles with poise and balance, is sure-footed yet playful when desired – after all, there are a bunch of drift modes at the disposal of wannabe hooligans.
Some questions can’t be answered in a day. We’ll need more time to get to grips with the complexities of the interface, and we’ll have to drive on more roads in different weather conditions to weigh up the pros and cons of losing the loose-cannon rear-wheel drive in favour of the effective but heavy all-wheel drive. We’ll need to live with the C63 in town to see if the electric-only range of eight miles is a useful way of keeping the neighbours happy, or if the electrics are really all about giving the Merc a mighty shove on track.
And we’ll need a bigger calculator to figure out if 40mpg is a complete fantasy, or if there are circumstances in which the software (and a gentler right foot) can juggle the various elements of the powertrain and actually achieve something better than the 13.9mpg we clocked up in a hard-charging 90 minutes in the estate version.
But from this first encounter, it’s clear there’s much about the new C63 that shows AMG has not forgotten why people buy its cars.
Read on for our prototype passenger ride in the C63.
Colin Overland takes a passenger ride in the new 2023 Mercedes-AMG C63 S E-Performance
You could spend hours working your way through all the menus and sub-menus on the new Mercedes-Benz C63 S E Performance, one of the most technologically advanced cars ever made. So there’s clearly a limit to how much we can sensibly tell you about how it drives, based on a half-hour passenger ride on the Mercedes test track at Immendingen, 80 miles south of Mercedes’ Stuttgart HQ.
But this much we do know: it’s very fast; it grips the road incredibly well; and there’s no way you’d mistake it for a V8.
No V8? That’s a bit of a downer, isn’t it?
The new C63 raised eyebrows long before anyone saw it, when word got out that the old turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 engine was being replaced by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder plug-in hybrid.
And then it raised those eyebrows to the ceiling when we got to read the spec sheet and saw the weight: 2111kg for the saloon, 2145kg for the estate. That’s getting on for a tonne more than the Cosworth-tuned Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.3-16 that started the lineage in the ’80s.
From the passenger seat of an expertly driven prototype, you can’t really tell that the car is that heavy. What you do feel is the benefit of the technology that’s responsible for the weight.
So what is the new AMG hybrid powertrain like?
The four-cylinder engine itself is lighter than the V8 it replaces. But then it’s joined by a turbocharger with electrical assistance that gets it up to operating speed ultra quickly. And the electric motor on the back axle takes the totals up to 670bhp and 752lb ft.
The petrol engine and the electric motor work together through an all-wheel-drive system to send that torque to where it’s most needed at any given moment, aided by a limited-slip differential.
And there’s rear-wheel steering, able to swivel the back wheels for quicker turn-in. That’s needed to compensate for the stretched wheelbase, required to accommodate the powertrain and its cooling equipment.
How does the new C63 S E Performance feel from the passenger seat?
All this extra power and extra size means the chassis needs some strategic bracing to stop it flexing. Bracing that is, itself, not light.
But out on the twists and turns and straights and curved banking of Immendingen, this spec-sheet angst is quickly relegated to the back of your mind as the car demonstrates astonishing pace away from the line, an uncanny ability to snake through twisty sequences and then staggering braking power.
What’s equally impressive, if rather less dramatic, are the things this new C63 can do that the last one couldn’t.
It can breeze along near-silently in electric-only mode (albeit not for long). Even with the engine working hard, it’s not difficult to chat in the cabin without raising your voice. And – thanks to that long wheelbase, and that bracing, and the upgraded suspension – it copes much better with surface irregularities.
With half the number of cylinders count and a hugely inflated chip count, the new C63 S E-Performance may not fit very well with some people’s idea of what an AMG should be. But it’s one hell of an impressive C-Class.
UK price and on-sale date still to be confirmed; specs are for the saloon.
|Price when new:||£90,000|
|On sale in the UK:||2023|
|Engine:||1991cc 16v inline-four with electrically assisted turbocharger and electric motor, 670bhp @ 6750rpm, 752lb ft @ 5250rpm|
|Transmission:||9-speed automatic, limited-slip rear differential, all-wheel drive|
|Performance:||3.4sec 0-62mph, 155mph (174mph with driver’s package), 40.9mpg, 156g/km CO2|
|Weight / material:||2111kg / steel|
|Dimensions (length/width/height in mm):||4834 / 2109 / 1438|