WHAT IS IT
On the face of it, cutting the top off a coupe and then endowing it with a 375kW twin-turbo V8 seems a first-class route to creating something largely pointless, but the latest Mercedes-AMG C63 S does a remarkably good job of acting as the exception that proves the rule. With a new nine-speed transmission, smart control systems and a new look inside and out, it’s a surprisingly satisfying pick.
WHY WE'RE TESTING IT
We’d been invited along to drive all versions of the C63 S. The coupe, sedan and estate we were looking forward to; the cabriolet less so. It turns out that we were doing the drop-top a disservice. It’s the most pleasant surprise of the bunch. It’s a good deal more liveable than the old car, which makes it a better everyday proposition.
Audi S5 Cabriolet; BMW M4 Competition Convertible; Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet
THE WHEELS VERDICT
The Mercedes-AMG C63 S Cabriolet is a car that doesn’t have a direct rival. Name the V8-powered drop top that it competes with? There isn’t one. That might seem like an opportunity for a judicious bit of laurel-resting on AMG’s part, but the latest car significantly improves on its predecessor. It’s friendlier in Comfort mode, which improves it as a daily driver, yet when you want to get on it, there are smarter control systems and a sharper nine-speed transmission beneath you. It’s not cheap, but there’s a lot to like about this one. If you’ve viewed midsize cabriolets with a certain disdain, this 375kW bullet has the power to convert you.
PLUS: V8 charisma; soundtrack with roof down; benign handling balance; clever control systems; interior glitz
MINUS: Some of the exterior styling updates look a bit racy for a drop top; fuel thirst; weight
THE WHEELS REVIEW
UNLESS you own a Jacqui E loyalty card, it’s fair to say that midsize cabriolets have something of an image problem. Should you care a jot about engineering, you’ll pale at the thought of crucifying a vehicle’s structural integrity by lopping the lid off it. From a dynamic perspective it’s about as egregious a sin as anything this side of ‘stancing’ your car with extreme negative camber. We’ve driven many cars that were great with metal over your melon but which turn into shuddering calamities when there’s mere canvas up top, but rest assured that the Mercedes-AMG C63 S Cabriolet isn’t among their number.
At this juncture, I probably don’t need to declare my antipathy to cabrios. You can probably feel it seething out already, and when asked to test the hottest C-Class drop top after driving the fantastically focused coupe on track, it seemed time to sharpen the knives. Mercedes-AMG probably did a smart thing by plotting a road rather than track drive for the cabrio, but nonetheless my anticipation in giving the thing a kicking rapidly came to naught. In fact - and I can’t quite believe I’m writing this - it’s right up there as one of the picks of the C63 line up.
No, I haven’t taken leave of my senses. There’s a very good reason why you’d choose the cabriolet over the hard top and it’s all about the sound. Pure, unfiltered sound. Forget the piped-in nonsense that corrupts your lugholes in the coupe. Drop the insulated cloth roof of the Cab and you get the full surround-sound splendour of the 375kW AMG V8 up front. You’ll hear every hiss, snort and woofle of the turbocharger and induction system, you’ll learn to time the rat-a-tat fusillade of exhaust overrun crackles to coincide expertly with a passing truck for full ricochet effect and you’ll do all that without being beaten to death by your own hair.
That’s because wind isolation with the roof down is more than adequate at speeds of up to 130km/h and the Airscarf blowers will keep you from developing a crick in your neck from any draughts that do creep through the mesh wind deflector. I’m relieved that Mercedes has stuck to a cloth roof for this car rather than a folding hard top that would have only added weight and complexity. The soft top is well insulated against wind noise when raised, which can be undertaken at speeds of up to 31km/h. It’ll take 20 seconds to fully deploy and when the roof is raised, you get 360 litres of boot space. The retaining bag reduces that figure by 75 litres when the hood is folded, which is worth bearing in mind if you fill the boot with gear and then get a sudden urge to drop the top.
By now you’ll probably have read about the latest C63’s clever nine-stage traction control system that’s borrowed from the AMG GT R but that’s not really too relevant to the Cabriolet, as it’s something you’ll really only exploit on a track. Likewise the four-stage AMG Dynamics tech that governs the electronically-controlled limited-slip differential is probably not the big sell for Cab buyers. Mercedes-AMG’s aim, with the latest generation of C63 was to broaden its appeal; to make it more athletic when you’re really driving the thing by the scruff of the neck and, at the same time, to render it more liveable when you’re not.
The latter is the key to the Cabriolet’s improvement. By softening the suspension when you’re in Comfort mode, ride quality has improved significantly over its predecessor, with less noise and vibration being felt in the cabin. Surface imperfections that would have had you wincing in anticipation and the rear view mirror vibrating crazily in the old car are now just mopped up with a distant thud. Even switching into Sport and Sport+ modes doesn’t introduce too harshness, although it’s worth noting at this juncture that the German roads on which we tested the cars were better surfaced than we’d typically find in country Australia.
Also helping the Cabriolet’s comportment is the new nine-speed transmission, replacing the old seven-speed unit. Like that one, it’s neither a twin-clutch nor a conventional torque-converter automatic, in this case using a wet start-up clutch to slur between ratios. Alternatively you can click up and down through the ‘box with the wheel-mounted shift paddles, although the software is so good, you’ll probably be slower. The new wheel-mounted manettino-style drive selector makes it easy just to flick the car into a sportier mode if you want a sharper transmission response.
Performance of this 375kW S version of the C63 Cabriolet (Mercedes Australia said no to the 350kW non-S model) is agreeably ridiculous, stepping its 1865kg to 100km/h in 4.1 seconds and on to an electronically limited top speed of 280km/h. The engine isn’t the purest-sounding V8 you’ll have ever heard, but there’s something about its gruff purposefulness that’s nevertheless endearing. Really get to enjoy the C63 S drop top and you’ll drain its 66-litre fuel tank depressingly quickly, despite Mercedes claiming a 10.4L/100km fuel figure for the car. Our test route saw an average thirst of 28.0L/100km for a range of 235km.
The usual mid-life facelift targets of lights, grille and lower aprons have been duly attended to by Mercedes with this iteration of the C63, the Panamericana grille now giving the C63 a more aggressive front end than the old horizontally-slatted item. A largely cosmetic rear diffuser looks a little self-conscious on the Cabriolet, which could perhaps have dialled back the visual belligerence a notch or two. Drop inside and you’ll find an all-digital clock set and a 12.3-inch centre screen, as well as a refresh for the seating, fascia trims and steering wheel.
In making the C63 S Cabriolet’s ride that bit friendlier, Mercedes has created a better car. It seems almost counter-intuitive that the angriest drop-top in the C-Class range has been improved by rendering it a little more benign, but it fits the buyer profile that bit better. Of course, there’s added capability at the other end should you really wish to exploit it, but sometimes this much excess is a reassurance rather than a requirement. As a fast road car, there’s now a real reason to choose the Cabriolet.
Model: Mercedes-AMG C 63S Cabriolet
Engine: 3982cc twin-turbo V8, dohc, 32v
Max power: 375kW @ 5500-6250rpm
Max torque: 700Nm @ 2000-4500rpm
Transmission: 9-speed automatic
0-100km/h: 4.1 sec
Price: $183,000 [est]
On sale: September 2018
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