WHAT IS IT
Power is nothing without control and while the 375kW power output of the C63 S remains unchanged, the fitment of a trick nine-speed transmission, a clever nine-stage traction control system and the intriguing AMG Dynamics electronics pack adds bandwidth to this car’s tried and trusted shock and awe. An interior refresh and some well-judged styling changes don’t go amiss either.
WHY WE'RE TESTING IT
The choices are slim and getting slimmer if you want a barnstorming V8 coupe that can fulfil duties as your daily driver. The old C63 S could be a little truculent. AMG is promising both more liveability and greater agility from the latest car so we flew to Germany to see if the company could make good on its claims.
Audi RS5; BMW M4 CS; Nissan GT-R Premium; Porsche 911 Carrera
THE WHEELS VERDICT
The previous C63 S undoubtedly delivered an industrial dose of drama, which was great when you were in the mood for it, but occasionally tiresome when you weren’t. This 2018 update is a good deal more tolerable at sensible speeds and is an even bigger hoot when you get it up on its toes. Mission accomplished, in other words. It’s not perfect, but the reasons for shopping at one of the other premium German marques just got that bit sketchier.
PLUS: V8 charisma; benign handling balance; clever control systems; interior glitz; classy styling updates
MINUS: Still hardly the acme of discretion; fuel thirst; weight; options pricing
THE WHEELS REVIEW
IF YOU didn’t know it was there, you’d never spot Bilster Berg Drive Resort. There’s a tiny sign off an unprepossessing German country road that leads to a narrow track that wends through forest. An unmarked gate is manned by a bored-looking guy in a booth who doesn’t look up as we approach. The boom gate lifts, we roll in, past a couple of nondescript glass office buildings on immaculate lawns and then you see it.
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The Mausefalle (Mousetrap) is the very first part of the track you clap eyes on and it looks like something from Luna Park rendered in bitumen, dropping off-camber into a bend and compression and then ramping back skywards into the stepped Steilwand (Steep Face) before disappearing over a crest at the next bend. We’re here to drive a 375kW car on this manic circuit. My mouth goes a little dry at that prospect. I feel like Chief Brody from Jaws. We’re gonna need a bigger track.
Mercedes-AMG insists that we won’t. Its latest C63 S coupe might be the only V8 in its class, capable of rattling off the sprint to 100km/h in a mere 3.9 seconds but the Affalterbachers insist that this latest version is so minutely tailorable to your own skill level that it’s a car that can seem as benign as you need or as angry as you can handle. Of course, those familiar with the Dunning-Kruger effect will appreciate that we’re often not very good at recognising our own ineptitude. With that in mind, I start the first session on track with all the electronics dialled up to Maximum Nanny.
Before we get too far into the physics of falling off Bilster Berg, a quick primer on where we are with this car. This C205 generation coupe debuted in 2014 so, in AMG’s planning schedules, it’s due for a mid-life refresh that will take it through to its replacement with a six-cylinder hot hybrid, due in 2020. So, if you feel that there’s no substitute for a V8, you’ll need to fling an order in smartish. The 4.0-litre ‘hot-vee’ twin-turbocharged V8 continues as before, but it’s now mated to a clever MCT-9G nine-speed transmission that’s neither a traditional auto, a twin-clutch nor even (strictly speaking) a sequential, as it’s capable of block downshifts. It uses a wet start-up clutch to finesse gearchanges to almost twin-clutch smoothness, and the software is so good that it’s rarely to be found hunting between gears.
Two very clever control systems also feature on this generation C63 S. AMG has also had a good, long think about how keen drivers interact with the car during limit-driving and the result of that process is the development of AMG Dynamics and AMG Traction Control. Before we get to those, a quick word on the driving mode selector. This now adds a torque-limiting slippery road mode to the usual Comfort, Sport, Sport+, Individual and Race settings. From there, AMG Dynamics introduces smarter, predictive control for both ESP and the torque-vectoring rear diff, with four modes; Basic is assigned to the Slippery and Comfort drive programs, and prioritises stability, Advanced is activated with Sport and targets the sort of handling neutrality you’d want on a country road, Pro switches in during Sport+ mode and reduces the steering’s servo assistance and ups the rear diff’s aggression while Master is linked to the Race mode and introduces more oversteer, even feistier steering while plugging into a spiky throttle map.
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With ESP disabled, the C63’s nine-stage traction control can be activated. This cycles through nine slip levels from 1 (wet roads, little slip) to 9 which really lets you light up the rears. Control is via a Porsche-style rotary controller underslung from the right spoke of the steering wheel. Think of it to traction control what the Focus RS’s Drift Control is to stability control and you’ll get to grips with it. With it set to 3 on track, it would allow a half hand of oversteer out of tighter corners. Set it to 5 and it’ll allow you to hold a respectable slide. Dial it out a bit more and you can easily punt the car fundament-first into a wall, as one foreign journalist charitably demonstrated.
Unenthused at the prospect of replicating this manoeuvre, I keep it at the recommended Level 5, and it’s worth remembering that when activating the traction control that the usual stability control safety net is completely dialled out under braking. Bilster Berg is a track that can make a Caterham feel clumsy and if you get greedy with the throttle on the way into a braking zone, you need to be quite handy with corrective lock on the way into and out of the corner. In other words, you need to know what you’re doing if you want to get the best from the traction control settings, and with typical C63 S coupe pricing with options hovering at around $180K, there are some pretty serious consequences should you get a bit ahead of yourself.
If anything, this circuit still feels a bit unrelenting for the C63 S. It rewards a flowing track where you can manage the weight shifts elegantly and sight a line through no-consequence corners. Harrying it through rowdy cambers, blind apexes, over crests and into curving braking zones makes it feel all of its 1745kg. Of course, you’d never drive the car like this on road. Even on some of the most challenging roads we can think of, at vaguely legal speeds the C63 S would feel as if it was merely getting started.
What’s refreshing about this update is that it probably didn’t need to go anywhere like this far. Orders for the C63 S are already stacked up, and the latest styling revisions that bring the new Panamericana grille, finned front air intakes, a beefier rear diffuser and redesigned headlights would probably have been enough to keep most buyers interested. As indeed would the interior updates that now include a fully digital centre binnacle and a massive 31cm widescreen display for Aussie customers who like their AMGs packed to the gunwales with kit.
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Instead AMG hasn’t been satisfied with being able to scratch a superficial itch; all loud noise and shiny detailing. It has engineered genuine substance into the latest C63 S. When we drove it last year, we gave it the nod over the Audi RS5 and the BMW M4 because it took you on the greatest departure from the prosaic. That still stands, but now the C63 S can do many of the things that made the RS5 such an appealing everyday proposition. So yes, the gulf between the AMG and the next best has probably eked that little bit wider. And if you’re the sort of driver who thought the old car was a bit of a one-trick pony; it’s time to reconsider.
Model: Mercedes-AMG C63 S Coupe
Engine: 3982cc twin-turbo V8, dohc, 32v
Max power: 375kW @ 5500-6250rpm
Max torque: 700Nm @ 2000-4500rpm
Transmission: 9-speed automatic
0-100km/h: 3.9 sec
Price: $165,000 (est)
On sale: September 2018