Expert Reviews

The Quick and the Dad: 2017 Mercedes-AMG C 63 S

AutoTrader SCORE
This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car
  • Safety

Did you fear the thunder as a child? Do you remember the flash and near-instant crackle when the lightning struck close-by? Marching closer: one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, crack and boom and windows rattling in their frames.

...did you fear the thunder as a child? Or did it set your heart racing?

There’s something primeval about it, the sort of thing that stirs up tales of hammer-wielding gods and unseen battles in the roiling clouds above. Sure, a thunderstorm puts the family dog under the couch and sends the cat up the drapes, but even when you’re grown, it still thrills. It’s nature’s barbaric cry that the physical world still reigns supreme, no matter what machines mankind has built to subdue it.

On the other hand, some machines aren’t built to bottle up a storm. They’re here to unleash Ragnarok.

Ditching displacement for turbocharging, the 4.0L V8 of this death-white Mercedes coupe puts the lie to its rear badging. It’s been years since the Germans stopped pretending model codes had anything to do with engine displacement, so perhaps it might be more fitting to call this thing the Mercedes-AMG $95,700.

But here’s the good news. “63” means this coupe gets the same hand-built eight-cylinder heart as the flagship AMG GT, albeit tuned carefully to a suitably marketable power output. According to a signed plaque under the hood, this one was built by a Marco Baumgartner who, I like to imagine, is the result of a tryst between a German rocket scientist and an Italian cellist. The more powerful S designation means 503 hp at 6,250 rpm and 516 lb-ft of torque from 1,750 rpm.

Never mind the numbers, let’s talk sideburns. Long before every German automaker became a sort of Borg cube of assimilation and profit-seeking, AMG existed with considerable autonomy. The original founding fathers of Hans Aufrecht and Erhard Melcher were, respectively, obsessed with racing and possessed of genius-level mechanical aptitude.

By the 1970s, Aufrecht was possessed of a set of sideburns that looked halfway between 19th century cavalryman and advertisement for shag carpeting. The machinery coming out of AMG’s shop was similarly hairy, battering inertia into a pulp with the bloody-minded application of brute power.

In its fiftieth year, everyone is familiar with AMG’s hairy-knuckled history, from die Rote Sau’s hulking form at Spa to the 6.0L Hammer blowing the scissor doors off Countachs on the autobahn. We know what AMG does, and it usually results in somebody getting their nose broken.

There’s not much place for that sort of machinery in the polished urbanity of modern Germany. Boneheaded muscle is fun, but where emissions and efficiency is concerned, Germany’s regulatory bodies are here to say, “laughing time is over.” Thus, the smaller 4.0L twin-turbo V8, which should be, by comparison to the big-cube muscle it replaces, some seriously limp späztle.

It ain’t.

Wider than the sedan variant, the C63 coupe has the sort of wide hips and hunkered-forward presence you see in the higher-spec versions of AMG’s flagship GT. There are other similarities as well: it, too, is rear-wheel-drive only. While the AMG versions of the E-class and up have thrown in the traction towel by embracing all-wheel-drive, the C63 doesn’t mind a little old school tail-wag.

So on one hand, this is a clever and luxurious Mercedes, complete with fantastically well-bolstered seats, sumptuous surroundings, and a needlessly complex infotainment system. Familiarity with Mercedes’ COMAND system comes with repeated use, but joy does not. Also, this whole tablet-nailed-to-dashboard thing is not going to age well.

What never gets old, on the other hand, is the feeling you get when you press the starter button and the C63 growls to life with a snarl. Almost no other German manufacturer has got that audio component of their performance variants right. Alfa-Romeo’s twin-turbo ‘6 sings a Ferrari-accented aria once you get it up the rev range, but the C63S growls from the get go.

That thunder is potential. It’s part of the reason we love the panting idle of a muscle car idling at the dragstrip; it’s the coiled muscles of some predator waiting to spring, and you’re in the saddle.

Unlike AMG’s halo car, so is your offspring. Like the Mustang (moreso than the cramped Camaro), the C63 coupe has enough space out back to fit a child seat. Burble off the line while giving chapter and verse to the next generation of gearhead on the house that Hans and Erhard built.

The C63’s seven-speed automatic should theoretically be a trifle less quick-witted than a proper dual-clutch gearbox, but it has been fitted with a wet-clutch instead of a torque converter. Regrettably, this makes the C63 lurch off the line, especially in the softest driving mode. Pulling away isn’t a gliding motion, instead requiring feeding in a surprising amount of throttle before you leave the line.

Better to leave things in one of the sport modes, at which point the exhaust opens up and clears its throat and you remember why you didn’t just get the V6 version. In the dry, the power and sound blend together into furious pace, with stabs at the throttle causing the AMG to shed gears and leap forward instantly. It’s not shovelling coal into a furnace, it’s lighting the afterburners.

As such, it’s not really a machine for about town. Instead, get the business end of the C63S pointed up the sea-to-sky highway, and start wishing that speed limits didn’t exist.

On the highway, stop-and-go shunting becomes a distant memory, and the AMG becomes a sort of personal jet aircraft. With the instant thrust of the torque, you’d never need more power than this, and getting around a slow-moving RV is point-and-shoot search-and-destroy. Road-holding is excellent, but so is handling when the road demands rapid transitions.

I’ve long held that simplicity is better where cars are concerned, and that sporting car needs much more than the stripped-down drive of a Mazda MX-5. But there are two ways a car can be elemental, and this second way, complete with five driving modes and a byzantine control system, is thundering good fun. I feel a bit like I’ve been recommending the benefits of a little outdoor exercise and am now experiencing hang-gliding over an erupting volcano.

All this power in the wet manages to be somehow unterrifying. Yes, the C63S is too much for the street, but the fact that it’s rear-wheel-drive only makes it involving. You’re less reined in by the speed limit than by physics, and even a light pace with the exhaust snapping and snarling away is really good fun.

There are lighter and sharper cars with respect to both steering and braking, but the C63 isn’t the blunt instrument of AMG’s past. It’s halfway between the two companies, one foot in the sensible future, one foot encased in lead.

An electric future marches ever closer, one-one-thousand count at a time. Before the roads go quiet, it’s still possible to command sound and fury under your right foot. It’s maybe not the most grownup choice to make. But then again, did you fear the thunder as a child? Or did it set your heart racing?

Engine Displacement 4.0L
Engine Cylinders V8
Peak Horsepower 503 hp @ 5,500–6,250 rpm
Peak Torque 516 lb-ft @ 1,750–4500 rpm
Fuel Economy 13.8/10.1/12.1 L/100 km city/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space 355 L
Model Tested 2017 Mercedes-AMG C 63 S
Base Price $85,800
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $2,495
Price as Tested $98,295
Optional Equipment
$9,900 – Premium package $4,800; Diamond White Metallic Paint $1,600; 19"/20" forged AMG wheels $2,000; Carbon Fibre trim $1,500