Published September 27, 2008

C the difference

Not in the market for a Ferrari? The Mercedes C63 is a little more understated, yet still racy

IT'S race day at the Singapore Grand Prix and you're looking out at the 22 cars on track. Twenty of them, you are unlikely to buy or will ever get to drive, mainly because they are Formula One cars. As for the other two, it's a different story.

The beauty of the 6.3-litre v8 engine is that its deep reserves of power are so useable. Never does the c63 feel wild. You can drive it fast or slow, in town or on a sweeping back road somewhere

One of them is the F1 safety car and the other is possibly the fastest ambulance in the world. Both are road cars made by AMG, the high-performance division of Mercedes-Benz. The former is the SL63 AMG Safety Car and the latter is a C63 AMG Estate Official F1 Medical Car.

Each has a V8 engine in front driving the rear wheels although the SL63's packs 525hp while the C63's has slightly less at 457hp. But while the SL63 roadster is attention-grabbing - even without the safety car's flashing beacons or stickers - the C63 is more appealing because of its relative understatement.

That's because a 'conventional', not-for-F1-use C63 sedan looks like a dressed-up C-Class, currently Singapore's best-selling compact premium saloon. Big 19-inch alloy wheels with even bigger brake discs peeking out from behind hint at something very different about this particular C-Class.

Then there is the racy body kit with the deep front apron and huge air intakes. The two slim power domes on the bonnet further set it apart from a pedestrian C180.

Slide into the front seat and the differences become even more pronounced. The sports seats have electrically adjustable side bolsters - to keep you nice and tight in a fast corner - and a flat-bottomed steering wheel partly lined with alcantara.

Once comfortably seated, press the big metal Start button - the C63 comes to life with a sharp exhaust bark. Slot the gear lever into Drive, blip the throttle and it takes off with a raspy snarl that develops into an angry growl further up the rev range.

The beauty of the 6.3-litre V8 engine is that its deep reserves of power are so useable. Never does the C63 feel wild or uncontrollable. You can drive it fast or slow, in town or on a sweeping back road somewhere. It is also unlikely to run out of breath. The naturally aspirated V8 has truckloads of torque - 600 Newton-metres to be exact.

One reason for its tractability is the smooth seven-speed automatic transmission. The AMG Speedshift gearbox can be used in three modes - C, S or M for Comfort, Sport or Manual, respectively. S performs gearshifts faster than C, while M is the fastest. The C63 is also the first AMG car where the throttle is automatically blipped during downshifts.

Choosing S also firms up the already stiff suspension even more, so going fast on a bad road will have you bouncing around and/or your internal organs re-arranged. But for optimum handling, it is the ideal mode because the C63 displays amazing levels of adhesion. Its controllabilty inspires so much confidence that you will start taking corners faster and faster.

To reel you in quickly and safely, there is the AMG high-performance brake system with its six-piston front and four-piston rear callipers. Like all Mercedes brakes, they are reassuringly strong and offer great feedback. But for those who think that still isn't enough, the C63 can be ordered with an AMG Performance Package. This $17,600 option adds bigger brakes, a harder suspension and a rear-axle locking differential for even more dynamic cornering ability.

Only a restricted footwell can be somewhat disconcerting because it leaves little space for your left leg and can make you feel less comfortable in a fast corner. The tight sports seats can also be a problem for those of ample proportions.

Nevertheless, the C63 AMG is a fantastic sedan which impresses with its superb flexibility. It is extremely well made and has a solidity like that hewn of rock but without the weight. Best of all, it looks like a C-Class.


Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG

Engine 6,208cc V8
Transmission 7-speed auto
Max power 457 hp @ 6,800 rpm
Max torque 600 [email protected] 5,000 rpm
0-100 kmh 4.5 secs
Top speed 250 kmh (limited)
Price from $358,888 (with COE)
Distributor Cycle & Carriage
tel 6866-1888