Mercedes-AMG C 63 S E Performance first drive: who needs a V8? Not AMG...

Damien O’Carroll
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For those who are already mourning the perceived death of the V8, the new Mercedes-AMG C 63 S E Performance is like a knife to the heart.

After all, that '63' originally stood for the capacity of one of the best naturally-aspirated V8s ever to have graced the Earth's roads; the mighty 6.3-litre V8 from the 1968 300 SEL.

The new AMG C 63 S E Performance comes to New Zealand as a single model with pretty much everything.

While no AMG that has worn the '63' badge has ever actually had a 6.3-litre V8 (the largest was the 6.2 that spawned the name as a 'tribute' to the 300 SEL's engine), the actual size of the engine has got progressively smaller over the intervening years - first to a 5.5-litre twin-turbo, then to the current 4.0-litre twin turbo.

But now the ultimate insult has occurred and, not only has the C 63 had yet another capacity decrease, there has also been a drop in cylinder count as well. Yep, that's right: the newest version of the C 63 is powered by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol engine. The knife digs deeper.

The exterior carbon pack is an extra cost, but worth it.

It is quite the 2.0-litre four-cylinder though: hand built by AMG in keeping with its "one man, one engine" policy that sees a single engineer in charge of each individual engine's gestation (even getting a little plaque signed by them on the head), the 2.0 in the C 63 is related to the ferocious four from the A 45. But where the smallest AMG pumps out 310kW and 500Nm, the C 63 bumps that up to an impressive 350kW and 545Nm, making it the most powerful four-cylinder engine in series production.

This power puts it almost on par with the last-gen C 63, which boasted 350kW and 650Nm from its 4.0-litre V8, but down on the 380kW and 700Nm that the S version we got here produced.

Now, while producing a four with almost as much power as a V8 is pretty impressive, this isn't good enough for AMG - who obviously know they need to do something truly mad to replace the V8 - so they also jammed the hybrid system from the feral AMG GT 4 door in for good measure.

The AMG C 63 S E Performance's interior is super high-tech and luxurious.

Featuring an electric motor mounted on the rear axle and a 6.1kWh battery, the hybrid system pumps the new C 63 S up to a frankly insane 500kW and 1020Nm, thoroughly eclipsing the previous V8 model. The knife starts to twist now.

Much in the vein of the McLaren Artura, the C 63 puts most of its electricity into going very fast indeed, with a handy side effect of being impressively economical in daily driving.

While the C 63 S is technically a plug-in hybrid, it is so geared towards performance and has a such a comparatively small battery that it really doesn't offer a lot of the advantages of PHEVs - it has a tiny 15km all-electric range and the battery recharges so quickly from the petrol engine that it never even really needs to be plugged in.

The old V8 is dropped for a more powerful 500kW/1020Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder hybrid powertrain.

No, much in the vein of the McLaren Artura, the C 63 puts most of its electricity into going very fast indeed, with a handy side effect of being more economical in daily driving.

How economical? Mercedes claims a WLTP figure of 6.9l/100km for the combined urban/highway cycle. How fast? Try 0 to 100km/h in 3.4 seconds.

Most importantly: are these figures actually achievable? Well, as far as economy goes, probably. It's always hard to tell for sure on a launch as we generally don't do much in the way of urban driving, but we ended the event with our consumption sitting on 12l/100km. If you allow for the fact that it had been roundly thashed on winding country roads for the best part of a day, throwing in a bit of zero emissions urban driving would easily make it a sub-10l/100km car as a daily driver, which is incredibly impressive for the sheer performance on hand, and hitting those high sixes and low sevens would be pretty achievable.

While the C 63 is still quite restrained, the red badges are a bit much...

And as far as that 0 to 100 time goes? Oh yeah, it'll nail that easily. In fact, if anything, that 3.4 seconds feels a tad conservative.

But brutal acceleration is only one of the C 63's tricks - handling is every bit as impressive here too.

While the acceleration off the line is brutal, it is the absolutely relentless wave of power that just keeps coming that is the true star here. The broad spread and massive amount of both power and torque just keep on giving, and where you would expect the acceleration to start tailing off, the C 63 simply doubles down and goes even harder.

The staggeringly powerful powertrain is derived from Mercedes' Formula One technology.

But brutal acceleration is only one of the C 63's tricks - handling is every bit as impressive here too. The fact that the hybrid system not only brings AWD, but also a perfect 50:50 weight distribution, means that not only does the four-cylinder car leave the old V8 in its dust in a straight line, it also roundly whips it around the bends as well.

The level of grip is startling and AMG has dialed in the perfect feel to the way the C 63 gets its power down; it feels distinctly RWD going into a corner, without a hint of AWD understeer from the front end no matter how optimistically you go in. Then bolts out the other side at full noise with zero drama from either end. It is a quite remarkable sensation.

However, never fear if you are a fan of RWD antics (on the track, of course), because the C 63 has a "drift mode" that pumps everything rearward for tail-happy fun.

The hybrid system does rob a quite a bit of boot space from the C 63 and, depending on the size of your golf clubs (the international units of boot measurement), you might struggle...

Of course, there do need to be trade-offs for all this remarkable performance and handling, and the two most noticeable are boot space and noise.

While the new C 63 S E Performance may plunge a knife into the hearts of V8 diehards everywhere, it does it with such style and dedication to seriously over-the-top performance that it is almost impossible to dislike.

The extra hybrid bits that bring the serious performance are all tucked up the back, under the boot floor. And as you might guess, this seriously reduces boot space - while the standard C Class will swallow 455 litres, the C 63 can only manage 280 litres, thanks to its higher boot floor.

Cool looking and functional, the C 63 now boasts a discreet bonnet intake.

And possibly because the 6.2 and 4.0-litre V8s sounded so damn good (the 5.5 I could take or leave, to be honest), but the sound made by the new car is a little flat in comparison. Don't get me wrong: it's still loud and seriously aggressive, and there are even speakers both inside and out that use the vibrations from the exhaust to enhance the bellow, but it lacks character and has precious few bangs and pops on the overrun that were a hallmark of the 4.0.

This is more likely due to increasing noise restriction regulations in European markets - in fact our cars are louder here thanks to the lack of the European market petrol particulate filter - but the fact remains that, while it is still makes a belligerently angry noise, it doesn't compare to the majesty of the 4.0-litre V8.

There is little point digging into the C 63's standard equipment, because "everything" covers it off nicely; after all, the new car does cost $199,900, so you would expect that. However, a number of option packs are available, including a $9900 carbon exterior and spoiler pack, as well as the $2600 carbon interior package. Then there is the F1 Edition launch pack that costs $15k and includes both carbon packs, along with F1 Edition-specific alloy wheels and a bespoke Alpine Grey paint finish. Oh yeah, and stickers. Lots of stickers.

No V8 badging here anymore...

I have to admit a bit of trepidation going into the C 63 for the first time: I didn't particularly like the C 43 AMG thanks to its clunky integration between the petrol engine, hybrid system and nine-speed transmission that made it frustrating to drive at urban speeds.

However, the C 63 avoids this by using a totally different hybrid system that utilises the same nine-speed multi-clutch transmission, but also an electronic two-speed transmission for the electric motor on the rear axle. More complex, yes, but also way, way better.

While the new C 63 S E Performance may plunge a knife into the hearts of V8 diehards everywhere, it does it with such style and dedication to seriously over-the-top performance via remarkable technology and sheer brute force that it is almost impossible to dislike. Even as it gives that knife a final twist.

ENGINE: 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder and electric motor POWER: 500kW/1025Nm GEARBOX: 9-speed automatic, AWD CONSUMPTION: 6.9/100km PRICE: $199,900


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