From the first throaty growl of the engine, we knew what the 2010 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG was all about. Although based on the smallest of Mercedes-Benz's U.S. models, the C63 AMG hints at its aggressive nature with shark vents in the air dam and a bulging hood.
In the driver's seat, the flat-bottom steering wheel signals that Mercedes-Benz meant the car to handle. And handle it does. Even maneuvering through a parking lot it feels taut. Turning the wheel reveals a strong connection to the wheels, with a firmness afforded by few other cars.
The C63 AMG delivers a driving experience that makes us want to do very bad things. Blasting up the road, then downshifting behind slower traffic makes the engine burble in a way that sends other cars looking for friendlier lanes. Each black-topped turn engenders an evil grin as we hit the gas midcorner, making the back end slide out in a perfectly controlled manner.
An unequalled automatic
There is a reason why the C63 AMG is one of our favorite sports cars. Aficionados might scoff at the automatic transmission, insisting a real sports car has a clutch pedal. But this seven-speed automatic, tuned by Mercedes-Benz's AMG division, takes slush out of the equation.
It uses a torque converter, but AMG engineers designed it to lock into gears with minimal shift time. The result is something that feels like a dual-clutch gearbox, delivering hard and quick shifts.
A button on the console changes the transmission response between Comfort, Sport, and Manual modes, but in any mode we could sequentially choose gears by moving the shift from side to side or hitting the steering-wheel-mounted paddles. In Manual mode, the car doesn't interfere with driver shifting, even letting the engine speed run to redline, which sits at a high 7,200rpm.
As we crushed corners with the transmission in Sport mode, attempts at manual gear changes often resulted in double-shifts, the car's logic and our own following the same course. After hitting a few corners with the engine screaming close to redline, we let the Sport mode have its way, taking over manual shifting only with the transmission in Manual mode.
The Sport mode showed itself to be very capable, keeping the car in the power zone based on our brake and accelerator input. On the approach to a turn, we got onto the brakes, the AMG calipers--six pistons on front and four on the rears--allowing fine modulation. As the C63 AMG slowed, the transmission automatically downshifted, the engine barking as the revs went up.
The handling from this car is exceptional. The traction control let the back end come out just enough to help us through the turns, flashing on before we got into a complete spinout. It took very little time to learn how much back-end slide the car allowed, and we approached each turn with it in mind.
As good as this car proved in cornering, it apparently can be better. Mercedes-Benz did not include the limited slip differential, a $2,000 option, in our car. Nor did we get the P31 Development package, which brings in even better brakes and more power. The package might be a bit much for an everyday driver, but the limited slip differential would have been nice to try out.
Mercedes-Benz doesn't go particularly high tech with the C63 AMG's suspension, using conventional stabilizers, struts, and springs to keep the car settled in the turns. Though the result is good, it also means the car lacks settings for different driving conditions. Whether driving home after a long, hard day at work or surging down a switchbacked mountain road, the ride quality is pretty much the same.
Competitors, notably the BMW M3, maintain dual personalities. Turn off all the performance gear and the car meanders down the road, leaving no hint as to its competitive spirit. But push a few buttons and suddenly the car wants to devour racetracks. The C63 AMG may have a Comfort setting for its transmission, but we only felt a minor change to the car's driving feel.