A new era is beginning for Mercedes-Benz’s AMG performance division, kicked off in spiritual form by the all-new AMG GT two-seat sports car that hit the North American market in the spring, and in more practical form with the Mercedes-AMG C 63 sedan that arrived weeks later. It’s a change that will soon spread up and down Mercedes-Benz’s lineup of sporting AMG vehicles, including the less spicy 2016 C 450 AMG 4MATIC that arrives this fall.
The 2015 C 63 four-door is no longer a “Mercedes-Benz” model, but a “Mercedes-AMG”, a designation that denotes it’s now part of the new upgraded line of AMG products, headquartered in Affalterbach, Germany, separate from its more relaxed Benz cousins. Within this new Mercedes-AMG family lies the track-ready S models, which offer more hardcore performance items, such as carbon-ceramic brakes, finer suspension adjustments, and, of course, more power.
Many C-Class buyers like the more aggressive looks of the hottest version, but don’t want the harsher suspension, the lowered ride height, or the louder and thirstier V8 engine that comes with it. That’s where the C 450 AMG 4MATIC comes in, offering a look-alike model that closely mimics the overall shape and styling of the hottest C 63 (though a connoisseur will still be able to distinguish the two by the C 63’s wheels and flatter quad exhausts), while offering a less aggressive performance boost, too. This will help Mercedes-Benz line up its new AMG models alongside other mid-level performance models as well, such as BMW’s M Sport line and Audi’s S models, plus similar lines from Lexus, Jaguar, and Infiniti.
If all this sounds a tad confusing, just remember that the superfast Mercedes-AMG models have two-digit-numeral names (C 63), versus three for the medium-spicy AMG ones (C 450), and mild Benz (C 300) models.
The C 63 is the bestselling AMG model ever, and part of the reason is that it’s available in sedan, coupe, and even wagon versions, though Mercedes-Benz is still in the discussion stage about whether or not the wagon version of the new generation C-Class will be brought to North America. The Mercedes-AMG C 63 Edition 507 coupe that remains on sale is based on the old-generation model, its Edition 507 moniker referring to its 507 horsepower that comes from its large and very thirsty 6.2-litre V8.
This latest generation C 63 reduces the size of the V8, now down to 4.0 litres to help it achieve better official fuel efficiency numbers. Rated in optimistic European measurements, it will average 8.2 litres of premium fuel per 100 kilometres, a major improvement from the previous 13.3 L/100 km from the larger V8. To make up for the inherent power loss that comes with losing 2,200 cubic centimetres of displacement, Mercedes-AMG adds twin turbocharging, which pumps power back up to monster levels to lead this already powerful segment in horsepower, acceleration, and beastly engine noise.
The C 63 is the best-selling AMG model ever, and part of the reason is that it’s available in sedan, coupe, and even (in Europe) wagon versions.
The C 63 now offers a class-leading 469 horsepower, and 479 lb-ft of torque, which is down notably on top-end power from the prior Edition 507, but has much more torque, and available at much lower rpm, so it feels much quicker, even in around-town driving. The range-topping AMG C 63 S model bumps up these figures by 34 and 37 respectively, landing at 503 horsepower and a gob-smacking 516 lb-ft of torque.
With enough power in either C 63 model to thrust your head against the backrest at almost any legal road speed, you really need a racetrack to feel a major difference between the C 63 and the upgraded 2015 C 63 S model. As experienced at the thrilling racetrack in Portimão, just outside of Faro in sunny southern Portugal, during the car’s first-drive event, the C 63 S is brilliant on the track, and offers performance goodies unavailable on the regular C 63, such as the optional six-piston carbon-ceramic brakes, with massive 402-millimetre slotted and vented discs up front (but not carbon-ceramic for the rears), and a unique Race mode in the AMG Dynamic Select toggle switch on the centre console that adjusts throttle response, shift points, and shift speed.
Perhaps the most significant difference to those who yearn to minimize their lap times: a loosened electronically controlled speed limiter that raises your top speed to 290 km/h from the C 63’s 250 km/h electronic limit.
Climbing into the driver’s seat, one finds the C 63 S is still fairly comfortable, and a helmet and balaclava can’t fully muffle the engine’s aggressive, deep-throated roar. That was in Race mode, which loudly liberated the muffler from much of its duties, thanks to the AMG Sport Exhaust that comes standard on the S and is optional on regular C 63 models.
Yet there’s nothing wrong with the serious sports car acceleration from the twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8. Mercedes-Benz says that the S can nail the 0–100 km/h mark in 3.9 seconds, likely using the dual-clutch 7-speed automatic’s Race Start function, while the C 63 is just a whisker behind at 4.0 seconds flat. It’s not quite the “instant on” warp speed of a pricier Tesla Model S P85D (3.4 seconds), but both of those C 63 times are just a hair quicker than the 4.1 seconds BMW quotes for its 425 horsepower M3.
There’s also a near-autonomous parking system that will spin the steering wheel for you to help you parallel park on the street, or back into a tight space in a parking lot.
The C 63 S may be the boss on the track, but when it came to on-road manners, the C 450 AMG 4MATIC is unsurprisingly the comfort king of the two. The C 63 S still proves reasonably quiet and well behaved, even on city streets in and around Faro as well as on the region’s plentiful curvy mountain roads. The C 450 offers the same AMG Dynamic Select toggle, but here it changes the entire car’s personality from a wider range: Eco to Comfort, Sport, and Sport+, simultaneously increasing suspension, engine, and transmission aggressiveness—and overall volume in the car. Plus there’s an Individual mode, so you can choose your favourite settings in each category and then save them for future use.
It’s true that one gives away a sizable bite of power in the C 450 compared to the C 63, but 367 horsepower from a twin-turbocharged three-litre V6 is still very healthy in its class of medium zesty performers, outdoing the BMW 335i and Audi S4 by a fair margin. The C 450 AMG also comes with the popular AMG Performance 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system standard, a feature unavailable on the C 63 because Mercedes-AMG deemed even the performance version of the system that sent the majority of its power rearward as “insufficiently pure”, according to one engineer at the Portimão drive event.
That seems to mark a shift in the AMG 4MATIC message of the last few years, when nearly every AMG product received the rear-oriented all-wheel-drive system, which here sends 67 per cent of the torque rearward. The C 450 AMG scoots from zero to 100 km/h in 4.9 seconds, a full second back from the C 63 S, while averaging 7.6 L/100 km overall during preliminary fuel-efficiency testing. That figure will likely be closer to 10 L/100 km by the time it arrives this fall, based on the more realistic North American numbers from a slightly detuned version of this same twin-turbo V6 in the C 400 4MATIC.
Inside the car, like any new generation Mercedes, there’s some impressive technology to wow drivers and passengers alike. The C-Class sedan and S-Class models have an option for a heads-up display that ghosts speed and navigation directions onto the windshield, plus the hand rest just above its centre controller is now a palm-sized touchpad that can read handwritten letters or numbers. This is also handy for spelling out a navigation destination or phone number while on the move, although the voice commands still likely lead to less overall distraction if you’re on your own.
There’s also a near-autonomous parking system that will spin the steering wheel for you to help you parallel park on the street, or back into a tight space in a parking lot. A few tries at the local mall impressed when its electronic ghosts took over the wheel—and it also touches your brakes as well, if you can let it go that long.
But most of these luxurious gadgets are available in the C-Class, so what makes the C 63 and C 450 AMG special are the performance enhancements they bring to the party. These Benz models hold a major power advantage over their rivals, no matter which of the many multitiered levels of sportiness you choose. But there’s no doubt that the most thrills overall lie in the booming acceleration and top end of the Mercedes-AMG C 63 S, whose C 450 AMG and C 63 little brothers have unshackled it from having to wear its most refined luxury car suit at all times.