Mercedes C63 AMG (W204)
The Mercedes that hangs around around with Mustangs and Challengers.
Taking a few steps forward and then leaning into the Mercedes parked in a corner of the testing circuit leaves a couple believing this is simply another Mercedes. It looks a little better than the one they own, perhaps they will mention it to the salesman when the lease renewal phone call inevitably happens. It's time to walk away and browse the rest of the collection of Mercedes Benz vehicles that are open for a drive today, perhaps an SUV... except the tall chap with a dark branded coat thrown over his shoulders has no intention of watching people walk away from the silver hotshot without it leaving a lasting impression. The crackle and bellow on startup soon turn heads, including the couple walking away, the four exhausts sprouting from the rear end have a purpose, and on second look, this might be a little more special than first given credit for.
Watching as this unfolds is an entertaining picture, the couple exchange polite smiles between enquires as to what the car is called before shuffling away to the safety of the crossovers and wagons. My exchange is short, this was the car I was here to drive, and neither I nor my chaperon wanted to waste time talking about the weather when a fast-drying track and road course was just a few feet away. The first thing that immediately catches the eye is the refreshed dashboard, those shopping for a used C63 on this generation should be aware that earlier saloons and wagons were fitted with a dashboard that seemed to have been dragged kicking and screaming from the turn of the millennium. Coupe and facelift models get the much more modern interior that will still feel somewhat dated today, but is a marked improvement over the plastic plinth of basic controls found in earlier models. Then again, this car is 5% interior, 5% exterior, and 90% motor, so the roughest and oldest example will still force a silly smile from its occupants when the world is looking greyer than the plastic folding tray on the pre-facelift interior.
Spin the motor and leave it for a moment to build oil pressure and heat and you'll get a noise sample that appears collected from across the western world. The initial crank and crackle to life could be Italian, the burble afterward seems straight out of a Texas dragstrip, and then it settles to something that only a German could dream up, sort of efficient aggression merely waiting to be pointed at any horizon.
Character, charm, charisma, call it what you want, the Mercedes C63 is able to show personality
This mix of character doesn't leave the C63 and as the rear tyres squirm for the first of our unofficial 0-100 runs, actioned under the heartedly agreed vector of safety that the tyres would need warming before we turned out onto the handling circuit, via the skid pan, naturally. The rear track is 12mm wider, and the front 35mm wider than a standard C-Class aiding traction and making the car feel a little more hunkered down on the road.
There are aspects of the car that can't be mistaken for an American, the seats grip and hold, the turn-in is sharp and deliberate although easily coaxed with the rear with just an inch more throttle. Weight, officially just over 1750kg, is hidden well in everything but the tighter corners that start to load up the outside front tyre to the point that scuffles with the tarmac for traction, but it wins the good fight rather than relenting and leading to the understeer more associated with a muscle car. When the W204 was released Ford was still producing the previous generation Mustang, and yet stepping in the Mercedes you can't help but think someone in Detroit must have been given a drive in one of these and decided that actually no, the Mustang doesn't need to handle or go fast, it is possible to do both with a muscular feeling that separates it from cars like the E92 M3. The Bavarians didn't loose sporting direction, even with their V8 iteration, always feeling like it would deliver joy on a twisty section, whereas the Mercedes only needs to be offered a solid surface to rumble its occupants into a state of hilarity and excitement. A rear differential was optional on the C63, and probably necessary for those wanting to use the car in all weather conditions. After spending some time driving through the passenger window on the skid pan it was now time to test the C63 where it mattered, on the track. Had it been hanging around with the 'wrong crowd' and been led astray with all that muscle leading to a chassis that could only conquer the stomping grounds of many gridded American cities?
Initially, we go easy, testing the track to see just how dry it had become in the spring sunshine now beaming down with the evil grey clouds in full retreat. A sighting lap answered one thing for sure, the nose may be heavier for the 6.2 V8 but the chassis was winning the arm wrestle for supremacy when a corner arrived. The open sweeper to start the lap is full throttle, no hesitation necessary, from there the car can be modulated on a dry surface with just steering inputs and a touch of throttle correction, the back end of the track was resting in a patch of shade that allowed for some tail-wagging under a burst of accretion on a tighter turn but it wasn't concerning in the way it could be if the front tyres didn't feel so well mated to the surface.
Away from the track onto the surrounding country roads, you realise just how hard the car needs to be pushed to leave you feeling exposed. A colder damper surface would demand more caution, but as things were on the day the C63 could still deliver fat dollops of torque on the road without the heart in mouth light steering and gliding stomach feeling that makes you question how well your insurance company claims line is.
Character, charm, charisma, call it what you want, the Mercedes C63 is able to show personality without it being at the complete cost of drivability for the 70% or so of the time when full attack mode is either responsible or realistic on a public road.
The obvious question will be whether the E92 is a better driver's car and thus a better car to spend time in, but this would be to miss the point of the C63. Mercedes delivered a hot rod with steering in the W204 chassis. It should be viewed through a prism of the enjoyment factor that it can deliver, but only to the most skilled of drivers when the conditions get questionable. The C63 is an ode to fun motoring with horsepower, not lap times or luxury cruising, it exists as an affront to those obsessed with speed at the cost of all else, yet proves that thunderous motors can have a few other tricks under their hat. Bravo Mercedes, now, where did I leave the company fuel card...
Note From Miles
In an era when 0-60 and 0-100 get more social media clicks than the details of fun in motoring, it is easy to see why cars like this are seen as dinosaurs. They arrived, monstered around for a few years, and then were outdone on every aspect of a spec sheet by newer, more efficient engineering, but to anyone that hasn't driven this era of car, I would suggest a test drive. It is similar to drinking water from a spring after getting used to soft drinks. Yes, that can of fizz will taste better at first, but then it'll sit in your stomach waiting to gas you out as you bump around bloated for an afternoon. Appreciating that spring water, a crisper cleaner taste than at home, and left feeling refreshed and ready for the rest of the day, it's the driving equivalent of a naturally aspirated noise machine. Something you can enjoy, and feel all the better for, maybe when the world has stopped obsessing over cars like they are spreadsheets cottage industry firms will return these to use during some form of clean e-fuel. I'm sure I speak for the whole of The Miles Driven, when I say, we can live in hope.