2024 Mercedes-AMG C63 S E Performance W206
Mechanically, this hybrid four-pot is unrecognisable from the outgoing twin-turbo V8, so no surprises the same goes for the driving experience.
RADICAL NEW C63 IS FASTER, GRIPPIER, COMFIER AND MORE COMPLEX. BUT ALSO HARDER TO LOVE… WORDS ALEX INWOOD
REINVENTING THE WARHEAD
For a car that can claim to be 2023’s most controversial performance sedan, the W206 Mercedes-AMG C63 S sure does make a low-key first impression. It’s hunkered down in the concrete bowels of our hotel in Spain and, if this were any other C63 from the last 20 years, pressing the starter button would deliver a moment of giddy, child-like glee as its booming V8 thundered into life and bounced off the car park’s walls. Fire up this all new fifth-generation C63, however, and all you get is… silence.
Yep, AMG’s brutish M3 rival is now a plug-in hybrid, but really, the fact that this is the first C63 not to have a V8 is just part of what makes this car so intriguing. What you see here is a complete and total rethink of the C63 formula. AMG’s fast C-Class is now all-wheel drive, has two gearboxes, four-wheel steering, eight drives modes, a boost map similar to Lewis Hamilton’s F1 car and a small, high-tech battery that’s designed to dump and recoup its energy super quickly. It’s all fiendishly complex, and a huge departure from the winningly simply recipe of C63s of old, but the result is a car that’s quicker, more comfortable, easier to drive fast and kinder to the environment (and your wallet). But is it better? And does it still feel like a proper C63? Those questions are arguably more significant. And also much trickier to answer…
Stay with us here, there’s a lot to unpack. Just as every other significant number on the new C63 has gotten bigger (power, torque, weight) so too will the price. We won’t know exactly how much the W206 C63 will cost until closer to its Aussie launch in July 2023 but a sticker of around $200,000 before on-road costs is likely.
The new C63’s peak outputs are 125kW/320Nm more than the outgoing V8 model
That’s a jump of around $20,000 versus the current W205 C63 Coupe, which retails for $180,000, although it is an increase that reflects the rises seen across the rest of the Aussie W206 line-up.
The C63 lunges forward eagerly but it’s not quite as savage as I was expecting
As for body styles, Aussie buyers will only have the choice of one: the sedan. A wagon is available globally but it won’t be coming to Australia (boo!) and significantly there won’t be a C63 Coupe either. For this generation, Merc is tipped to combine the C-Class and E-Class coupes into a single new model likely to called the CLE. And unlike previous generations of the C63, there also won’t be a ‘non-S’ version of the W206 C63. This time around it’s ‘full fat’ C63 S or nothing.
The upshot to all this is that buying a new C63 should be incredibly straightforward. Aussie cars will have nearly every equipment box ticked as standard and aside from deciding whether you want a sunroof and carbon brakes, the toughest decision you’ll likely need to make is what colour to choose. The rest of the C63 package is devilishly complex. Like all of its predecessors, the W206 C63 is based on the regular C-Class but this time around AMG has made some significant structural changes. Width is up by a considerable 76mm thanks to wider tracks and pumped guards but it’s an extra 83mm in overall length that’s more significant. The wheelbase has grown by 10mm but most of the C63’s extra length has been grafted ahead of the front axle to better help the new 2.0-litre four pot and its supporting electrical gubbins work from a packaging and cooling perspective.
The powertrain itself is an outstanding piece of engineering. The core block is same 2.0-litre M139 unit that powers the A45 but in the C63 it’s fitted longitudinally and the size of the turbo has been increased. Just like the new C43, the turbine in the C63’s turbo is spun by electricity as well as exhaust gas to help reduce lag and improve response but the compressor wheel itself has grown from 63mm to 71mm.
Right, time to hit you with the outputs. On its own, the combustion powertrain produces 350kW/545Nm and according to AMG’s engineers, that’s right on the limit for how much grunt the 2.0-litre can produce. Where the numbers start to get colossal is when you factor in the hybrid system.
AMG calls the C63’s set-up a P3 hybrid and it compliments the petrol engine with a 6.1kWh battery and an electronic drive unit that combines an e-motor with its own two-speed gearbox and an electronically controlled limited-slip differential mounted above the rear axle. Both the battery and drive unit are designed and built in-house by AMG, and the way they deploy their performance is quite clever. The battery itself weighs just 89kg and the real genius is in how it’s cooled. A new non-conductive cooling liquid flows around each of the 560 cells individually which ensures the battery remains at a constant temperature and allows it to deploy its energy and then recharge super quickly.
Struggling to wrap your head around all that? Here’s a number to focus on. With the hybrid system wound up to its angriest setting, the C63 S has combined total outputs of 500kW and 1020Nm. That’s 125kW/320Nm more than the outgoing V8 C63 and a healthy margin more than you get from an Audi RS4 (331kW/600Nm) or a BMW M3 Competition (375kW/650Nm).
Plus the new C63 has a feather in its cap that none of its rivals can match: the ability to cruise around in total silence. With ‘Electric’ mode engaged, AMG says you’ll be able to travel 13km on electric power alone at speeds up to 125km/h, which should earn you some brownie points with your neighbours on those early winter mornings…
So how does this radically different C63 look and feel when you approach it with key in hand? Initially it’s actually reassuringly familiar. Appearance wise, the C63 delivers exactly what you expect. It’s broad, angry and muscular, and in the matte black paintwork of the car pictured, it’s a striking thing to look at.
Slip inside and your expectations continue to be met. The cabin is cosy and richly trimmed, and thanks to its digital instruments and large 11.9-inch portrait format central screen, it also majors on tech and glamour. There are loads of C63 specific touches, too. The design for the Alcantara trimmed steering wheel design is unique and it’s festooned with so many buttons, dials and touch pads that it feels like a mini command centre. And the heavily bolstered front bucket seats are also a new design that features hollowed out sections behind your kidneys. Great seating position, too.
Still, so far, so normal. It’s not until you start to drive the W206 C63 that it begins to feel a touch alien. Lean on the accelerator and you don’t lunge forward with the usual V8 burble. Instead, you glide forward silently and effortlessly. In such a weighty car – the kerb weight has crept up by 420kg to more than 2.1 tonnes – you might think the C63 could feel a touch lethargic in ‘Electric’ mode given its max output is 150kW, but in the cut and thrust of city traffic acceleration is swift and immediate. It’s not until we twist the drive mode dial into Comfort and delve further into the throttle that the combustion engine wakes up. It does so with an audible cough but the handover from electric to hybrid propulsion is remarkably smooth.
Right, time to see what 500kW/1020Nm actually feels like. With the traffic starting to thin as we head to Ascari, I wait for a straight, deploy Sport + mode and nail it. The C63 lunges forward eagerly but it’s not quite as savage as I was expecting. With so much grunt on tap I thought the C63 would feel like a snarly, wriggling animal at full throttle but weirdly, the first few hits at full noise don’t actually feel outrageously fast.
One thing you do notice and appreciate instantly is the improved ride comfort. AMG has fitted the new C63 with the same sophisticated dual-tube damping system as the flagship AMG GT Black Series and there’s a finesse, control and suppleness to this new car that the steely eyed and brittle W205 never offered. There are three settings for the dampers – Comfort, Sport and Sport+ – and it’s immediately obvious that Comfort is the best for road driving. Sport and Sport+ certainly aren’t jarring but on bumpy Spanish freeways there’s noticeably more vertical movement to contend with.
Then there’s the thing that most people are worried about: the noise. The wet, burbly idle and barrel-chested soundtrack of the old 4.0-litre V8 has been so central to the C63’s contemporary appeal and identity that it’s crucial AMG extracts an exciting soundtrack from the new four pot. And first impressions are a touch underwhelming. Given the C63 shares its block with the A45 S, I had expected it to sound like an even angrier version of AMG’s hyper hatch but the C63 is quieter and more cultured. AMG says that’s very deliberate. Switching the engine’s orientation and fitting a larger turbo has resulted in some mechanical differences to the C63’s noise but the exhaust tuning itself is meant to be more premium and refined. All of this means that as we roll into the Ascari circuit, I’m a touch puzzled. C63s have always been instantly likeable and easy to warm to. It’s clear this new car is more complicated…
On the circuit, the new C63 steadily and relentlessly wins me over. It just nails the basics. The driving position is spot on, vision out is excellent and the steering in Race mode is meaty, direct and accurate. The brake pedal is encouragingly natural, too, with no inconsistencies in its travel or any of the fuzziness that can plague some plug-in hybrids as you start to apply brake pressure. Given the degree of recuperation at play here (there are four stage of regen to play with), achieving a natural feeling brake pedal is an achievement in its own right. And around Ascari, the C63 does feel properly fast.
Acceleration and traction are especially savage, particularly out of slower corners where the torque-filling benefits of the hybrid system can really earn its keep. The handling balance is noticeably different, too. Where the current car is all about managing traction at the rear (especially in the wet!) this new C63 is so neutral at the limit it almost verges on friendly. Our cars were shod with Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres, and while it was easy to find the edge of adhesion, both understeer and oversteer were clearly telegraphed. In ESP Sport mode, the C63 is so malleable and approachable that you quickly have the confidence to provoke small slides with the throttle and brakes.
Does it feel like 2.1 tonnes? Not really. During our track stint the C63 felt impressively agile, a fact no doubt aided by the standard and natural-feeling four-wheel steering, and it was only through one of Ascari’s flip-flop chicanes that you had a sense of how much heft you were hurling about. It’s remarkably intuitive to drive fast, too. Given the powertrain’s complexity I had feared it might feel synthetic or out of kilter as it juggled electrons and petrol power but the software that manages the distribution of drive is remarkably seamless.
Speaking of software, there are some new functions for the onboard Track Pace app worth mentioning. Track Pace is AMG’s track data tool that allows you to split circuits into sectors and record your lap times at 30 pre-loaded circuits around the world but in the C63 it also gives you a guide on where best to deploy the car’s electric energy to improve your lap time.
Because the C63’s 6.1kWh battery is quite small, it can only deliver its maximum 150kW for short 10 second bursts, so rather than using up all your energy early in the lap, the boost strategy tells you the ideal place to deploy max boost via a message on the dash. It’s similar to how Lewis Hamilton uses the energy in his F1 car. Drivers can choose between a ‘hot lap’ setting to extract the maximum performance over one lap or an ‘endurance’ mode which will eke out the available energy over a multi-lap stint.
So it’s fast and fun around a circuit but if anything the new C63 is even more impressive as a road car. On the serpentine mountain roads around Ascari, it’s phenomenally quick. Grip levels are high, the front axle feels eager and responsive and now that the C63 is all-wheel drive, the traction of out of slower corners verges on gobsmacking. Flatten the throttle at the apex and you can almost feel the tarmac rippling up behind you as it tears at the surface for purchase. It’s savagely fast. Like a Subaru WRX or Mitsubishi EVO wound up to 11.
And it just gives you so many options. Come into a corner too hot and it always feels like you have more braking performance and steering lock to exploit. I’ve long thought there’s not much that could out-run a well-driven A45 on a twisty section of road, but this car would leave it in its dust. The real secret to the new C63’s formidable real-world pace is its suspension. The roads around Ascari are gnarly and littered with evil bumps that would turn the old C63 into a snarly, bucking beast, skipping and struggling to get its grunt to the road. The new C63 isn’t only more forgiving but it breathes with the surface (keeping the dampers in Comfort while everything else is in Race mode yields the best results) and while that means you can feel the body moving instead of being held in a vicelike grip, it’s always predictable and controlled. For that reason alone it’s in a different league for real-world pace compared with the current car. And in the wet, that gap will only grow.
So what about weaknesses? Well aside from the higher price and smaller boot, the most obvious weakness is the sound. It’s just not loud, angry or soulful enough, to my ears at least. But perhaps the thing that will polarise people most is that the C63 no longer feels like a muscle car. For decades now, AMG’s fast C-Class has traded on being a brooding and bombastic performance car that majors on drama, theatre and personality. That old-school charm has diminished with this version and the C63 is now more like a high-tech hot hatch than a charismatic hot rod. Your mileage may vary on whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing.
Judge it in isolation and the new C63 is a mighty and wickedly fast performance sedan. It’s also a spectacular piece of engineering that out performs the car it’s replacing in virtually every objective measure. It’s quicker, thriftier, quieter, comfier and is so fiendishly complex that it makes the W205 C63 feel a touch quaint and old-school. But for all its superiority, it’s also clear that the new C63 is a harder car to understand and to love. It needs time to get under your skin so a definitive verdict will have to wait until we score some more seat time in Australia and conduct a comparison with the BMW M3 Competition and Audi RS4, but for now, one thing is obvious: AMG has altered the C63 recipe to such a degree that it’s sure to alienate some of its existing customer base. The gamble that AMG is banking on is that this thoroughly modern interpretation of what a C63 should be will see it gain more fans that it loses.
- Model 2024 Mercedes-AMG C63 S E Performance W206
- Engine 2.0-litre 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo + e motor
- Max power 671bhp 500kW (combined)
- Max torque 1020Nm (combined)
- Transmission 9-speed automatic
- L/W/H/W-B 4842/1900/1458/2875mm
- Weight 2090kg
- 0-62mph 0-100km/h 3.4sec (claimed)
- Max speed 160mph (claimed)
- Economy 6.9L/100km (claimed)
- Price $200,000 (estimated)
- On sale Q2 2023
Cabin design follows Mercedes’ well-trodden evolutionary path. What lies beneath is anything but.
Below: It’s unlikely you’ll forget that this one is pure Affalterbach, but a reminder is nice.
Burmester stereo is just one of a number of trim choices that are standard on Australian cars and options in other markets.
Does it feel like 2.1 tonnes? Not really. The C63’s remarkably intuitive to drive fast too
Early adopters will love this: hardcore fans of a bent-eight, not so much Electric mode will get you 13km. Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.
3 things you should know
- If this new C63 does carry a price of circa-$200,000 that means it’ll be the most expensive offering in its direct competitor set. Nearly all of its key rivals have price tags that start in the $150K bracket: the Audi RS4 Avant is $155,400, an Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio will set you back $148,000 and the G80 BMW M3 Competition, which costs $169,500.
twoWARRANTY & COSTS
- Like all Mercedes models in Australia, the C63 will be covered by a five year/ unlimited km warranty. Service intervals and costs are yet to be confirmed but Mercedes is tipping you’ll need to visit a dealer every 12 months or 20,000km. Residuals are also something to bear in mind with many of the C63’s key rivals now getting on a bit.
threeHOW THIRSTY IS IT?
- Fuel efficiency mightn’t be the number one reason people buy a C63 but it’s nice to know this new model will be lighter on the wallet. Going hybrid has given the W206 C63 an official economy figure of 6.9L which is a big improvement over the old car’s claim of 9.9L and far better than competitors like the Audi RS4 (8.9L) and BMW M3 Comp (10.2L).