First Drive - Mercedes-AMG C63 S E-Performance

Mercedes-AMG has done the unthinkable and replaced the V8 in the C63 with a hybrid powertrain, but it’s also focused on the dynamics to make it a very different performance saloon.

The First Drive Verdict: 4.0

Mercedes has dumped the V8 from its C63. For some that will be the end of the story, they simply won’t read on any further and will go to their nearest Wetherspoons, sink a few pints in commiseration and then get into a fight with a BMW M3 owner. 

But they should read on, because while the focus of the C-Class AMG has always been its engine, instead the engineers focused on the dynamics. They wanted to make it more precise, better to drive and less like a sledgehammer. We traveled to Malaga in southern Spain to experience the car and find out what this all means and whether the switch to a P3 hybrid powertrain has killed off the C63 as we know it.


DESIGN - 3.5 out of 5

The design is somewhat more muted than in previous C Class AMGs. It still has the power bulges in the bonnet, now flanking a cooling grille. It has various appendages, quad exhausts, a diffuser and a small lip spoiler on the boot but it doesn't look quite as aggressive as it used to. Maybe that's in line with the fact that it's a slightly more environmentally-friendly form of C-Class AMG. 

The front is wider by about 76mm, it's slightly longer too, 50mm at the front and overall it’s 83mm longer with an extra 10mm in the wheelbase. 

Inside there are significant changes which follow a lot of the things that are happening within Mercedes. It has a large MBUX touchscreen infotainment system, a digital instrument cluster, one of the biggest head-up displays we’ve ever experienced, but you've also got the second generation of AMG seats with a mixture of things like alcantara or natural materials. It's all very nicely laid out and very comfortable, except for the fact that it's maybe a little too gaming generation for some. You can change a lot of the instrumentation to be a bit more classic if you wish to though.

PRACTICALITY -  4.0 out of 5

First of all practicality is about the noise because the practicality of leaving your house early in the morning in a C-Class AMG in the past was not great. You woke up the neighbours and the neighbours neighbours, although in many respects that was very much part of its character. Now you can leave the house in electric mode and that means a much quieter pull-away and the ability to drive eight miles across town in electric mode. This is not something C-Class AMG owners are used to, but it does make it slightly more practical. The materials are practical, there's decent boot space, although there's a slight ledge in the boot because of the battery being placed on top of the e-motor on the rear axle. It all feels very comfortable, much more comfortable than previous generations, in fact, we'd almost go as far as to call it civilised.

TECH - 3.5 out of 5

There's loads of tech, from the massive head-up display that you can adjust to different formats, to the instrument cluster which on full boost looks like you're in front of a gaming console screen. There’s the MBUX and of course the ability to say "hey, Mercedes" and all sorts of things like that. It is a fully connected car with all the tech and that translates of course into all the systems including active cruise control, lane keeping assist, all those sort of things are in there too. It is a much more tech-laden car than before. Some will love that, some will hate it and look elsewhere. But there is the ability to tone down the tech and tone down the garishness of it all if you wish to and can find your way through the multiple menus.

DRIVE -  4.5 out of 5

This is the most important thing because this is how the car should be judged. We took it on a mixture of  very twisty mountain roads outside of Malaga, close to the Ascari circuit where we also put it through its paces trying our best to keep up with multiple DTM champion Bernd Schneider. We succeeded on occasion and we failed on others, but what we learned is that this new C63 S lacks the soundtrack of the previous generation. It lacks the rawness and character of the V8 and that will upset many an enthusiast, but the combination of the 476hp, two-litre motor, the most powerful four-cylinder in the world apparently in a road car and a 204hp electric motor on the back axle brings something else. That combination of 680hp and 1,020Nm not only gives it a 0-62mph time of 3.4 seconds but it gives it phenomenal instant torque and acceleration.

The inclusion of Merc's 4Matic+ all-wheel drive and rear-wheel steering contributes to a level of grip that's comparable to a Subaru STi and we know how leech-like like that can be, which means on the track, grip is just phenomenal. On the mountain passes, again it's the dynamics that set this car apart and chatting with Rene Szczepek, head of dynamics for AMG it became apparent that for the first time dynamics were put very much at the forefront of development of the car and they've nailed it because this is one of the most dynamic cars Mercedes has ever made, one of the most dynamic cars in its class. It's civilised and composed when you want it to be, quiet even. You can drive daily quite happily, but on twisty mountain passes with multiple camber changes, narrow stretches of road and very tight bends it's absolutely brilliant. It corners with a level of adhesion that has never existed in the C-Class AMG before. 

There was always a fear with a C63 that it was going to bite you and then smash you in the face. Now suddenly you've got a car that you feel in control of. Some of this is electronics of course, but those electronics aren't intrusive, they allow you to play, they allow you to have fun through eight driving modes all the way up to a drift mode, if you feel so inclined. It is an excellent example of dynamics and the engineering that goes into it with perfect 50:50 weight distribution, again, a first for the C-Class AMG and a combination of performance and composure that makes it one of the best performance saloons in its class. That's impressive when you consider there's a new BMW M3 on the block and what's available from Audi and others. We'd even go so far as to say you could take on a Porsche 911 and this is a saloon, with four seats and space for the kids.

VERDICT - 4.0 out of 5

We arrived in Malaga with the expectation that we would be disappointed, that the lack of a V8 and the switch to a two-litre four-cylinder would ruin the car forever, but the focus on dynamics has completely changed the character and turned this from a brute of a performance saloon into a four-door saloon with the character of a proper sports car. It makes a bit of noise when you want it to and we’re assured that noise is amplified rather than fake. However the C63 S is now about the ability to communicate directly with the road through the steering, through the accelerator and to get that power down, that full 1,020Nm and make the most of it and just put a massive smile on your face. This isn't a car that's all about the noise anymore, it's all about proper driver enjoyment. Far from disappointed we were really impressed.


Model driven: Mercedes-AMG C63 S E-Performance

Price: £TBC

Engine: 2.0 litre petrol-electric hybrid

Transmission: 9-speed AMG Speedshift MCT

Power: 680hp

Torque: 1,020Nm

0-62mph: 3.4 seconds

Top speed: 174mph

Combined consumption: 34mpg

CO2 emissions: 156g/km



Written by Mark Smyth