The midcycle facelift on the 2019 Mercedes-AMG C63 is more than just a new front and rear fascia -– it gets a complex nine-speed Speedshift MCT transmission, an electronically controlled rear differential and nine-stage traction control, among other improvements. And I got to drive it at a German racetrack called Bilster Berg that is more twisted and convoluted than the mind of your favorite supervillain. But before we get to that, let’s look back at the car that started it all, the original 1995 C36, the hereditary tree root of AMG.
Anyone here remember when the C36 came out 23 years ago? I do, and I can tell you it was a dream to drive — so well-connected to the road, such precise steering, the perfect level of feedback. It was made to counter the BMW M3 of the time, another car I, and presumably you, loved. That BMW-AMG competition wasn’t so much a horsepower war as a precision handling and steering war, and you and I, the lucky schmoes who got to drive them both, were the winners.
The ’95 C36 had -– this was an era when the numbers on cars meant something -– a 3.6-liter straight-six making 270 hp and 284 lb-ft of torque. Not mind-blowing output, especially compared to today’s crazy spec sheets, but good enough for a 0-60 time of a little over six seconds (this was 23 years ago, remember). Acceleration wasn’t the thing with that car; perfect, single-handed balance was the thing, and the C36 delivered it in deutsche marks.
So imagine how surprised and delighted I was to find, at the launch of the new C63 (C63 is C36 spelled inside out), that the AMG people had brought with them an original C36. It was parked right there with all the other AMGs. It probably had the keys inside. I began that strange dance of insinuation that sometimes ends in me getting to drive a really cool car. I told AMG program manager Jens Hueser how much I liked the original, how it was just perfect in its balance and control, yadda yadda yadda, as they say in German. He saw through me immediately.
“I am sorry, but you can’t drive it.”
But by that point in the day, I had already driven the new C63 sedan, cabriolet and coupe and found driving them to be like going from a biplane to a spaceship. There are driver-selectable controls for the transmission, ride, shocks and probably for the cigarette lighter, though you’ll only be smoking after the drive. There’s even a new driving mode called, I am not making this up, Slippery. The C36, of course, had none of that, just a perfectly set-up chassis and enough power and torque to make the most of it. Why couldn’t we go back to that perfect setup of yore, I asked Hueser?
“For you, yeah, (the C36) was perfect,” said Hueser. “But now, with the new car, everyone can get their own personal style.”
So it’s a perfect car that can be made perfect for anyone? Nice idea. Let’s look at all those adjustments that take us to that perfection. There’s a toggle switch labeled Drive Select, and with it, you can set powertrain, suspension and even the exhaust to your liking. Then there is AMG Dynamics, which lets you specify your preferences to basic, advanced, pro and master that further tunes engine response and stability control. On the C63S, there is also a nine-stage adjustment for the traction control (“Don’t go beyond 5!” they warned us). Computer programmers will love all that stuff. Will everyone else? I would suggest that you spend a lot of time with your dealer technology rep as he or she explains it all in great detail until you understand everything required to set up the car to your liking. You may not even know what your liking is. Maybe you have a couple of likings, for different days of the week, and you have to put them all into the car’s brain. It could be overkill. Or it may be paradise. You have to learn it all, the same way you made the transition from typewriter to word processor (if you haven’t made that transition yet, perhaps search out an original C36 on Craigslist and just buy that).
Once I arrived at the track, as has been the case at other AMG events I’ve attended, I was funneled directly into the cars. When I arrived at the tortured Bilster Berg track, pulling up to park right under the diving, slightly off-camber corner they call die Mausefalle, or The Mouse Trap, I swear I thought we were at a theme park. Surely we’re not going to drive on that thing? Not fast? But we were. And stop calling me Shirley.
“Grabben zee eine helmut,” said some German dude, “And getten zee in das auto.”
Who was I to argue?
They had us in a lead-follow configuration, with me behind an instructor/racer and two other C63s behind me.
“Have you driven here before?” the DTM racer leader asked.
“Nein!” I said.
“Worry zee nicht,” he said, or something to that effect.
So I put the drive mode into race — why not? — tried to adjust the seat and wondered if the parking brake was on or off. It was off, apparently, and so was I. If you’re driving a C63S model, a little thumb wheel on the steering wheel allows you to adjust the amount of traction control help you get. I didn’t have time to figure this out except that I think I was getting a fair amount. I didn’t slip, oversteer or spin out on that first five-lap session, but I did simultaneously realize that a) this car is remarkably fast and stable and b) that Mouse Trap thing is fun.
That AMG Driving Dynamics feature has a lot of potential for those willing to explore it. It uses inputs like steering, road speed and the amount of yaw at any given moment to decide not just how much trouble you’re already in, but what dumb thing you’re about to do, and it corrects for that. It sees the future! In slippery and comfort modes, it keeps you more in line, but in sport, sport-plus and race, it allows more freedom to slide around.
After several sessions on the track in both coupes and sedans, I was feeling pretty confident. So on my last session, I went out with the traction set at 5. But the guy before me had put the shifter in manual mode, and I didn’t realize it until we were on the course. I didn’t dare take my flying eyeballs off the track to look down and find the automatic setting. So I was foundering around out there and actually got one rear wheel about a half a tire-width onto the grass. Even so, AMG did not abandon me. In another car, I might have spun, but here I just maintained even pedal pressure on the gas and soldiered on. At the off-camber crest just before the Mouse Trap, where I’d seen other cars get light and get a little sideways, I, too, started to go sideways, having set tc to 5, remember, but only a little sideways. Was it my katzen-like reflexes that saved the day or some AMG algorithm? Whichever it was, there was no jerky intervention, just smooth progress.
The new AMG C63 goes on sale here in the States “early next year,” with prices ranging from just under 70 grand for the non-S variants of the sedan and coupe and the low-to-mid-70s for the C63S models. The C63S cabriolet will be in the low-$80,000 range. Should you buy one? Yes, you should, but be sure to study the owner’s manual thoroughly. Then go see the private motorsports club that owns the Bilster Berg and join up!