From the surface, the C63 looks like it has the goods to compete with the big boys in the Euro performance club. Boy racer styling? Check. Monstrous V8? Check. Ginormous tyres? Check. Manual transmission? Not so much. Also not along for the party is a coupe or convertible version of the C63. Mercedes’ decision to make the C63 auto-only is perplexing enough, but the fact that they also decided to ignore the rest of the M3 portfolio is truly baffling. Consider the competition: the M3 coupe and convertible [combined] outsell the M3 sedan almost five to one. This halfhearted approach to a hotly contested and prestige-generating segment truly defines the experience with the C63: you constantly feel like this could have been a great car.
When reviewing a car I often find it useful to read other reviews on the same car, usually to see what likes and dislikes other reviewers had, and then see if those same issues bother me at all. When the C63 AMG was dropped off on my doorstep, I have to admit I was giddy, not just because it looks like a mini-me version of the E63 that I routinely park next to, but because every review I have read waxes poetic about it being the answer to the M3.
Starting off inside, for a $66,500 (as equipped) car, the cheap plastics and lack of features are startling. The same options – or lack thereof – that greet you in a base C300 rear their heads in the C63. If you don’t opt for the $3,300 multimedia package, then you are stuck with a pointless microscopic screen tucked under a manually opening storage cubby. The screen shows a digital tuning dial for the radio and provides a display for the built-in Bluetooth, but it’s so small that you might as well dial on your phone. When you opt for the $375 iPod integration kit, the screen becomes an oddly placed paperweight since the iPod can only be controlled via the steering wheel.
This is good if you don’t like your passenger’s to decide what tunes to listen to, but bad if you would like to use the screen in the center of the speedo for something else like the AMG mode where you see oil and coolant temps and an alternate gear indicator. This feature is so counterintuitive that when reading reviews like Autoblog’s review of the C63, they never even worked out how to use the iPod interface and instead disconnected the iPod and manually changed songs and playlists! Our press car didn’t come with the uplevel sound system or keyless drive, a feature found on Kias these days. Electronic shocks aren’t even an option.
I drove the C63 for two days, then re-read a number of reviews on the car. I figured there must be something wrong: they must have been driving a different car. The front seats in the C63 are epically uncomfortable yet no other review mentions this; they were apparently designed for someone less than 5’10” tall and less than 8” from shoulder to shoulder. I had no less than 15 random people try the seats, nobody found them pleasant to sit in. Six feet tall and with an average build, I was incapable of finding a comfortable seating position because the upper portion of the seat is so severely bolstered that the only way my upper back could touch the seat is if I hunched forward and curled my shoulders. Otherwise it felt like I was being groped by the side bolsters, and not in a good way. Sadly Mercedes offers no alternative seats. The front seats alone are reason to avoid the C63. Don’t get me wrong, I love side bolsters, but they need to be adjustable or sized for 85% of the populace.
The C63 is a deeply conflicted car; it has the engine of a world-class sports car and an exhaust note that makes teenagers cream their shorts, yet it possesses the most dimwitted automatic I have ever experienced in a sports sedan. The C63 doesn’t get the E63’s new automatic-with-a-clutch. Instead it gets Mercedes’ “Speedshift Plus” 7-speed automatic. The name suggests that this transmission shifts quickly. It doesn’t.
The C63 may very well be faster than the M3 in a straight line at a drag strip from a stop, but in reality when you are on the freeway next to one and compete for a freeway exit, the M3 is off the freeway and on the ramp before the C63 has even shifted. Speaking of those shifts, cars like the M3 or even the portly (in comparison) XFR will queue shifts: i.e. if you are in 6th and want 2nd hear, just flip the paddle four times and most performance cars will shift directly from 6th to 2nd blipping the throttle only once in the process. The AMG will not. You have to flip the paddle once, it blips, the transmission engages 5th, once in 5th you flip the paddle again, it blips again and engages 4th rinse and repeat for gears 3 and 2.
By the time you get to 2nd gear, you have run over the bicyclist in front of you, careened over the cliff or forgotten why you wanted 2nd gear in the first place. When I asked about this annoyance, I was told that all you have to do is hold down the down paddle and “the transmission will shift to the lowest gear available.” Sounds good, right? Wrong. The transmission still blips and shifts sequentially all the way down from 7th to 2nd (that’s five blips, five gear changes) making you sound like some knob that can’t drive a stick, plus you can never summon 1st gear in that fashion, that is always one more paddle pull away.
What makes the transmission all the more infuriating is how the car handles. There is zero drama at speed. The electronic nanny reels in the fun at all the right moments and, should you tell the nanny to pack it in for the day, you can burn out and do doughnuts to your heart’s content. This car is fast, seriously fast. The forums are alight with complaints that Merc didn’t keep the 518HP tune from the E63 in the C63, but it doesn’t really matter because there isn’t enough grip to use all that power from a stop anyway. My best accelerometer tested 0-60 time was 4.8 seconds, and that was (by necessity) easing up on the throttle around 3500-4500RPM to keep from burning out in first gear.
At the end of the day, the M3 remains the better car. The BMW’s ride is more compliant, thanks to electronic shocks. Its dual clutch transmission is neck-breakingly fast. And, perhaps most significantly, its interior parts quality is light-years ahead.Every person who got into the C63 was surprised that they were not surrounded by luxury. If Mercedes ditched the M3 wannabe seats, spent some cash making the interior a better place, and softened the suspension a hair, it might just be the perfect compact Euro sports sedan. Until then it’s playing third fiddle to the RS4 [a car that is no longer even sold new] and M3.
Mercedes-Benz provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review