A compact sporting Merc to outrun BMW’s M3? Apparently so
What you’re looking at is Mercedes-Benz seeking to put to bed for all time the notion that its fast compact saloon is in some way destined to live in the shadows of its nemesis, the BMW M3. It always used to be that way, right from the days of the 190 2.3-16 Cosworth, and Mercedes has clearly had enough. So while today’s M3 has three litres, six cylinders and 425bhp – not an unimpressive set of stats – the new C63 AMG in ‘S’ trim has four litres, eight cylinders and 503bhp.
Yet it feels faster even than its claimed 4sec 0-62mph time, which indeed it is as this number says far more about the traction limitations of its rear-drive layout than the colossal performance potential of a car powered by precisely the same engine as the more potent version of the AMG GT supercar. What’s more – and despite its turbochargers – this is an engine of zero lag and mighty aural charm, a forced induction powertrain for which no apparent price is paid, other than at the pumps. Somewhat improbably it uses less fuel than the M3, too. There’s also an estate version, plus a coupé we’ll see in September. I am promised that will be madder by far than anything we have seen so far.
Even as it stands this is an achingly desirable car, not just for its potential but the civility with which it is delivered. The cabin is a place of genuine luxury and perceived build quality not even Audi can match, let alone BMW. It’s quiet if you can keep control of your right foot, while the ride quality is nothing less than exceptional for a car such as this. Indeed it’s so civilised you wonder if Mercedes has actually deliberately softened the car, figuring that out there in the real world owners will prioritise comfort ahead of finely balanced handling.
And it’s partially true. The Mercedes does well to disguise its considerable heft and angles into corners quickly and accurately before accelerating away and exhibiting far better traction than you might expect, given the torque each rear tyre must handle. What it lacks is that incisiveness BMW provides as standard in the M3: it feels less alert and, some would doubtless argue, less of a driving machine as a result. But not me: one of the reasons the M3 is more exciting when driven this way is that it is also more frightening. It is not an easy car to control at the edge of adhesion, forcing you to balance on a narrow ridge of neutrality, either side of which lie quite dramatic and not always predictable body movements that require both speed and accuracy to manage. The C-class is unquestionably sleepier, but if that’s what’s needed to make it friendlier I’d call it a price worth paying.
Indeed, just about the only thing I didn’t like about this C-class is the £66,550 price. Then again that’s the price of the smug satisfaction that comes from knowing you’re driving not only the most powerful compact saloon in the world, but the best.
Engine: 4.0 litres, 8 cylinders, turbocharged
Power: [email protected]
Torque: 516b [email protected]
Transmission: seven-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Power to Weight: 291bhp per tonne
Top speed: 155mph