If we’d have been forced to place a bet on which German saloon would be last to give up its V8, we’d have put a hopeful coin or two on the Mercedes-AMG C63. It’s a special car to the people who make it, the beacon of a truth car people all know: there’s nothing quite like sticking a big, angry, powerful engine into as small a car as possible.
It gave successive generations of C63 a unique and wonderful identity. When BMW axed the M3’s legendary V8, AMG could have chosen that moment to switch its mighty old 6.2-litre V8 for a six, but instead it powered on with a twin-turbo V8. The C63 being V8-driven is something sacred to certain senior figures at the company – including its boss Tobias Moers, who apparently walked out of the boardroom when the C63’s hybrid four-pot future was decided.
Still, is it really all that bad, or are there glimmers of hope that this might not be such a tragedy? We all have to accept that this is the way the automotive world is going, so let’s look at the positives. First up, it’s efficiency. The number one reason I hear people give for not buying something with a truly meaty engine is fuel economy. They lust after a Subaru WRX STI, but they actually drive a diesel eco-box. Hell, I’m guilty of this exact sin at the moment because I do a whole heap of motorway miles and there’s no point sitting at 70mph(ish) in something that drinks like a fish.
So, then, the idea of a 500bhp+ compact super-saloon that could also dance around the 40mpg (UK) mark has to be a good thing for future sales figures. If the nagging doubts over direct running costs are mitigated, that’s one big hurdle cleared. Maybe we’ll be able to look at the future C63 as a car we could actually own and run one day.
Handling is another potential gain area. Dropping a V8 into a smallish saloon does create a bit of an imbalance in terms of weight distribution and finesse. In fairness to AMG, that brutish, slidey quality was always part of its identity. While the contemporary M3s of yesteryear usually won the comparison tests for being a sweeter drive overall, the lairy C63 always threw the giggle-o-meter to maximum.
Moving to four cylinders and a compact electric drivetrain gives the engineers the chance to move the centre of gravity downwards and rearwards. Early reports suggest the C63 will use a ‘self-charging’ hybrid setup like a traditional Prius, with a tiny 0.9kWh battery for short-range EV potential without the weight penalties of plug-in hybrids. The overall weight change might not be much, and it could be better located to make it much harder for BMW to claim any kind of handling win.
Now let’s get philosophical. The world is going digital, hard. The growth of e-sports is all the barometer you need to show you that more young people than ever are placing technology at the front of what they want from and enjoy in life. To this young generation, a massive, analogue V8 probably feels like a relic of the 20th century. Maybe they just don’t engage with it the way CTzens do.
The next C63 will be tech-forward. It will use clever hybrid technology to lead its appeal to a generation addicted to Fortnite and Call of Duty. Electric power boosts and EV modes are becoming the stuff people like to boast about, after all. The way things are going it just wouldn’t make sense to go old-school with the C63’s identity, and we can see why a change of approach might work.
Lastly, there’s the fact that the M139 engine, which will be taken from the new A45, isn’t actually a duff unit. Sure, it’s a four-pot and doesn’t create the aural magic AMG is known for, but it’s surprisingly natural-feeling and mimics the power delivery of normal aspiration pretty well. It even revs to 7200rpm. Let’s not forget the current version coughs up 415bhp, either. It’s not going to wheeze.
AMG has to be careful. Porsche’s Cayman and Boxster 718 are suffering enduring image problems after dropping to four cylinders. They’re fundamentally less characterful than before and buyers know it. A C63 with half the cylinders sounds like a recipe for alienating the fanbase in a similar way, unless Mercedes and AMG can come up with just the right marketing strategy to tempt a totally new kind of buyer. They’ve got positives to work with, so we’ll see how they handle them.