‘Downsizing’. It’s probably the most disappointing word in the motoring industry right now. It’s uttered with a hefty sigh as you accept a drop in displacement, in cylinders even, plus the presence of turbochargers as an inevitability of legislation-led emissions curbing. It’s what’s led to the next generation of Porsche Boxster and Cayman being powered by blown four-pots, to think of a recent example, but more relevantly, it’s the reason the BMW M3 lost two cylinders and gained a couple of turbochargers. Oh, and a dubious exhaust note.
After that car and its M4 coupe brother emerged, we all wondered what might happen to the Mercedes-Benz C63. What would become of its celebrated 6.2-litre naturally-aspirated V8? Not just one of the greatest Mercedes engines ever made, but one of the best V8 engines full stop? Well, it’s been binned, as predicted, from both the new W205 C63 and the semi-SLS-replacing AMG GT. But seriously, you don’t need to worry, AMG hasn’t gone the same route as M Division with its six-pot, instead sticking with a V8. Sure, it displaces ‘just’ 4.0 litres and is no longer naturally aspirated - instead packing a pair of turbos inside the cylinder banks in a ‘hot V’ formation to help packaging - but it’s a sensational bit of kit. A proper ‘weapons-grade’ engine.
I’m perhaps not in the best environment to be testing it out, however. We’ve already had to move some 20 miles away from our original Peak District shoot location (full video coming soon) for the car - because most of the roads are frozen over - but it’s not much better here. There are patches of ice here and there, and where the ice has thawed, there are little streams of water running down the road. And I’m in a £59,795, rear-wheel drive car with 469bhp and 479lb ft of torque.
I really should have checked the forecast previously, but I’ve been busy being charmed by the C63’s wafting ability - the seats are superb, the interior is luxurious and solid feeling despite that rubbish tablet-style screen and the unintuitive infotainment system its linked to, and although the suspension is firm, it’s certainly not brittle. It’s very much a mini S63 AMG, but more economical - on one long journey I even averaged a scarcely believable 34mpg.
Fast forward to the present, and my stress levels are a little higher. But, the weather simply isn’t proving to be an issue. There’s a little scrabble as I boot it away from the camera for the first time, and another chirp from the tyres when I shift it to second, but that’s it. And that’s all to do with the power delivery, which for a turbocharged engine is remarkably linear.
There’s no fat lump of torque to upset the rear boots - like in a BMW M3 - instead, there’s a pleasing surge as you charge through each of the reasonably slick automatic gearbox’s seven speeds. It’s relentless, addictive and oh-so satisfying, and this isn’t even the most powerful version: there’s a 503bhp ‘S’, if you fancy.
Right now though, I’m content with the ‘standard’ S. Even this ‘lesser’ version is utterly dominated by the engine. A prod of the starter button wakes the 4.0-litre V8 into a gargling idle. On the move, it’s not the most pleasant-sounding eight-pot, and it’s not the loudest from the inside either, but its deterministic, industrial growl is something I’ll happily listen to. Especially when each cog swap is met with a delectable ‘chuff’ from the quad exhaust. 0-62mph happens in 4.1 seconds, which I’m rather inclined to believe.
So, what we have here is a Mercedes-AMG with a terrific, muscular engine. So far, so predictable, but the notion that all AMG Mercs are all about shouty engines, straight-line speed and little else is completely blown away the first time you show the C63 a bend. The steering’s a tad too light and not the most feelsome, but it’s ruthlessly quick and incredibly accurate. The turn-in could be sharper, but when the car feels so brilliantly balanced, so confidence inspiring and ridiculously grippy, you don’t really care.
I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy tackling a cold, wet country road in a powerful rear-driven car with such venom, and it’s all because of the chassis residing under my buttocks. All the clever bits you can’t see: the dynamic engine mounts that stiffen as you drive fast to improve steering response; the multi-link rear suspension with increased negative camber for extra grip; the three-stage-electronic dampers; it all comes together beautifully.
I’m not going to pretend that this is driving perfection: other than the slightly limp turn-in, it does feel particularly heavy in some corners. The reason for this? It is heavy, over 1700kg in fact, making it 200kg heavier than a BMW M3 and completely wiping out its considerable power advantage. But screw the extra 200kg.
It’s a more gratifying driver’s car than the BMW, and a car that feels as though it’s actually on your side. It’s so, so close in terms of sharpness, and so superior as an overall package that the M3’s edge in the pointiness stakes doesn’t matter. The C63 is now the super saloon of choice so far as I can see, and that’s a very big deal indeed.