Friday, November 14, 2014

Test Drive: 2014 Mercedes Benz C63 AMG

What do you think when you hear the phrase "mid-sized super sedan?" Most people would think of cars like the BMW M3, the Audi RS4, and the Mercedez Benz C63 AMG. Why only those three cars? If there is one thing the big three German car manufacturers do right, it is mid-sized super sedans. Personally, I have always wanted to drive and possibly own one of these three super sedans. Lucky for me, the opportunity to drive one for a full day on my birthday gave me the chance to tick one more item off my bucket list.

East Brother showed up to my apartment the morning of my birthday with a very loud surprise. As I approached my own car, I saw a silver, 2014 Mercedes Benz C63 AMG was parked behind my S2000. Naturally, this was a huge surprise, as the German "hot rod" (as I like to call it) has been a car I have been wanting to drive for a long time. As I approached, East Brother began revving the engine of this beast, confirming my nickname for the car to be completely accurate. The C63's 6.2 liter V8 sounds a lot like the big V8s you find packed into American muscle cars. Listening to that car's engine and exhaust note sent a chill up my spine.

On the outside, the C63 looks kind of like a standard C-Class who spent the years since college taking steroids and working out at the local Gold's Gym. To the untrained eye though, it could be confused for just a ho-hum C250 with different wheels. I like the fact that it can blend in with the standard C-Class crowd if it needs to. To me, the entire point of the C63 AMG is that it is meant to be a sleeper. You do not really notice it as you walk by it or it cruises by, but once the driver starts the car and puts the hammer down, the sounds it makes will let you know that this is a C-Class to be reckoned with.

Climbing into the car, the first thing I noticed was how aggressively bolstered the seats were. It felt like there was a person behind me with their arms wrapped around me. It took a little getting used to, as even the seat in my S2000 is not this aggressively bolstered. After getting used to the seats, they were actually surprisingly comfortable, and boy did they need to be (we will get to that later though). I really enjoyed the way the steering wheel felt in my hands. The thick, D-shaped wheel just seemed to fit nicely to the contours of my palms. The rest of the interior, unfortunately, does not seem like it belongs in a car with a starting MSRP of about $65,000. Understandably, this is a Mercedes C-Class, an entry luxury car, so the lack of ultra high-end materials can be forgiven. I also understand that most of the money for this car goes into that killer, hand-built engine as well as the other performance upgrades. At least, Mercedes could have replaced the standard plastic trim with something a bit more suitable, like aluminum or carbon fiber.

Another huge disappointment about this car is Mercedes' COMAND system. Like Audi's MMI, COMAND controls all of the infotainment functions of your car. Everything from navigation, to radio, and even your cellphone is all controlled via one large knob in the center console behind the shift knob. Just like Audi's MMI though, the system is incredibly complicated. It is slow, has you hunt through menus to operate the most basic radio functions, and does not even have Bluetooth media streaming (Editor's note: to be fair, it does, but you would be hard pressed to find it without reading the manual). Worst of all, it is just like Audi's MMI system: everything is tied together. If you turn the system off, you turn the entire system off. I simply do not understand why Audi and Mercedes feel that having the navigation function separately from the radio is such a difficult task. Hey, at least the voice recognition is pretty good.

But enough about my disappointments with the interior of this beast. After all, I am fairly certain my brother did not hand me this car for the day to "enjoy" the interior. Like BMW's M division, and Audi RS, AMG cars are meant to be driven, and boy does this thing drive well. The thrust and sound delivered by the hand-built 6.2-liter V8 is absolutely intoxicating. 451 horsepower and 443 lb./ft. of torque being delivered to decidedly skinny 255 width tires is absolutely no joke. Get on the power too hard out of a corner and you will feel the tail kick out. I am still surprised at AMG's decision to include such skinny rear tires on such a powerful car. My S2000 has 245 width tires as standard equipment in the rear, and its horsepower and torque figures are nowhere near those of the C63. While I did not dare to get the car sideways, I am sure it would have been a hoot and a half. But despite my lack of sideways antics, I still had an amazing time just downshifting into corners with the 7-speed automatic. Sure, the transmission is a bit jerky when it changes down the gears, but time it right and you get some very satisfying pops and burbles out of the exhaust. 

Drive the car properly in its sportiest setting it actually handles incredibly well. While carving up some winding roads up in Palos Verdes, I never once felt the slightest bit of understeer tackling the many hairpin turns on the road. The car always felt planted, exhibited very little body roll, and was just an absolute joy to throw into corners. Even stepping on the brakes in this car was amazing. The six-piston calipers bit down on the giant cross-drilled rotors and brought the C63 to a halt in what felt like practically an instant. Steering is actually quite stiff, but also very precise if left in Sport+ mode. Take the car down to its softest setting, comfort, and the car is actually pretty livable as a daily driver with two glaring caveats: the suspension is still quite stiff and the fuel economy is absolutely atrocious.

While heading out to dinner, I decided to treat my friends to the sonorous noise of the C63's amazing V8. Unfortunately, the backseat passengers did not enjoy the ride as much as I enjoyed the drive. As mentioned, even in comfort mode, the car's suspension is still pretty stiff. Backseat passengers really got bounced around when I drove over speed bumps and potholes. I got plenty of complaints over the course of the night about how uncomfortably hard the car was. By the end of the night, I was left attempting to tiptoe over speed bumps and poor roads. After a full day of driving, my back was also quite sore, despite the somewhat comfortable seats, from the constant assault the suspension had delivered. You would think that driving an S2000 as a daily driver would make me used to this kind of punishment, but I cannot remember a time when my back hurt that much after spending an entire day driving my own car.

Speaking of my own car, the C63's fuel consumption -- economy hardly seems appropriate in this case -- is absolutely terrible compared to my own car. Sure, I know it has four more cylinders, nearly 3 times the displacement, and makes nearly double the horsepower and triple the torque, but in this day and age, it should be possible to do a little better. It was delivered to me with a full tank of gas and over the course of a full day's worth of driving, I put a total of about 119 miles. By the end of the day, I was just under half a tank. With some quick calculations, this amounted to a whopping 14 mpg. Honestly, I did not really expect conservation of fuel per se, as it lacks such modern technologies like cylinder deactivation and auto stop/start, but I did not expect it to be in the mid-teens. Then again, if you can afford a C63 AMG, I am also fairly certain paying for gas is likely not going to be a problem either.

Getting to spend an entire day driving the C63 AMG was an absolute blast. The car was as fast and handled as well as I had expected. Sure, the iffy interior, super hard suspension, and poor fuel economy left me with a little bit of a bad impression, but overall I still had way too much fun with it to care. If I had the money though, I really do not think the C63 would be a car I would pick to own. For daily driving purposes, it is a bit too rough and drinks gas faster than an alcoholic locked in a liquor store. With that said, I can now check off one of the many cars on my bucket list. Perhaps down the road, I can find an M3 or RS4 to compare against this experience.