Some years ago, global rental car giant Hertz took the decision to expand their fleet from just providing a range of “ordinary” cars to cover a series of what they have variously called Premium, Prestige or Dream Car Classes, figuring that there could be a good market for access to some of the cars that we all dream of but cannot afford to buy and run on a daily basis. It was in the US, at major airports, where the biggest fleets of such cars started to appear, and they did indeed prove very popular. I learned a while back that rather than booking a car from this class, at what are relatively high prices, and usually with a derisory daily mileage limit beyond which additional fees pertain, then it was better to book an ordinary car and negotiate an upgrade on site, based on availability. Weekends always see peak demand, but during the week, there are often cars that are parked up, unreserved, and available for a reasonable amount of upgrade fee. Among the most popular such models have been some AMG Mercedes. Although I missed out on the W211 generation E63, I did get to sample the W204 generation C63 back in 2014, and I loved it, finding only a rather uncomfortable ride to be its only significant weak point. By the time those cars reached the end of their time on fleet, the W204 was no more, and there was a gap which Hertz filled with the smaller CLA43 AMG. I tested one of those at the end of 2016 and remember finding out that this car and the new W205 generation cars which had by this time started to appear on fleet were in the same booking class. Anyone who booked this class of car hoping for a C63 and who got a CLA45 AMG would feel somewhat short-changed, especially as my test of the CLA revealed what a disappointing car it was. Although the regular C300 saloon that I had driven a while back did not impress, largely because of its rough engine, I was eager to sample the new generation C63 as I suspected it would turn out to be just as good as all the reviews had suggested. I had to be patient before one became available, but my chance came at the start of the Spring 2018 trip when I was able to secure one for the second day of the trip, with the promise of the heavy rain of the first day not being a feature again. Eagerly, I went through the allocation process with my friend Annie on the Gold Desk, excited about the prospect of a day with a V8-powered sports saloon again.
Heart of the C63 is its engine. A major change from its predecessor sees the reduction in size from 6.2 litres to a completely new unit of just 4.0 litres, though when you lift the bonnet, it still looks like it is absolutely crammed in with barely a square inch of space left for anything else. Twin turbos ensure that the car has even more power than its predecessor. It is available in two versions: the regular C63 and the more potent C63S. The test car was the former, in which guise you get 469 bhp and 479 lb/ft. the C63S has an even more impressive 503 bhp. One of the many things that I loved about the previous generation C63 was the noise it made and I wondered if this one would have as much appeal. I need hardly have worried as when you get in and twist the traditional Mercedes-style key, the sound that resonates is just epic. The noise of the cold engine reverberating around the covered-area of the Hertz facility was particularly beguiling, but there would be plenty more aural pleasure to come during the time I had the car. That fabulous V8 rumble is evident at idle and there is a fabulous sound that just gets better and better the harder you accelerate. You will also enjoy the sound on the over-run. When cruising at a steady speed, the noise is relatively subdued, which is how you would want it, as this means that motorway trips are suitably relaxing. The noise is just the start of the goodness, though, as it is what the C63 can do that really impresses. This is a seriously rapid car, on paper slightly faster than is closest rival, the BMW M3/M4 duo, with a 0-60 time of around 4 seconds. No matter what speed you are doing, there is seemingly limitless and ferocious levels of acceleration available. There are paddles on the wheel if you want to change the gears yourself, but even when left to its own devices, the gearbox will help you to get the best out of this engine. There are 7 forward gears and a dual clutch system. In everyday motoring you are only ever going to use a fraction of the available power, of course, so you can drive this car around taking advantage of the torque and the flexibility, with the maximum available from as low as 1700rpm, and it seems quite docile, but be in no doubt that there is a wild animal here just waiting to be unleashed. There is, of course, a potential price to pay, which will come at refuelling time. When I collected the car and was cycling through various menus on the trip computer I came across the fact that in its 26,000 miles it have averaged just 18.8 mpg (US), with an average speed of 29 mph. I covered 380 miles in the day I had the car, heading to the Joshua National Park, well to the east of Los Angeles. You get there by making a long journey on the 60 and 10 freeways, which means a lot of steady speed cruising, which is why when I came to hand the car back, I needed to put 15 gallons into it, which computes to 25.33 mpg US or 30.27 mpg Imperial. I would guess that this is as about as good a figure as you are ever likely to see, but if it is, well, it really is quite acceptable given the performance of the car.
Whilst the hand-built engine is a part of what transforms the regular C Class into a C63 AMG, there are plenty of other changes made to help the car to cope with its explosive performance. Regular C63 models get a mechanical limited slip diff, whereas the C63S models get an electronic one, and you also get a wider track than in the standard car, AMG-tuned uprated and lowered version of the standard car’s multi-link suspension complete with three-stage adaptive damping as part of AMG’s Sport Ride Control system. unique rear wheel bearings offering greater negative camber for improved traction, firmer springs and dampers, altered bushing and a 25mm reduction in ride height. more powerful brakes and at least 18″ wheels as well as a quad sports exhaust. It remains a rear wheel drive car, with the 4Matic system not offered even as an option. There are a number of drive modes, from Comfort to Sport, Sport+ and Individual and in the C63S, you also get Race. The leather-wrapped wheel is pleasant to hold and the electrically-assisted steering for which it is the interface is also agreeable. There is plenty of feel to the set-up, and the weighting increases as you turn the wheel. Electronics tame the power well, so when driven responsibly, you do not have to use the wheel to keep the car under control, despite the prodigious power and levels of acceleration. Turn off the ESP and drive like a hooligan, though, and you can – apparently – readily slide the car, and wear your tyres out very quickly. The handling is excellent and would require a track for you to find the limits of grip. There is negligible body roll. Powerful brakes are fitted and there is an electronic handbrake with a button the dash. There is a penalty, though, which is the ride. The test car had the smallest available wheels, which were 245/40 ZR18 at the front and 265/40 ZR18s at the back. On very smooth surfaces all seemed comfortable enough, but there are few such roads in Southern California, and on those roads which were more typical of what you find in the area, the ride can only be described as pretty awful. It is very firm, which you might be able to like wit it, but also reacts badly to both small and large imperfections transmitting some of them into the cabin. They undoubtedly also contribute to the levels of noise in the cabin. Whilst the engine note is well suppressed, road noise and to an extent some wind noise are all too evident. A further issue, which I would hope was unique to this car was a resonance and a number of rattles from the rear of car. Sadly, Mercedes-Benz build quality these is patchy and often well below not just the standards you expect from the marque’s reputation but also in comparison to many other makes.
The interior of the C63 has a number of touches to remind you that this is an AMG and a cut above the regular C Class cars. That starts with the AMG kick plates and extends to AMG badging on the steering wheel as well as the centre of the dash on the cupholder cover. Plenty of “leather” clads the interior, as this material wraps the dash and door casings as well as featuring on the upholstery where there is also a suede covering. There are gunmetal highlighters and a very polished zebrano wood used for inlays on the dash, centre console and door casings. Overall you get the feeling that these are quality materials and it all seemed to be put together well. There is a chunky leather-wrapped steering wheel which proved nice to hold and not overly burdened with buttons on its spokes. There are two analogue dials which sit in deep recesses under a single cowl. Smaller fuel level and water temperature gauges are inset in these and between the dials is the trip computer display area, with a series of menus that will be familiar to anyone who has driven any other recent Mercedes. You cycle between these with buttons on the left hand steering wheel spoke. The right hand spoke buttons are used for audio repeater functions. Like most modern Mercedes models, the gear selector is on the column, to the upper right. It proves easy to use, with the lever simply moving down for forward motion, up for reverse and you press a button in the end to set Park. Its position means that the functions that everyone else puts on column stalks have to go on the left. Some time ago Mercedes swapped around the position of the combined indicator and wiper stalk and the cruise control, so the former is where you expect it to be and is the one you are more likely to find. Lights are operated by a rotary dial on the dash to the left of the wheel. Like other W205 generation C Class models, the 10.25″ infotainment screen looks like an iPad stuck on the top of the centre of the dash as something of an after-thought. The easiest way to operate it is to use the thumbwheel and buttons of the COMAND system in the centre console. The menu structure is extensive but logical and the graphics are clear. Slightly surprisingly, there was no navigation system on this car, though the menu option is there, so you get reminded on a frequent basis that whoever specced the car did not pay for the option. Below the central air vents there are a couple of banks of switches which are used for some of the audio functions and below this the dual zone automated climate control. There is still a CD slot associated with the Burmester audio system. The clock bears IWC branding. The centre console contains the COMAND control wheel and the button to allow you to select the driving mode: individual, comfort, sport and sport + are on offer and these allow you to change not just throttle sensitivity and steering weight but also the dampers and traction control.
Seat upholstery in the test car was a mix of part Leather, part suede, which to my eyes looked better and was more appealing than full leather trim. You get special AMG sports seats and these proved very comfortable. Needless to say they are electrically adjustable, using buttons which in true Mercedes form are on the door. Among the things you can alter as well as lumbar support is the under-thigh bolster. I certainly did not need any extra length here (I have short thighs!), but could have done with a little more support. The front seats are heated. There is a three position memory, again with buttons for this on the door. There was a full glass sun roof on the test car, which added a lot of light to the cabin. It did not take much off the headroom.
Although this generation C class gained a few inches in length and a bit in width, in the interests of making more room inside, space in the rear is still not overly generous. Legroom may become an issue if the front seats are set well back, and headroom was only just sufficient for me when I tested them. There is quite a wide and tall central tunnel so a middle seat occupant would need to sit with their legs astride this. There is a drop down central armrest, which has both pull-out cup holders and a stowage cubby in its upper surface. There are a pair of air vents on the rear face of the central console. Oddments space comes from nets on the back of the front seats as well as door pockets.
There is a good sized boot, regular in shape. More space for odds and ends is available under the floor and if you need greater length then the rear seat backrests drop down. Inside the cabin, there is a glove box which you think will be sizeable based on the size of the lid, but which turns out to be rather disappointing. Door pockets are complemented by a a deep cubby under the twin-lidded central armrest as well as a net on the passenger side of the centre console.
Mercedes offer a bewildering array of C Class models, with a range of petrol and diesel engines and several trims in four different body styles. A rather reduced selection is available ti US buyers. For a start they do not get the Estate body, leaving the choice of saloon, coupe or convertible. Many of the less powerful C Class models that we see in Europe are not offered in the US, where the ranges starts with the C300, with its four cylinder 2.0 litre turbo petrol engine. Above this is the C350e, which has struggled to find buyers in America, and then there is the new-for-2017 C43 AMG which took the place of the C450. At the top of the range, both the C63 and C63S are offered. The C63 models sport plenty of AMG styling cues, including a unique front bumper housing a trio of large air ducts and a reworked grille sporting a small AMG insignia. The front wings are subtly widened and receive indents behind the wheel arches with V8 BiTurbo badges mounted on either side. The sills have also been beefed up. In equipment terms, there is little difference between them all , with the AMG upgrades, which do add significantly to the purchase price, being largely confined to mechanical changes. Standard equipment on the C63 does include almost everything you would probably want with the exception of the satellite navigation, which comes with an upgraded infotainment unit. You do get 18″ alloys, all the AMG badging including kick-plates, and drilled metal pedals, electrically-adjustable heated sports seats with 3 memory settings, dual zone climate control, an infotainment system with touch screen and Mercedes COMAND touchpad controller including Bluetooth and HD radio as well as a CD Slot and XM Satellite radio and a glass sun roof. Detailed equipment specifications vary from market to market, and it would seem that UK market C63 cars come with more kit than you get in the US.
It is hard to see how anyone could be disappointed by the C63 AMG. A practical family saloon in this guise, or an even more roomy estate, stylish coupe or convertible if you choose one of the other available body styles, it is also a sports car in disguise, with blistering levels of performance, a beguiling sound track and driving dynamics which make the car so good to drive. It’s not perfect, with the fuel consumption likely to help you to increase your reward point collection from the garage at a great rate, and the ride being the compromises that you will have to make in return for all the pluses. It is also not cheap. Although depreciation will make a car that is a couple of years old look quite tempting, a prospective buyer will need to bear in mind that the running costs of this car (and its rivals, for that matter) will be very high. Accept that, though and there is little doubt that you are getting an excellent car. No wonder they are so popular with Hertz’ customers at those locations where they have them available.