Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Mercedes-Benz E63 & C63 AMG Driving Impressions

I went to the Mercedes-Benz AMG Performance Tour a few months ago at the former El Toro Marine Base to sample the latest AMG products. The event was invitation-only with no exception as I saw a guy tried to do the walk-in and got turned away. There were about 25 to 30 participants in my session. The main tent was pretty “ritzy”. Coffee, juice, water, fruits, and pastries were served.

There was no presentation to sit through, and we went directly to the driving tent. There were three lines for each of the three models, 2010 SL63, E63, and C63, which we will be driving. All three shares the same engine and transmission. The 6.2L (yep, its “63” name is mislabeled) V8 which produces 518hp/465lb-ft in E63 and SL63, but produces “only” 451hp/443lb-ft in C63. Each AMG engine is hand built by a single engine builder from start to finish. All those horses are put to the rear wheels via an AMG Speedshift MCT 7-speed automatic transmission. It’s a multi-clutch unit not unlike VW/Audi’s DSG. Like the Jaguar XFR, all three models received subtle exterior and interior modifications to distinguish themselves from their lesser siblings. The price for the C63 starts at $57,350, the E63 starts at $85.750, and the SL63 starts at $135,000. One can easily add 10 to 15% to the price of the car after checking only a few option boxes. The staff gave us some information about the cars, went through the safety rules, introduced the instructors, and sent us off to our cars.

I drove the E63 first. The course was laid out with a bias towards higher speed to showcase AMG’s addictive power. Since I was the first in line, I didn’t have to wait before jumping into the E63. The engine was barely audible at idle. Flooring the car at the starting line, the rear tires spun for a brief second due to the dusty track surface and awesome torque. Once regain traction, the car surged forward with authority. The power was linear, fierce, and without feeling running out of breath as it approached redline. What an engine! The throttle response was excellent. The exhaust note was as good as, if not better than, the Jaguar XFR with a wicked burble between shifts at wide-open-throttle. Speaking of shifts, the AMG Speedshift MCT (with wet clutch pack, not torque converter) 7-speed automatic shifted rapidly and seamlessly. One of the AMG modifications, in both E and C, to improve the vehicle dynamics was to widen the front track to improve the turn-in and overall front-end grip. The turn-in was crisp, but there was a bit of initial understeering. Though, it didn’t have the nervousness that the Jaguar XFR had at turn-in. The rear of the car didn’t have the tendency to swap ends with the front. Steering was nicely weighted with ample feedback. Decelerating from 110+ mph to about 40-ish, brakes were powerful, and pedal was firm. The overall handling was rock-solid.

After a lap in the E63, I got in line for the C63. They had two of each model, so there was wait time even with relatively small group. I waited about 10 minutes to drive the C63. The C63 got off the line with more eagerness and wheel spin than the E63 due to less mass. My butt dyno told me that it’s slightly quicker than the E63, but not by much. Its handling was also slightly livelier than the E63. Turn-in was sharper, and the car was more tossable. Though, the rear-end was less stable, and I had to be more patient with my right foot when exiting corners. Steering and brakes were very confidence-inspiring, just like the E63. Though much better than the “regular” C’s (C300, C300 4-matic, & C350 that I drove in previous events) which I thought were very sloppy when driven aggressively, the overall handling of the C63 was by no mean precise. It’s just way too much power and torque in an okay-at-best chassis. However, did I mention that it has an epic engine?

I was going to drive the SL63 next, but the line was too long. So I picked the shortest line and drove the C63 again. I sat in an E63 that they had on display for about 5 minutes before heading home. Front AMG sports seats were comfortable and supportive. The steering wheel was thick with shift pedals perfectly placed and felt great in my hands. The interior styling was a bit too angular, and the center console seems a bit too plasticy to me. However, everything operates with the usual Germen precision, and the fit-and-finish was top notch.

I came away impressed with the E63 AMG. It is what the AMG is about: speed, comfort, and class in an understated package. In my opinion, it’s the best car in its class.


Like: Epic engine, fast-shifting transmission, intoxicating exhaust note, rock-solid chassis, subtle yet aggressive exterior styling.

Dislike: Makes its size known in the corners, plasticy center console, high price after checking a few option boxes.

Verdict: The best car in its class.


Like: Epic engine, fast-shifting transmission, intoxicating exhaust note, subtle yet aggressive exterior styling, good steering response.

Dislike: Plasticy interior, handling lacks of precision, pricy options.

Verdict: After a spirit drive in the C63, the driver gets out of the car and says “whoa, I’m still alive”.

Event Rating: 3 out of 5.

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