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February 5, 2010

Review: 2010 Mercedes-Benz C 63 AMG

Flying halfway across the world, the least thing I would have expected was to meet my wife’s tito—who happens to share the same passion as I do: fast cars. But as if fate waved its magic wand, that’s exactly what happened and how I ended up at a Mercedes-Benz dealership south of Boston, Massachusetts. Stepping into Tito JC Cabanos’s corner office is like stepping into the McLaren-Mercedes trophy room: on display were shimmering awards and trophies. Yet, JC’s passion for the three-pointed star doesn’t end with his sales accolades: hung on the wall was a painting of Sterling Moss’s 300 SLR and on his desk, a shot of him sitting in a late-model SL, with oddly enough, a large lobster draped on the hood. After exchanging tales of kamustas, JC decided that there was no better way to heighten the Mercedes experience than driving one of the most formidable Mercedes-Benz cars on the road today: the C 63 AMG.

Since JC works for Herb Chambers, a large multi-brand dealership network (one of the largest in the state, if I may add), it’s not extraordinary to see Mercedes-Benz and BMW cars parked side-by-side. In fact, the lot of pristine C 63 AMGs was parked just a glance away from its direct rival, the BMW M3. As I visually inspected the AMG’s deep front apron, massive perforated disc brakes, aggressive 18-inch alloys and quad-tip exhaust, a customer who was receiving his M3 delivery gave me an inquisitive stare. As I twisted the ignition and breathed life to the monstrous 6.3-liter V8, the air was filled with a cacophony that’s best described as James Earl Jones in his Darth Vader guise. It’s the best damn exhaust note I’ve ever heard; enough to make me teary-eyed and the M3 guy realize he got the shorter end of the stick. Such is the appeal of the C 63 AMG, and it’s easy to see why it’s the best-selling AMG model in the United States.

Despite having supercar-level performance (451 horsepower, 600 Nm of torque), anyone familiar with a run-of-the-mill C-Class cabin will feel right at home inside the C 63 AMG. At a glance, the blocky motif of the cabin (echoing the angular exterior) may seem uninviting, but the cabin is extremely intuitive, easy to use and comfortable. The materials as well as the execution are first rate, and don’t look out of place in a US$ 57,000 car. And if it’s a must have, the C 63 AMG can be specified with wood trim (like the car I drove)—good news for those who can’t live without one. That said, minor but highly noticeable features set the C 63 AMG apart. First is the revised instrument panel with a sportier font type (very similar to the one used by the Formula One team). Just below the 7,100 rpm redline, the words ‘6.3-liter V8’ are emblazoned—a constant reminder of the C 63 AMG’s potency. Next is the steering wheel which has shrunk in diameter but grew in thickness. The bottom’s been squared-off—a move that doesn’t make any sense, but looks extremely nice. Lastly are the body-hugging sports seats with active bolstering. At first, the leather-trimmed seats look extremely comfy for my 32-inch waist, 65 kilogram frame, but to my surprise, even at the loosest setting, the seats are rubbing against my rib change. This causes me to wonder how much larger Americans could fit into one of these.

With M3 guy still craning his neck, I drove and made my way to the open road. Since rain fell the night before, I feathered the throttle and took things easy—bringing the C 63 AMG to a modest 40 mph. With a raised eyebrow, JC reckoned that both the car and I were destined for faster speeds. He added than an AMG isn’t an AMG if the right foot isn’t planted to the floor. I obliged and switched off my sissy mode. Burying the aluminum-finished throttle pedal, the C 63 AMG downshifted and then the rear swayed at the effect of 600 Nm of torque coursing through the rear wheels. With the ESP or Electronic Stability Program retuned by AMG engineers, it didn’t intervene as the Pirellis squabbled for grip on the wet pavement. The speedometer rose as quickly as the tachometer: 40, 50, 60…and in no time, I was braking the speed limit, traveling the 120 mph in about a quarter mile of road (the C 63 AMG can obliterate the quarter-mile in just 12.3 seconds).

However, the C 63 AMG isn’t just made the scare other traffic in a straight line. By granting the front end architecture of the CLK 63 AMG Black Series (the road-going German Touring Car racer), the C 63 AMG has quick and responsive manners which are addicting to say the least. It’s surprising how easy and confident the car is in taking just about any corner. Plus, the formal roofline doesn’t hamper visibility making the C 63 AMG even easier to maneuver about. Of course, the use of a racing car’s front-end does have some downsides: this car rides stiffly, amplifying just about any road imperfection it passes over.

As daylight faded, it was time to reluctantly hand the keys of the C 63 AMG back to Tito JC. Though the experience barely lasted four hours, I felt an instant connection with this car that I can’t fully describe. Not many will be able to drive a Mercedes-AMG in their lifetime, but those that do will feel an extremely calming experience, a car-induced nirvana so to speak. This is one afternoon I’ll surely be talking about for years to come, and one that will be instantly understood by people with a passion for speed.

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