Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG (W204, 2008-2014): review, specs and buying guide
A V8 muscle car with German build quality and prices starting below £25,000. Is it too good to be true?
Having probed the small sports saloon market with the 190E Cosworth in 1984, Mercedes since failed to put a dent in the BMW M3 with a run of fast but lazier alternatives from its AMG division. But everything changed in 2008, when Mercedes threw more engine at the problem to not so much dent but pummel its long-standing rival. It's a little more nuanced than that, of course, but the W204 C63 is largely defined by its spectacular M156 6.2-litre V8.
To put W204 into perspective, it took two generations of M3 to better the C63's 451bhp output, and even then, you could argue that no super saloon before or since emanates with the same unhinged hot-rod persona. The motor is explosive, with a full-throated bellow and instinctive responses that could only come from a big-capacity naturally aspirated unit. Thankfully, the rest of the car can just about keep up, and the engine sets the tone for what is otherwise a deeply exciting small saloon. Compared with modern equivalents, the W204 has an honest, analogue feel, with clarity to its hydraulically-assisted steering and a surprisingly approachable balance. With so much grunt going through the rear tyres it requires a certain degree of restraint, but the C63's instant, linear delivery means that the throttle you put in requires as much opposite lock as you're expecting, no more, no less.
For absolute control and communication, the E92 M3 just edges the C63, maintaining composure where the Mercedes can sometimes feel abrupt and a touch ragged. It gets within touching distance though, and for some, that stonking engine pushes it over the edge. It truly is a force of nature, and the C63 has proven to be as tough as it looks and sounds.
The W204 was facelifted in 2011, which brought design changes, an updated cabin and mechanical upgrades – not least a quicker-shifting MCT automatic gearbox in place of the previous 7G-Tronic torque converter. The chassis kinematics, springs and dampers underwent further changes not long after its 2008 launch, building on the C63's bespoke front axle, reinforced rear end and wider tracks. Post-facelift models also rectified the weak cylinder head bolts that plagued some early cars, and while they offer the most appealing W204 ownership proposition, no C63 is complete without a limited slip differential. Strangely, an open diff was standard fit throughout the car's life, unless you specified the optional LSD or the Performance Pack, which bundled it with beefier brakes for pre-facelift cars alongside stiffer suspension for models built before 2010. For the updated model, the LSD was omitted from the Performance Pack and remained a standalone cost option, with the Performance Pack now offering an uprated 480bhp V8 with lightweight internals from the SLS, which was available with the pre-facelift as part of the Performance Pack Plus.
Without an LSD, the C63's malleable on-limit behaviour is snatchier – particularly in the wet – so many owners opt for a retrofitted Quaife ATB unit which can cost around £1500 fully fitted. To squeeze extra muscle from the V8, it’s worth noting that the swansong Edition 507 used the 480bhp Performance Pack engine with a revised ECU for a 20bhp uplift, so there is more potential in the hardware. Of course, with great power comes more regular tyre bills, and the 1730kg C63 has a serious appetite for consumables. Still, with decent examples costing from supermini-money (around £20,000), there is some headroom for tyres and brakes.
While you're unlikely to stumble across many on the classifieds, the 204 C63 was also available in ultra-exclusive pre-facelift DR520 trim, built in 2010 by the Specialist Products division at Mercedes-Benz World Brooklands. While it did add questionable black trim and matte exterior wrap, each of the 20 UK cars feature bespoke interior touches and a 513bhp output, higher than even the turbocharged W205 C63 that came half a decade after it.
In 2011 came a facelift and the coupe version, which spawned the range-topping 510bhp Black Series model. New front-end styling and a revised gearbox – delivering snappier shifts and an extra ‘S+’ mode – constituted the refresh and formed the basis for the runout model, the Edition 507, in 2013 with 500bhp and a beefier brake setup.
By and large values for used C63’s are levelling off after steep initial depreciation. However, values for the most collectible and cleanest cars are inflating, so now’s the time to buy.
Mercedes-Benz C63 (W204) specs
|451bhp @ 6800rpm
|442lb ft @ 5000rpm
|Seven-speed automatic,rear-wheel drive
|155mph (limited, 174mph as an option)
Mercedes-Benz C63 (W204) buying checkpoints
The standard and Performance Pack Plus engines are ‘pretty much bulletproof’ according to Ollie Stoner of Mercedes Specialist Prestige Car Service. Reports of early cars suffering from valve-gear wear (camshaft lobes and tappets) are known but rare, and head bolts have snapped but these occasions are rarer still. Another infrequent fault, is sticky injectors, which stay open flooding the bore with fuel; the resultant hydraulic pressures created can break conrods.
While the above faults are unusual, it’s worth having a specialist carry out an inspection. An engine rebuild can come to as much as £8k, the top-end alone could be £3k-£4k. ‘The facelifted C63 [from 2011] is mostly trouble-free,’ says Ollie, ‘and is coupled to a better gearbox.’ Oil consumption is high, so you’ll need to regularly check the dipstick.
‘The automatic gearbox is extremely reliable,’ reckons Ollie. We’d recommend an LSD-equipped car – on track and in fast road driving it transforms the handling. Even so, you can retrofit an aftermarket LSD, Quaife’s ATB LSD is a popular choice, and often looked to as an upgrade on the standard issue LSD. On the subject of traction, it’s worth talking tyres. On budget boots the AMG’s handling is ruined and grip reduced, a worrying thought in a 500bhp sports car.
Suspension, steering, brakes
On occasion you’ll come across a leaky damper and high-milers will need new bushes, but the suspension is largely trouble free. Listen out for knocks when passing over bumps, it normally indicates there’s some slack in the steering rack – it’s a relatively easy fix.
With great power comes great responsibility – for the brakes. They come in for a lot of punishment hauling the C63 down from speed, fortunately replacing them isn't too expensive. Standard front discs are £68, but a set of front pads are dearer at £200. The Performance Pack’s floating discs are closer to £500 a piece though, while a full set of the Performance Pack Plus composite discs can be as much as £2000. You can eke 25,000 miles from a set of pads if you’re careful, however it’s likely you’ll need to swap out the discs at the same time due to their short lifespan – more powerful brakes are a popular upgrade.
Body, interior, electrics
Rear-drive and huge power is often the recipe for an accident, so take your time to check for crash damage. As expected the cabin is well screwed together, but the front seat bolsters can suffer from wear from ingress and egress. The electrics are sound, but the software governing the engine and gearbox may be out of date, so take it to a specialist to download the updates.
What to pay
Tired and long-travelled examples can be found in the classifieds below £20k with 80,000 or 90,000 miles on the clock. Fresher cars with 20,000 to 50,000 miles occupy the mid-£20,000s, while Edition 507 models are being offered by dealers for £50,000.
Mercedes-Benz C63 (W204) maintenance prices
Prices for official Mercedes-Benz parts. Cheaper alternatives are available through independent specialists. Tyre price from blackcricles.com. All pricesinclude VAT but exclude fitting charges and are correct at time of publishing.
|£105.53 front, £117.31rear (Goodyear Eagle F1Asymmetric)
|Front pads (set)
|£2469.60 (left), £998.40 (right)
|Spark plugs (set)
Prices from prestigecarservice.co.uk, including VAT. Servicing is mileage- and age-dependant: your car’s official Mercedes Digital Service Book (DSB) will advise on what your car needs and when.
BMW M3 (E90/92)
You can have an M3 for as little as £15k, although such examples are best avoided. For £20k you can get a clean low mileage car, and there’s the appeal of a manual box instead of the DCT.
Audi RS5 (B8)
The RS5 is no match for the C63 in our eyes, but it’s more GT and offers four-wheel-drive. It’s also similarly priced to the C63.
What the VXR8 lacks in premium appeal, it compensates for with big power and big character, akin to the C63. Starting at £14k, it’s a high-performance bargain.
What we said
‘The wild child on track at Bedford Autodrome was always likely to be the C63 AMG, being the most powerful and keenest to smoke a pair of rear tyres. And so it proves, though my main concern is getting the best from the old-fashioned auto gearbox. You have to plan and anticipate every shift. Suss that out, though, and the C63 serves up a generous helping of tail-led entertainment – not the most technically proficient way of circulating, but it puts a smile on your face.
‘It could just be a drag-racer, the C63, but it’s not. Not by a long chalk. “Although you can light the tyres up with a half-prod of throttle, it’s still exploitable and enjoyable, because it’s small and has probably the best steering feel of the group,” says Henry Catchpole. Indeed, the combination of so much power and a very able and rewarding rear-drive chassis holds immense appeal. “Brilliant at mooching and extremely capable and engaging right up to and over the limit,” says Richard Meaden. “Not as sharply focused as the M3, but this arguably makes it the warmer and more rewarding car in all but the most extreme driving. Love it.’
I bought one
‘For three weeks before I bought the C63, I owned a Monaro VXR. I’d been inspired to get it by a mate who owned a Vauxhall VXR8. I liked the power and the noise, and I definitely wanted a V8. But then I went with another mate to collect his C63... It was better in every way: the way it looked, the way it sounded, the way it was built.
‘So I quickly did a bit of research into which model I wanted. My friend’s car was a pre-facelift version, but as I looked into it, I realised that a facelifted example would make more sense. It has an improved gearbox and the engine’s internals are better.
‘I was lucky with my car. It popped up in the classifieds and was reasonably close, and I bought it within three hours of the ad going live. It’s a 2011 Edition 125 saloon in white, with the optional Performance Pack Plus. It’s awesome at everything: docile when you need it to be, so it just blends in with the traffic, and loud and ferocious when the mood takes you and the road conditions allow.
‘I’ve since modified it with IPE exhaust headers, sports cats and a remap, and the sound it makes is simply amazing. I’ve also fitted high-flow air filters and a carbon airbox, but I’m not really sure they’ve made much difference. Because I always intended to try a track day or two and a high-speed event in my C63, I immediately replaced the front discs and pads, which cost about £870. And after the trackday I needed another set of pads, which was another £175.
‘The Terminal Velocity event I went to was on a 3.1-mile RAF runway; standstill to however fast you can go. I hit 173mph but I was hoping for more – the run was into a headwind and severe brake fade made me nervous of when to back off. But I’m going back hoping to be quicker. ‘Would I ever replace it? With what? To go any faster I’d be spending double the money.’