Mercedes-AMG C63 S Estate (2014-2021) review – is AMG's Audi RS4 rival the perfect daily?
A midlife update brings a new nine-speed transmission and a plethora of driver modes
Mercedes is the car industry’s niche-filler extraordinaire, and AMG’s willingness to offer one of its bombastic derivatives in every sector the mothership operates in knows no bounds. Unless, of course, you want an AMG-fettled B- or V-Class, because even Tobias Moers has a threshold for what he will ask his engineers to work on.
By far the widest AMG choice comes from the C-Class line-up, the volume seller that chases BMW 320d sales as hard as it hounds Audi RS and BMW M customers for their monthly payments. And following the regular C’s midlife nip and tuck last month, AMG has presented its updated C63 range, from saloon to coupe, cabriolet to estate, but now only in 503bhp S form.
Engine, transmission and 0-60 time
Behind the Panamericana grille sits the familiar M177 4-litre hot-V V8 engine, now exclusively in 503bhp ‘S’ form. AMG dropped the lesser 469bhp entry engine option in 2019 due to low demand and to simplify range ahead of the daunting WLTP emissions regulations, but little has changed in terms of demeanor or ability – this is still one stonking V8 engine.
To go with the S’s 503bhp is a class-leading peak torque of 516lb ft that sits in a broad spread, and has no issues upsetting the 63’s traction control, even in bone-dry conditions. The C63’s transmission is AMG’s clever wet-clutch automatic, which trades the ultimate response of rival ZF transmissions in the Alfa Giulia Quadrifoglio and BMW M3 for more aggressive shifts that aren’t afraid to thump home changes with a satisfying crack. It’ll also reach 62mph in 4.1sec.
You’ll need to be a C63 fanboy – or girl – to spot the difference with this new one, though. There’s a new AMG grille and rear diffuser, and if size matters you can ditch the standard 18-inch wheels for a set of new 19-inch forged items from the AMG GT R (both sizes are fitted with Michelin’s Super Sport tyre). There’s also some tweaking to the air inlets, but that’s about it.
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Inside there’s a bit more nip and a few more tucks, the biggest of which is the introduction of 12.3- and 10.5-inch TFT screens – the former for the instrument cluster, the latter for the infotainment centre. There’s a new flat-bottomed steering wheel, too, featuring touchpad controls first seen on the S-class. You can also specify AMG’s interpretation of Ferrari’s manettino by adding a rotary mode control to the bottom of the wheel.
What’s it like to drive?
So far, so midlife facelift, but what about beneath the toned haunches and aerodynamically efficient wheels? Remarkably, AMG has not touched the V8. Sure, it’s been tweaked to pass the most recent emission tests, but power, torque and peak revs all remain the same. If it ain’t broke…
Dynamic engine mounts are also still standard for the S model, but what has changed is the gearbox. Out goes the seven-speed auto and in comes a nine-speed unit controlling an electronic rear differential.
Also new is serious chassis and driver mode technology. The S model now gets AMG Traction Control – the same nine-stage system first seen on the GT R – and in AMG Dynamic Select there are also five predetermined driver modes, along with an Individual mode that allows you to choose the engine, gearbox, steering and exhaust settings. You also have AMG Ride Control (steel springs, adaptive dampers) to play with. Within Dynamic Select there is also AMG Dynamics, which enables you to manage the ESP settings and torque distribution to the rear axle through four further settings: Basic, Advanced, Pro and Master. Keeping up? Good.
If all this sounds like too much choice, you’re thinking along the right lines, because at times it’s baffling as to which are the best options for the circumstances. Obviously those with an account at Blackcircles will turn everything off, while those with some self-preservation will settle on something resembling Comfort damping, a Sport or Sport+ throttle map and steering with some weight to lean against if you like that kind of thing.
Exhaust? Depends if you like your neighbours. You’ll probably also choose an S-Coupe when it comes to the body style, certainly if you live in the UK, but seriously, go for the estate. There is something achingly desirable about a car that offers more practicality than its siblings but without any noticeable trade-off in how it drives.
The V8 remains a modern-day turbocharged masterpiece. Gutsy, full-bodied and capable of delivering across a wider spectrum than Audi and BMW’s six-cylinder RS and M engines. Its throttle response remains un-turbo-like, its willingness to chase revs unrestricted. The new nine-speed automatic is super-smooth no matter which way the ratios are heading, and although on track the downshifts can be a little slower than you might expect (I know, I bet Lewis doesn’t have this problem), on the road it’s so intuitive and the engine’s torque so strong that third and fourth will devour most areas of the countryside.
As for how it drives, it’s just like the old C63 S, which means one of the finest all-round compact performance cars you can buy. An M4 Comp Pack may have the dynamic edge, but the AMG’s no-nonsense approach has huge appeal. The confidence it inspires, the way it devours straights and scythes or slides through corners will leave you wanting to find the long way round to everywhere.
When you need it to be, the C63 S remains an absolute thug: shouty, aggressive, driving a fine line between impeccably behaved and borderline psychotic. But it will also blend in and cover ground at a rude rate of knots to remind you why you must have a 503bhp, V8-engined, rear-drive estate car in your life.
Prices, specs and rivals
The C63 S is now available through dealer stock, and is set to be the last V8-powered C-Class with the new generation car due to adopt a highly controversial four-cylinder plug-in powertrain.
Rivals moved on from V8 engines a long time ago though, with both the Audi RS4 and BMW M3 both ditching theirs a generation ago. In their place, both now use a twin-turbo six-cylinder set up – a V6 for the Audi and straight-six for the BMW.
It’s likely to be the new M3 Touring due later in 2022 that will prove to be the next C63 S’s biggest headache. Be in no mistake, the fast estate landscape is on the crux of change, so give it another 12 months and we’ll have a whole lot of new metal to talk about.
|Engine||V8, 3982cc, twin-turbo|
|Power||503bhp @ 5500-6250rpm|
|Torque||516lb ft @ 2000-4500rpm|
|Top speed||174mph (limited)|