AMG aficionados were skeptical, to say the least, when Mercedes-Benz’s performance division announced that the top-of-the-line C-class would lose its V-8 and henceforth be powered by a plug-in-hybrid four-cylinder. Yes, the new powertrain is silly powerful at a whopping 671 horsepower and 752 pound-feet of torque. But it makes for a heavy C-Class too: 4654 pounds, according to AMG, far heftier than any of its formidable competitors, which include the BMW M3 and the Cadillac CT4-V Blackwing. To give us some insight into what the portly performer feels like, we were invited into the passenger seat of the new C63 S, piloted by AMG’s chief technical officer, Jochen Hermann.
In a half-hour on one of Daimler’s proving grounds south of Stuttgart, Hermann took us onto winding roads and a decent-sized track; we went well into triple-digit velocities and experienced every one of the C63 S’s multifarious driving modes.
On the docile end of the scale, fully Electric mode delivers impressive acceleration—and all-wheel drive—even absent any help from the gas engine. “We are not an obstacle,” Hermann says, grinning, as we ascend a hill with remarkably little effort. And we talk about the new car’s wider bandwidth between comfort and sportiness. AMG customers are a demanding bunch and wanted a more comfortable car without sacrificing anything in terms of performance. Larger-diameter dampers help smooth the ride, and even when the combustion engine is on, its sound can be effectively suppressed. Quietness on the first and last miles of a trip is a relatively recent customer requirement, says Hermann.
When he switches the drive mode selector a few notches up, the new C63 really comes alive. With nearly equal front-to-rear weight distribution, standard all-wheel drive, and all-wheel steering, the C-class is set up to deliver both traction and agility. The new structure also offers significantly improved torsional and lateral stiffness, always a boon to suspension tuning. Ceramic brakes are optional. But the story here is really the plug-in powertrain, particularly its battery.
The C63 is programmed to hoard some charge even when the battery is nominally depleted, so its extra torque is always available. And when the charge is low, it takes only a few minutes to restore it. The car allows for recuperation even during extremely hard braking, and full electric boost is available for 10 seconds, which is enough to get you in deep legal trouble just about anywhere but the autobahn. Top speed is governed at 155 mph or 174 mph, depending on the package.
Lest you think AMG has gone totally pragmatic in its shift to hybridization, there are drift modes that shift the torque entirely to the rear axle. They are less complicated and easier to access than BMW’s similar systems. From the right-side seat, the performance truly impresses. But you can feel the C63’s weight, even as a passenger. AMG doesn’t want to talk about racetrack figures yet, but the added mass of batteries and electric motors can be a deficit in corners and braking zones, even as they enhance straight-line performance.
Power is transmitted to all four wheels through AMG’s nine-speed wet-clutch MCT automatic. And the M139l engine, shared with the C43 AMG, is force-fed by an electrically assisted turbocharger—which is more powerful here because the high-voltage system allows for more electric boost. From the passenger seat, the boost is relentless, as expected with 671 horsepower. But because of this car’s weight, it doesn’t entirely blow us away.
Neither does the electronically enhanced sound, although we don’t hate it. The artificial sound effects are transmitted into the cabin and blared out through external speakers, enhanced by exhaust flaps. It’s unmistakably a four-cylinder sound, but a really aggressive one. We can live with it, just as we can live with the sound of the CLA45 AMG. It doesn’t sound like a V-8, to be sure. But this is the best four-cylinder hybrid we’ve ever heard—by a long shot.
“We took out four cylinders, but we added a whole lot of other things,” says Hermann. That’s true, and a lot of it is really good, resulting in the most forward-looking, modern car in its segment. The technology transfer from the limited-edition AMG One is tangible everywhere.
Do we like this version of the future? Sure, it looks and feels good to us. But don’t blame us if we shed a tear for the lost, more purist past, when all you needed for “boost” and “drift” modes were a V-8 and your own right foot.
2024 Mercedes-AMG C63 S E Performance
Vehicle Type: front-engine, rear-motor, all-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door sedan
Base: Premium, $85,000; Exclusive, $95,000
turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 16-valve 2.0-liter inline-4, 469 hp, 402 lb-ft + rear AC motor, 201 hp, 236 lb-ft (combined output: 671 hp, 752 lb-ft; 6.1-kWh lithium-ion battery pack)
Transmissions, F/R: 9-speed automatic/2-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 113.2 in
Length: 190.3 in
Width: 74.7 in
Height: 56.6 in
Passenger Volume: 94 ft3
Trunk Volume: 13 ft3
Curb Weight (C/D est): 4660 lb
PERFORMANCE (C/D EST)
60 mph: 3.3 sec
100 mph: 7.9 sec
1/4-Mile: 11.4 sec
Top Speed: 155-174 mph
EPA FUEL ECONOMY (C/D EST)
Combined/City/Highway: 23/20/26 mpg
Combined Gasoline + Electricity: 35 MPGe
EV Range: 10 mi
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