Born to be Wild – Unleashing the mighty 2017 Mercedes-Benz C63 S

Gary Anderson
Richard Simonds
The Mercedes-AMG C63 S may be the ultimate affordable all-purpose sports coupe, capable of taking a couple of people on a long trip and spending gratifying time on the track, all on the same outing.

The early-morning silence at a racetrack has a particular quality. It isn’t an empty quiet; rather, it is filled with memories of adrenaline-filled noise from the past and the anticipation of exciting sound to come.I like being the first to arrive for a track day, with the garages still locked and the paddock empty. It’s a time to collect my thoughts, rehearse each of the corners of the track in my mind and wonder what experiences I will take home when I leave in the evening.On this particular morning, a Western Automotive Journalist track day in April at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, we were anticipating a test drive of the 2017 Mercedes-AMG C63 S. In the dawning light under overcast skies, we had time to look in detail at our ride, actually the very same car we first saw crouched in tightly coiled muscular repose on the Mercedes-Benz stand at the Los Angeles International Auto Show last fall.Fearsome, even standing stillThe livery of this press-event C63 S – designo Selenite Grey Magno matte finish accented with yellow racing stripes from front grille to rear spoiler and on the rocker panels, complemented by black twin 5-spoke wheels with yellow rims, all part of the “P97 Edition 1” $16,055 option pack – is hard to miss, clearly the intent when this very car was used to introduce the C63 Coupe at last fall’s show. But against Laguna Seca’s backdrop of flag stands, track bridges and painted apex strips, the car looked right at home, like a panther in the jungle compared with one caged in a zoo.It’s no wonder that this C-Class coupe looks more savage than sedate. Most body panels were restyled when AMG developed this model; the only panels that it shares with the standard C350 Coupe are the doors, roof and trunk lid. From the front, the differences are subtle, consisting of speed bumps in the hood over the V-8 engine, larger vent openings under the two-bar sport grille for the turbocharger intercooler radiators, and subtle fender extensions.    However, from the rear the car visually has more in common with the new AMG GT S Roadster than any other current model in the Mercedes-Benz lineup. Spoiler, thin taillights that echo the squint of the head lamps, brake vents (faux, but needed to homologate the functional vents on the DTM panels), pairs of horizontal tailpipes, and diffusers below the exhausts, all mirror the top-line car. Drivers of M-Cars, CTS-Vs and GT350s who watch this car disappear into the distance will know that it was an AMG that passed them.Stunning, practical interiorThe interior appearance, all part of that limited-edition option package, was stunning. Yellow diamond-pattern overstitching on black nappa leather was a knockout match to the exterior trim and preferable to the two-tone treatment in the standard C63 S.During our predawn trip to the track, we had four medium-size adults in the car, with two rollaboards, helmets and camera equipment tucked in the trunk. Admittedly, one has to be a bit agile to slide through the opening afforded by tilting and sliding the front seats forward, but once in, the fit was fine and the bolstered rear seats quite comfortable.The racing-style front seats, standard in the AMG C63, couldn’t have been improved. Well-bolstered, with an adjustable thigh pad supplementing the other adjustments, and matte silver reinforcements forming openings for the four-point belts that a trackrat would want to install, the seats are the same ones used in the GT roadsters.Of course, the Burmester sound system might not have been the most appropriate accessory for a track-focused performance automobile, but because this car could easily be driven rather than trailered to far-away tracks, why not have a great sound system on tap?Challenging The CorkscrewBy the time we had finished our early-morning photo shoot and Monterey’s coastal clouds had begun to break up, we were eager to get through the driver briefing, put on our helmets and get out on the track. MRLS is one of the top-10 closed-course racetracks in the world and should be recorded in any trackrat’s logbook. It’s also a great place to put a road-legal closed car through its paces.Though track entry was between turns 2 and 3, I think of a lap at this track starting at the uphill entry into the iconic roller-coaster Corkscrew. Described as similar to driving off a cliff, it offers the breathtaking effect of the ground dropping away under the wheels followed immediately by an increasingly fast succession of right-left-right curves that challenge steering precision as well as driver competence. Despite the coupe’s non-inconsequential 2-ton weight, the AMG-developed steering and suspension of the C63 took this sequence with good steering feel and no hint of squeamishness.Turn 11’s 110-degree corner required dropping down several of the seven gears in the multiclutch AMG Speedshift transmission, then accelerating as quickly as possible out of the corner, usually requiring balancing throttle against available traction, but facilitated by the electronic limited-slip rear differential. From there, both I and the pro riding shotgun alongside me could look ahead to acceleration under the start-finish bridge and over the crest of turn 1.With 516 pound-feet of torque on tap across the whole rpm range from the engine – built by technician Sergio Rodrigues in Affalterbach, as annotated on the engine plate – we were topping out at nearly 130 mph before going hard on the 15.4-inch brakes on the downhill run into the double-apex Andretti Hairpin. We were impressed that the car absorbed the repetition of this sequence all day long without any of the brake fade that sidelined the high-performance offerings from a number of other brands.Completing the lapAfter negotiating the deceptively challenging sequence of turn 3, noted for rewarding the unwary with spinouts, and a second run up to 110-plus mph between turns 4 and 5, our press-day cars all encountered a feature unique to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Responding to the recent incursion of high-end neighborhoods near the track, the county has a sound-check booth right next to the track at the run up the hill to Turn 6, flagging any car producing more than street-acceptable decibel levels. No problem: The two-stage exhaust note only gets serious when the C63 is in sport-plus or race mode. As long as the AMG Dynamic Select transmission mode was dialed back to Comfort going past the sound check, we were fine.After the depression at the apex of Turn 6, we accelerated uphill, the massive torque again carrying us over three digits before hitting the brakes to prepare for The Corkscrew. I never get through that section without remembering that it was built just before lunch break on the day the track was first carved: A bulldozer driver was told to get down from the nearly 16-story elevation – the track’s highest point  – any way he could find.As we pulled into the pit lane on our second run on the track, I reflected on the experience. On one of the most challenging and exciting tracks in the world, the new C63 S had proven that it could handle everything the track could offer – and ask for more.Would we buy the C63 S?Now we get to the difficult question, even when posed rhetorically. Given the range of options available from Mercedes-AMG, if I were in the market for a performance car that would be this capable on the track, and still be comfortable and practical for daily use, would I seriously consider buying the C63 S Coupe? The L.A. show car was base-priced at a nice round $75,000, but the matte finish paint, distinctive interior trim and carbon-fiber accents, and extreme performance tires added $2,620. The price even included a lengthy list of Mercedes-Benz safety systems that at first glance might seem inappropriate amenities for the serious high-performance driver. So far, so good.However, checking the box for the stunning P97 Edition 1 option added $16,055 to the Monroney window sticker. That included everything from the distinctive stripes and bicolored wheels to the complete range of driver convenience systems controlled through the 8.5-inch high-resolution screen. All in all, our magnificent eye-catching coupe would clear the dealer’s lot at an eye-popping $94,600.Even in our rhetorical world, at that price we would spend some time thinking about the base C63. Give up about 30 horsepower and comparable torque, settle for one-inch smaller wheels in a single color, and pass on the speeding-ticket bait racing stripes, and you can save $8,000 on the MSRP.On second thought, everyone only ever gets a certain number of laps and the final checker can wave at any time. We should do our fast laps in style.