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What's German for 'Phwoar!'

If it's sublime power and handling your looking for, the 457 bhp Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG is more than qualified to satisfy, writes Anthony ffrench-Constant

The Mona Lisa would, I'm sure you'll agree, be a far finer painting were that enigmatic grin topped off with a nice bushy moustache. Furthermore, Michelangelo's sculpture of David strikes me as, frankly, unfinished without a pair of modesty enhancing turquoise Y-fronts. And as for Stanstead airport; clearly, that'll never look the part until it's properly pebble dashed, nestles under a traditional thatched roof and boasts a pair of shiny brass carriage lamps to greet weary travellers at the door...

Mercifully, most works of art are immune from such dubious tinkerings. The worst they have to fear is the occasional major loon sporting 'A' level muttering and a Stanley knife. Or some knee-level crutch trousered, glue sniffing yoof armed with a can of spray paint, the IQ of a chair-leg, and an inability to spell even his own name correctly.

But it struck me, smearing a Mercedes-Benz C 63 AMG down the autobahn the other day, that there is one creative field wherein it seems the artist's completed work will never be deemed sacred enough to preserve it from profanity; that of the car designer.

And the Germans are the worst offenders, by far. I doubt, with the possible exception of the Suzuki Jimny, that a car exists which some German specialist outfit hasn't had a crack at 'improving'. Alpina will bully your BMW senseless for all of your money – though if you can improve on an M5 I'd just love to know how, and I even distinctly recall seeing something horrible that Koenig honestly considered the correct way to fettle a Ferrari. Mercedes leave such matters in the hands of their own in-house conversion specialists, AMG, and before climbing aboard the C 63, the S 55 was last Mercedes I drove to have been subjected to their questionable attentions.

Now, the S class Mercedes has long been considered a strong contender for the title 'Best Car in the World'. And even those that wouldn't actually allow the S 500 to walk off with the silverware would be hard pushed not to offer it a place somewhere on the podium. How come, then, Mercedes allowed AMG to produce what they call "zer sporty wersion" of what already, to all automotive intents and purposes, walks on water?

Let's face it, you could hardly have called it value for money: Lifting the price to a bad toupee short of a hundred grand, the only external signs of AMG's £25,000 conversion were fatter rubber and a body kit that looked about as sensible on this car as a loud kilt worn over flared trousers. Under the bonnet, the V8 swelled by 473cc to give an extra 58bhp.Which worked out at, er, £431 per horse. Now, it strikes me that anyone paying that amount for a horse could at least expect to be able to pop a jockey on it and watch it snort round Aintree. In performance terms, though, this added price proved even more pejorative: The S 55 was a face bending, um, half a second faster to 62mph than the standard car, so each tenth of a second would set you back a modest... 5 grand. Bargain.

Further more, AMG themselves admitted that the S 500's running gear was already so good they'd left well alone and, if you wanted to benefit from the larger brakes fitted to the S 55, you'd still have to visit the chip shop to have the standard 155mph top end restriction lifted. All of which, in trying to fathom out where the 25 grand actually went, suggests that AMG were very badly stitched up indeed on the price of the entire chestnut tree they bought to fill the interior with carpentry.

The truth is, however, that the price was largely irrelevant. Not that money doesn't matter in Munchen-Gladbach, but posh cars are thicker on the ground in Germany than boils on a medieval pig farmer, and being seen to be different is far more important than the disproportionate amount of wedge it'll wrench from your wallet in the process.

Because life for the lederhosen-clad motorist is all about fast lane status. It's simply not enough to own the best and most expensive that the finest design minds in the industry can come up with when everyone else already has an identical garageful; individuality must out, even if that does mean nailing an old bicycle to a Jackson Pollock canvas. And don't take my word for it; ask the board of Daimler Benz:Word has it that 9 out of 10 directors own a Brabus-breathed-on Mercedes.

Mindful, then, of this previous encounter, I approached the C 63 AMG with more than a hint of cynicism, only to be thoroughly and comprehensively disabused of my preconceptions.

Certainly, the stock C-Class bodywork has been subjected to modest tampering, almost exclusively at the sharp end, but this is largely in the interests of shoe-horning a monstrous 6.3 litre V8 under the bonnet, and then allowing it to breathe, and perspire, properly. The twin power bulges on the bonnet feel somewhat over the top in the context of an otherwise relatively discreet makeover but, short of reaching for the tin opener, clearly could not be avoided.

On board too, all remains surprisingly standard C-Class. But this, given that I've always found the interior to err towards the Spartan, is actually something of a disappointment. The swathes of gently bungy elephant hide dashboard remain unfettled, as does an array of instrumentation and switchgear which, though comprehensive, continues to lack the granite-hewn look and feel once a hallmark of the Mercedes interior.

On the positive side, the hugely bolstered leather front seats are superb, as is a perfectly sized helm with a sporty slice removed to square off the bottom.The rear seats look to have survived entirely unscathed, which means acres of room but so little lateral support that your passengers will be sloshing around like a pea in washing-up water when the hammer goes down.

Unlike the unlamented S 55, however, that which really sets the C 63 apart from so many other AMG offerings is the level of performance it offers over the next model down the ladder. With 457bhp on tap, the £52,570 C 63 not only offers a stout 185bhp more than its closest C-Class cousin, the 272bhp V6 equipped C 350, but also lowers the price of each extra horse to a far more modest £92; rather more glue factory than odds-on favourite. Better yet, AMG have completely redesigned the standard C-Class suspension with wider front and rear tracks and a lower ride height, beefed up the brakes and even equipped the steering with a faster rack, all of which amply reinforces the fun to be found under the right foot.

This is a sublime power plant. And what really impresses isn't so much the conventionally aspirated V8's healthy 457bhp, but a whopping 443 lb.ft of torque, some 370lb.ft of which is available from just 2000rpm. Via a 7-speed automatic gearbox with steering wheel paddle manual override and a glorious exhaust note that can surely be only barely legal, 0-62mph comes up in just 4.5 seconds. Far more significant, though, is the C 63's ability to thunder to 100mph in just 9.7 seconds.And quite what terminal velocity might be were it not limited to a spoilsport 155mph is anyone's guess.

It's amazing how quickly you become attuned to a car's performance to the extent that, even in the likes of Porsche's fabulous Cayman S, you increasingly find yourself hankering for more. But familiarity steadfastly fails to breed contempt on this occasion, and the C 63 remains relentlessly fast throughout.This is also a rare example of an automatic saloon in which you won't just play with the manual override a bit to show off to chums when you first buy the car and then never touch it again.The paddle shift works smoothly, effortlessly and quickly and, for the first time, AMG have equipped the system with automatic throttle blips on down changes to bring out the superhero in even the most ham fisted.

Handling is also a complete revelation, with the traditional hint of Mercedes stodginess that has always steered the enthusiast towards the BMW showroom utterly vanquished. The helm is a master class in accuracy and carefully considered weight, and even flung about, the C 63 always feels entirely composed and solidly planted on the road. Lunatics may opt to turn off the ESP stability programme but, in the wet, this almost guarantees an unsolicited visit to the shrubbery. Far better to leave the system in 'sport' mode and allow the car a modicum of excess without fear of a hasty exit.

Criticisms are few, but it seems likely that the ride will feel osteopath-appointment tough on Britain's bombed-out boulevards, and, naturally, the C 63 is so outrageously thirsty that you'll have to switch off at the pumps or there's every danger it'll gain on you.

Finally, then, a machine from AMG that offers so much more than merely the next rung on the autobahn status ladder. Better yet, in purely artistic terms, the C 63 may even constitute something of an improvement on the original. And, for Germany, that's a first.

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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