The compact C-Class cars are the most popular Mercedes-Benzes in this country. But only a few get the AMG treatment, where a handcrafted V-8 -- complete with the name of the engine builder on it -- is stuffed under the hood and big brakes and tires go into the wheel wells.
A tradition that started in Mercedes' larger cars carried into the C-Class in the 2008 model year, and the 2010 C63 AMG doesn't divert from the famous formula.
AMG is the sports/racing brand of Mercedes, and its vehicles hold special status around the world because of the attention to performance and exclusivity. Basically, if you have a Mercedes AMG vehicle in your garage, you're part of a small club.
But membership is expensive, even when the AMG model is Mercedes' smallest car. Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge and gas guzzler tax, is $60,325 for a base, 2010 C63 AMG with automatic transmission.
This is $25,850 above the starting retail price for a base, regular C-Class sedan with manual transmission and 228-horsepower V-6.
2010 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG
- BASE PRICE: $57,350.
- AS TESTED: $66,500.
- TYPE: Front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, five-passenger, compact sedan.
- ENGINE: 6.3-liter, double overhead cam, AMG V-8.
- MILEAGE: 12 mpg (city), 19 mpg (highway).
- TOP SPEED: 155 mph.
- LENGTH: 186.1 inches.
- WHEELBASE: 108.7 inches.
- CURB WEIGHT: 3,924 pounds.
- BUILT AT: Germany.
- OPTIONS: AMG leather package (includes eight-way power front sport seats with memory) $3,030; premium package 2 (includes split folding rear seats, power rear window sunshade, fog lamps, Bi-Xenon headlamps) $1,400; Steel Gray metallic paint $720; Tele Aid $650; iPod integration kit $375.
- DESTINATION CHARGE: $875.
- GAS GUZZLER TAX: $2,100.
But it's in line with competitors, including the 414-horsepower, 2010 BMW M3 sedan, which has a starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $57,575 with manual transmission and V-8. Also, the 2010 Lexus IS F, with 416-horspower V-8 and automatic transmission, starts at $59,335. The Lexus doesn't incur a gas guzzler tax, but the BMW M3 does. It's $1,300 compared with the $2,100 tax that's on the C63 AMG.
The reason for the guzzler tax? Fuel economy ratings in the C63 AMG are so poor -- just 12 miles per gallon in the city and 19 mpg on the highway.
This puts the C63 AMG 10th worst in government fuel mileage ratings in the compact car segment in the United States. The ratings are akin to what some big, luxury sport utility vehicles get. For example, the federal government fuel mileage ratings for a 2010 Land Rover Range Rover are 12/18 mpg.
The government figures aren't artificially low. In aggressive city driving, the test C63 AMG got just 13 mpg. Once highway travel added in, I managed to move the average fuel economy up to only 17.3 mpg. And the car requires pricey premium gasoline.
But oh, the power from the handcrafted 6.3-liter V-8 is intoxicating. Passengers hear a low, sinister rumble from the V-8 nearly all the time and can rocket forward forcefully from any stoplight. Torque peaks at 443 foot-pound at 5,000 rpm.
The C63 AMG came up on slower traffic in a flash and could accelerate to highway speeds while it was still on the merge ramps. Mercedes reports a 0-to-60-miles-per-hour time of just 4.4 seconds, which rivals that of sports coupes. Yet, the performance in the relatively lightweight C63 AMG is controlled, and power delivery is oh-so-smooth through the seven-speed automatic transmission.
No manual shifter is offered, but Mercedes provides paddle shifters at the steering wheel so a driver can manually shift, sans clutch pedal, through the forward gears.
My passengers and I felt our heads and backs push back into the nicely supportive seatbacks and head restraints all the time. And the car stuck like glue to the pavement in curves and mountain twisties. Body motions were tightly managed. People noticed the car, too. In parking lots, they heard the engine rumble and turned to see what was coming. On the street, many stared at the huge Mercedes star that was affixed to the grille.
But in the driver seat, my view was often blocked by tall trucks and SUVs. My passengers and I also felt a lot of road bumps. The C63 AMG has a sport suspension, including upsized stabilizer bar, and 18-inch wheels with performance tires.
So, even when the suspension was set for more comfortable driving, I still felt every manhole cover on the street and had some up and down heaves on uneven pavement. Brakes, which include big, 14.2-inch front rotors with six-piston calipers, were awesome in stopping this fast car quickly.
Steering in the C63 AMG also is upgraded from that on a regular C-Class and reacted immediately to inputs, moving the car exactly where and how much I wanted with intuitive ease. The steering also didn't have the light feel that's on regular C-Class cars.
The C-Class is about the size of a Honda Civic, so rear-seat room is at a premium. I wouldn't squeeze three adults back there, and if a large person is sitting in the front seat, back on its track, even a small-sized person in back will experience minimal legroom.
Though there's a seatbelt for a middle person in the rear, anyone sitting there has to contend with a large hump in the rear floor and has to sit up on a high seat spot, which makes headroom a problem.
I liked that the rear seatbacks in the test car were separate parts that could be easily folded down to expand the 12.4-cubic-foot capacity of the trunk and allow for long items. Seatbacks laid flat, too.
But the 60-40 split rear folding seats were part of a $1,400 option package. And the AMG leather seat trim added another $3,030 to a car that was already more than $57,000 to start. Even an iPod connection cost an extra $375.
Oddly, the sporty AMG C-Class doesn't have push-button start, and the plastic cover over the dashboard display for radio and navigation had to be opened manually. There's no cover for the two cupholders in the center console, and the display screen was a disappointment because it was so much smaller than the cover that went over it.