Driven: 2012 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG Coupe

By Seyth Miersma

May 17, 2012

—Ann Arbor, Michigan
Audi RS5, BMW M3 Coupe, Cadillac CTS-V Coupe, and this 2013 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG Coupe. There’s the competitive set, guys—one of the cleanest, simplest examples of one in the North American motoring world.
Sure, if you’re creative you could stretch the set to include the sedan versions of the cars above (we like the sedans, in each case). Or you could certainly opt for a similarly priced, less powerful, better handling Porsche Cayman, or a more expensive (by nearly $20K) 911. Without a doubt, we’ll also see reader comments that make mention of performance-coupe values like the Shelby GT500, Camaro ZL1, and near limitless selection of tuner coupes. But that’s hardly the point.
If you want some blend of blazing speed and a luxurious/prestigious package, with a budget from around $65,000 to around $70,000, your options are the three well-known Germans, and one sexy American coupe listed above. (And, of course, you’ll still have to wait a bit to buy the Audi.)
Having just spent a wonder-filled week with an entirely impressive new C63 Coupe, and being that we’ve spent at least some time (in some cases a lot of time) with each of the other cars in this fast pack, we thought we’d take a slightly different approach for this review. Rather than write about the Mercedes-Benz alone, we figured it would be illustrative to discuss it in relationship to its three primary competitors.
VS: Audi RS5
After getting a very early look at the still-upcoming RS5 coupe, way back in 2010, Audi has been merely tantalizing us with putting the model up for sale in the US. Two years ago, correspondent Matt Davis speculated that we’d see the RS5 as early as the end of 2011. That was wrong. We finally saw the US debut of the car at the Detroit Auto Show this year, and are breathlessly checking our dealership’s window every day we drive by for the first sighting of the thing on our home turf. 
That’s a long way of saying that our knowledge of Audi’s svelte coupe isn’t quite so good as the rest of the cars on this list, but hey, we’ll give it a shot anyway.
[Click here to read our review of the 2011 Audi RS5.] 
Two of the most sublime parts of the new C63 are its rather high levels of road feel through the steering wheel (not truly a signature of M-B performance cars to date), and the way the car handles with a flowing menace over our favorite roads. Especially when the car’s stability programmed has been switched into Sport mode, the C feels just loose enough to keep us honest with our entry speed, while allowing for the super-satisfying feeling of a well-executed corner in a roaring rear-drive coupe.
The RS5, meanwhile, handles the bendy bits in a much more controlled fashion, due to its four-wheel-drive operation and greater grip. Let us attack the same aggressive turn ten times, in both the M-B and the Audi, and we’d probably record faster times with the RS5 on nine of the runs. The problem, as we see it, is that the three times we really nail it in the Benz are going to be more fun than the faster, more consistent Quattro-aided cornering.
It remains unclear to us if luxury sport sedan drivers really track these superb suburban missiles with any regularity (features like launch control to the contrary, and with the M3 exception that we’ll talk about in a bit), but if they did the Audi would likely be as fast or faster than the much more powerful C63, when driven on a circuit. But on real roads, with lower limits, the easy torque and more fluid character of the Mercedes is simply more fun. 
BMW M3 Coupe
Despite the fact that the M3 coupe is probably furthest from the C63 in terms of character, this is the coupling that most enthusiasts talk about. BMW and Mercedes-Benz have been going head to head for luxury dollars in the US for quite a while there, so there’s an element of sense to this.
Though the divergence is pretty large in many areas, perhaps it is with the engines that we see the biggest difference between the two sporting Germans. Both mills are naturally aspirated V-8s, but they don’t have much else in common. Boasting a full-figured 6.2-liters of displacement, the C63 has a lot more size to work with than does the high-strung, 4.0-liter BMW eight. And while the numbers (481 horsepower and 443 pound-feet for our AMG package C63 to 414/295 for the M3) tell a compelling story here, the feeling of operating at speed with both of these motors tells the real truth for drivers.
[Click here to read our review of the 2009 BMW M3 Convertible.]
Both of these magnificent motors are powerful, and both cars are objectively very fast as a result. With the BMW, though, the portion of that “fast” profile that causes you to draw in your breath, grip the steering wheel hard, and focus on the turn-past-the-next-turn is really high in the rev range. With all of the most aggressive M modes selected, the M3 still only feels stunningly quick when it’s being completely throttled. It’s fair to say that, when that throttling is occurring, the BMW is unmatched fun, but the C63 simply offers a far broader profile of thrills.
The bassy, rumble-heavy 6.2 certainly sounds better, at least under 6000 rpm, and it’s easier to make an emotional connection with, too. The AMG’s wide power band allows a driver to concentrate less on keeping the engine boiling, and therefore frees up brain space for the other duties of driving quickly, or just enjoying the blurry scenery. It’s a less stressful way of covering ground, to be sure.
Of course, the M3’s scalpel-like handling is the stuff of legend. We can’t say that we’re immune to the charms of the Bimmer, which combines ultra-quick turn-in with a rapidly rotating chassis for some of the finest handling available in a car under seventy gees, and over three thousand pounds (well over).
AMG hasn’t completely closed the handling gap versus the M3 with this new coupe—the Benz is still slower to react, and slightly less agile overall—but it has come awfully close. Without resorting to ungentlemanly ride quality (the C63 is firm, but not tooth-rattling over our very worst sections of test road), the Mercedes feels solid mid-turn, with more grip and balance than it ought have considering the truly mammoth hunk of engine out front.
In short, the new C63 offers a compromise that we like better than the M3’s for real driving. We appreciate that BMW offers us a third pedal and a true manual trans, and the racecar-like engine, but unless we had designs on heaps of track time, we’d spend our money at the Mercedes-Benz dealership without looking back. (Expect a tear-down of this comparison when BMW finally unveils its new M3 next year.)
Cadillac CTS-V Coupe
Especially with the subtle carbon-fiber lip-spoiler that you’ll get when you plunk down for the AMG Development Package (the same package that bumps your horsepower up to 481 from the standard 451), the C63 is a very good looking two-door. But come on.
Your Winding Road editorial staff in general, and your author in particular, hate to comment overly on matters of taste and styling, but it seems to be a generally held truth that the CTS Coupe is a stunning piece of car design. The V-tuned version is, if anything, better looking than the standard version. So, while the Mercedes may be nice to look at, the slick Caddy has the C63—and the whole segment—nailed in terms of curb appeal. Argue, if you must, in our comments section below.
Caddy’s V coupe is a lot more powerful, a fair bit faster to 60 miles per hour (3.9 seconds versus 4.3 for the C63), and has a higher top speed—all great things if your house backs up to a test track. We’re more impressed with the offering of a six-speed manual transmission, and the fact that the 551 pound-feet of torque made by the CTS-V’s supercharged V-8 is, in a word, mega.
[Click here to read our review of the 2011 Cadillac CTS-V Coupe.]
On paper then the CTS-V—which is, by the way, cheaper than the C63—makes a hell of a case for itself as the best luxury coupe going. But reality starts to wreck the picture a little bit where comparisons with this stellar Mercedes are concerned.
The CTS may have the better engine and be the faster car, but it doesn’t sound as good from the driver’s seat (check out the video review on the C63 AMG by Chris Amos to hear just how sweet it sounds), it doesn’t allow its driver to connect the dots on a curvy road so well, and it certainly doesn’t communicate quite so clearly. One of our pet peeves with the mighty V has been that the car can’t communicate how close to the limit the driver is, which is a problem that the C63 driver experiences less of. Both cars can certainly get you into a world of rear-drive trouble, but the Mercedes clues you in on how close the edge of disaster is, while the V requires that you either back off or hope that the electronics are there to pull your ass out of the fire at the last second.
If we forget about the manual trans for a second, and compare apples to apples, we find that there’s not much of a fight to be had between the C63 seven-speed automatic “multi clutch” trans and the six-speed auto of the Caddy. In manual mode the Mercedes affair is ultra fast, and easy to access via wheel-mounted paddles, where the Cadillac needs make do with poorly placed buttons on the back of the steering wheel spokes, and rather lethargic response times (at least when compared with the M-B).
What’s more, excepting the CTS-V’s wonderfully supportive seats, the Cadillac interior just doesn’t feel quite as special as the C63’s interior does. Feature for feature the American product stands up alright, but where the Benz feels understated and rich, the Cadillac still seems a bit too gaudy for our tastes. All of that might be okay (your opinion may differ), but the Cadillac also feels more cramped in the cockpit, despite its larger exterior dimensions.
To summarize: the C63 AMG Coupe isn’t just a very impressive luxury/sports car, it may just be the best one you can buy in its segment. A fully realized RS5, and a newly updated M3 may have something serious to say about that analysis, and certainly the CTS-V is the speed king of this foursome, but the Mercedes seems like the best overall performer, for the way most of us drive most of the time, right now.
Just the right blend of fast, rich, sonorous, and aggressively tuned to corner, we’ve got no problem calling the C63 the gold standard right now.
2012 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG Coupe w/AMG Development Package
Engine: V-8, 6.2 liters, 32v
Output: 481 hp/443 lb-ft
0-60 MPH: 4.3 sec
Weight: 3935 lb
Fuel Economy, City/Hwy: 13/19 mpg
Base Price: $70,070