Bad Driburg, GERMANY – When it comes to German high-performance offerings in the compact executive segment, the burly V8 is something of a dying breed. Indeed, BMW and Audi have both played the downsizing game (the current M3 and RS5 employ six-cylinder units) and it's all-but-confirmed that the next-generation version of Affalterbach's flagship C-Class will ditch its twin-turbo V8 in favour of a more efficient mill with few cylinders.
But until that day rolls round, Benz fanatics will be able to gorge themselves on this updated C63 S, which still boasts the full-fat, twin-turbo 4,0-litre V8. While the eight-pot's outputs are unchanged at 375 kW and 700 N.m of torque, the super-sedan has gained a new Speedshift-MCT 9G transmission with a wet start-off clutch, which replaces the previous seven-speed version. Other updates include the addition of an electronically controlled rear-axle limited-slip differential and a nine-step traction control first seen in the Mercedes-AMG GT R, as well as tweaks to the adaptive dampers and AMG dynamic control system.
The first thing you'll likely notice, though, is that this facelift has gifted the C63 S the Stuttgart-based brand's latest Panamericana grille, which replaces the diamond design and sees the range-topping C-Class mimic its larger siblings. The result is a more aggressive look up front as opposed to the slightly softer, more luxurious visage of the previous model. Few other changes have been made to the exterior.
Inside, though, it's a different story. Here you’ll find an updated infotainment system (unfortunately not including the latest MBUX set-up) as well as an optional digital cockpit with customisable layouts. The new-generation steering wheel, which debuted in the facelifted S-Class, is also present, complete with additional buttons and switches incorporating clever little colour displays.
On the right of the tiller, for instance, you'll find a rotary switch for the driving modes (which doubles as a controller for the nine-step traction system), while the active damping and exhaust note can be manipulated using buttons on the left. The new switches and their integrated LCDs are satisfying to use and add a sporty element to the cabin, doing a fine job of making the driver feel as though they're at the helm of a proper racing car.
While the V8 is untouched, the adoption of that new nine-speed transmission and electronic rear diff allows the driver to tap into some characteristics that previously weren't accessible. For example, while the pre-facelift C63 S was defined by its brutish persona, the resulting eagerness of its rear wheels to spin meant its performance figures never quite matched those of the BMW M3 and Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio Verde in the real world. Thanks to a little more electronic intervention, that furious nature has been slightly softened in the updated model, with the new transmission providing a smoother progression of power to the rear. This change in character is most marked when it comes to in-gear acceleration, where suddenly booting it from 60 km/h has become a far more manageable experience.
When piloting the C63 S in manual mode, you'll find yourself constantly upshifting thanks to the addition of those two extra cogs. Gearing down, though, is now a little more user-friendly thanks to a multiple downshift function that automatically selects an appropriate lower gear when the driver holds down the left paddle. This delivers a satisfying rev-matched downshift accompanied by the obligatory pops and bangs from the exhaust system.
There's also a new feature in the dynamic select programme that alters the electronic stability control and rear axle torque vectoring (depending on the chosen driving mode), which Mercedes-AMG claims renders the C63 S more agile through the bends. Essentially, the system extracts readings from throttle inputs, steering angle and yaw rate and provides the required traction to the wheels. It may sound like a generic addition, but in the narrow, windy country roads of Bad Driburg, I certainly appreciated the improved composure through high-speed bends. Still, the C63 S remains a challenge to drive near its limit, but that limit has now been pushed just a little further.
The nine-step traction control system, however, does come across as a bit of a gimmick. If you spend plenty of time at the race track, you might appreciate the ability to incrementally alter the level of slip on offer, but in an everyday setting this simply feels like a feature that will go largely unused. In the C63 S, despite its performance car credentials, such a system simply doesn’t feel nearly as necessary as it does in the GT R.
Ultimately, though, the V8-powered C63 S is certainly a very special piece of machinery that will continue to win the hearts of many in its battle against the M3. The changes made to this updated model may appear minor, but when experienced together they help to make this performance car feel more refined and user-friendly than before. While the C63 S is still clearly a challenge to master from behind the wheel, drivers will no doubt feel more confident attempting to do so thanks to the under-the-skin alterations. Expect it to reach South Africa by the fourth quarter of 2018.
On the launch we also had access to the coupé, cabriolet and station wagon. Below are are some short impressions of each of these models:
The Coupé, seen here in a graphite grey body colour, comes across as a little more aggressive than the sedan in the metal. From behind the wheel, though, it doesn’t feel all that different from its four-door sibling, but through hard cornering it does seem slightly more rigid. Despite there being few differences between the coupé and the sedan, there's a feeling of added driver engagement when at the helm of the two-door variant.
I found the drop-top V8 to be both the most entertaining and the most nerve-racking of the four models. Cruising through the German country roads with the top down allowed me to enjoy the sound of the V8 more so than in the hard-topped variants (although it also meant I had to endure the smell of cow manure coming from various farms). Interestingly, though, the cabriolet feels a little more difficult to handle, likely thanks to the decreased structural rigidity that comes with lopping off the roof.
Undoubtedly the star of the show for me, the C63 S station wagon is a luxury that we will sadly not experience here in South Africa. With all of the best qualities of the sedan as well as the benefit of having extra luggage space (and an arguably more resolved rear design), you score a hair-raising muscle car with enough room for you and the dogs.