The vast chasm between “want” and “need” is a space littered with high-cost products, be they high-performance automobiles or super-premium ice cream. While the sclerotic effects of 55 percent (or 11 grams) of the daily recommended dosage of saturated fat in one serving of Ben & Jerry’s Chubby Hubby is a moderated health risk, so too can be the 503hp (375kW) in the Mercedes-AMG C63 S Cabrio after one 4.0-second blast to 60 mph. Also, considering that the very first C-Class AMG model ever offered in the US market 22 years ago belted out a whopping 276hp (206kW) from its 3.6-liter inline-6, power is a relative thing.
That 4.0-liter engine pumps two turbos’ worth of pressure into eight cylinders to net its embarrassment of riches. (Non-S C63 models get by with a mere 469hp, or 350 kW.) Those turbos are nestled in the valley of the engine’s V, as on BMW’s current crop of turbocharged V8s and Audi’s V-type engines. This shortens the plumbing, reduces the possibility of lag, and also helps get the turbos hotter (which helps produce boost quicker).
But it’s not just the engine that dominates driving impressions of the C63. You hear the throaty V8, of course, but there’s also a slight shake of the windshield header thanks to its very stiff suspension over bumpy roads. The car is but 187 inches long—a Toyota Camry is longer—but it feels bigger, and markedly so compared to other models in the current C-Class range. When riding around with the top down, you still feel ensconced in the car thanks to its high waistline.
I didn’t quite hear that, would you mind revving it again?
Back to that powertrain: endless entertainment comes from the optional performance exhaust system ($1,250), which opens bypass valves and unleashes about 3-6 dB extra bark and crackle depending on engine speed and throttle position.
Despite the 4,226-pound (1,917 kg) curb weight, the C63 S Cabrio is agile, even if it’s not exactly light. The very stiff springs rates are somewhat mitigated by adjustable dampers, but there’s no denying the grip from the Michelin Pilot Sport tires. In separate testing, a recent C300 sedan wowed me with about the best electric steering feel of any small luxury car on the market. The C63 S is on this same superb level.
The C63’s AMG Dynamic Select system is the car’s mood selector. It yields cracking upshifts and rev-matched downshifts when not in “Comfort” mode, regardless of whether you’re letting the seven-speed transmission do things by itself or instructing shifts from the standard wheel-mounted paddles. About two-thirds of the time, the transmission is terrific and the V8 powerful with immense torque and no throttle lag.
The four-stage stability control (“Comfort,” “Sport,” “Sport +,” and “Race”; unique to the S model) works with an electronically controlled limited-slip differential with brake-induced torque vectoring, which you can feel working to distribute all that power and torque when you’re cornering. “Sport +” also allows some oversteer but keeps the bigger stability safety net in place, where “Race” places all the talent on your shoulders.
If only it drove slow as well as it drives fast
The powertrain is hampered, however, in everyday use. Like other recent AMGs and some other Mercedes models, the C63’s AMG Speedshift dual-clutch transmission is great when flogging through the twisties and at full-throttle blasts on empty roads. But try to make a graceful, modestly swift exit out of a parking spot or your driveway, and the transmission takes a very pregnant pause before delivering actual drive.
It’s one thing to write your transmission software to prevent driveline shock and potential hamfisted damage from God’s own torque curve, but it’s another thing entirely to make the world wait while your Speedshift transmission deigns to engage Drive from Reverse in less than four actual seconds. One could provide the same transmission protection by allowing only, say, three to five percent throttle opening and no more when toggling between Reverse, Drive, and Park, but also allowing it to turn the bloody driveshaft. Infuriating.
Like a C-Class with collagen injections
The standard C-Class body gets an AMG makeover, with pronounced fenders covering the wider track and wheels. A large lower air intake, matte silver grille splitter, and side-sill extensions are all hewn in bright stainless steel, while the rear bumper uses a faux diffuser. The now-familiar parallelogram exhaust tips are not actually connected to the mufflers or tips, but they are part of the bodywork (as on most cars with visually-pronounced exhausts).
Even with all that, the cabriolet form does not come off nearly as well as the similarly-designed S Cabrio; the C’s rear three-quarters seems a bit plain and pedestrian due to the rather flat rear sides and the straight lien of the body’s upper sill where the convertible top butts the body, whereas the S’s rear three-quarters looks both regal and sporting, thanks to the stronger, upswept body side graphic and that same line into which the top has disappeared. Also, the S’s wider taillights that meet closer on the trunk lid make the rear actually look narrower than the C-Class Cabrio’s rump.
Is that the price, or the VIN??
Now it’s time to discuss the giant, costly elephant in the room. Granted, no one buys a Mercedes because it’s cheap, but considering this is still a C-Class, the $100,235 grand total to the window sticker of our test C63 (from a base of $82,495) is one hellacious pachyderm. The notion that you can pack on nearly $18,000 in options on top is an oxygen-depleted exercise in fainting.
Among those semi-superfluous options we’d skip are $7,050 in total for not one, but two carbon fiber trim packages, $750 in other effluvious exterior visuals and those split-diameter 19- and 20-inch wheels. They don’t likely contribute much to the betterment of driving. But foregoing all these would still only drop the tab to $93,000. For comparison, the big S-Class sedan starts at $90,000, and the larger E63 AMG sedan starts at a little over $105,000. It all makes the AMG GT coupe like a bargain thoroughbred, at $113,395.
A smaller elephant is the fuel penalty you pay for all the fun. Even though it’s rated at 17/22/19 mpg city/highway/combined, we never saw much more than about 13 mpg even when driving on mostly highway sections. Some things are inevitable; 4,226lbs plus 503hp equaling heavy thirst is certainly one of them.
You do get a nice car for all that cash
Inside, the C63 wears even better togs than the non-AMG models, which are tops in the field already. The bulk of the interior comes from the sedan’s stellar interior, so add some aggressively bolstered seats, leather slathered over the dash, bright trim details, those perforated aluminum Burmester speaker grilles, and the 8.4-inch infotainment screen (controlled by one of the best and intuitive rotary dials in motordom). Suddenly, the C63 becomes an even lovelier place to sit and watch the world go by.
Between the coupe and cabriolet versions of the C63 two-door, the open top car loads up with 130 additional pounds (59kg) due to bracing and the extra weight of the layered soft top, which actually operates at up to 30mph (50km/h). One thoughtful addition: an all-window switch on the center console next to the one for the top operation, should you want to raise or lower all the windows at once separately from the top cycling.
There’s other forms of convertible automotive entertainment out there, for sure, including BMW’s M4 and a variety of two-seat sports cars, plus the American pony stable of Camaros and Mustangs (which are the best they’ve ever been, by the way). But for a European with V8 torque, open skies, and four seats, the C63 S drives a brushed aluminum stake through your enthusiastic heart. And wallet.
Listing image by Jim Resnick