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2024 Mercedes-AMG C63 SE Performance | UK Review

2024 Mercedes-AMG C63 SE Performance | UK Review

While it’s true that the phrase ‘less is more’ can seem a little reductive when dealing with tightly-regulated and highly proprietary performance cars, it’s also true that the flagship AMG-badged C-Class followed a simple formula. It had a V8. And just like any old V8 – the model had grown from 4.3 litres to 5.4 litres to 6.2 litres and a twin-turbo 4.0 litre in less than 20 years. It wasn’t hard to grasp the salient point of this arms race: the C63, as it would eventually be called, was like The Guns of the Navarone. AMG-TNT. A Teutonic thunderbolt woven into a wall. And while it’s become more complex (and better) over time, the basic brawn-and-brain recipe hasn’t changed.

With up to 680bhp and 752lb ft available in the latest version, you could hardly accuse Mercedes-AMG of forgetting the brawn. But with one eye on the future, it’s chosen to get wildly busy with the brains side of things too. In case it’s faded from your memory (and to be fair, it probably hasn’t, as it’s been nearly 18 months since the model’s European launch), the C63 SE Performance is now electrified thanks to a small but extremely fast-charging 6.1kWh battery and a rear-mounted 204bhp electric motor. You also get a switchable, torque-vectoring all-wheel drive system and all-wheel steering for the first time. Oh, and a big, lag-minimising turbocharger. It’s fitted to a 476bhp four-cylinder engine.

The result is, collectively speaking, smarter than a packed conference room at AWE Aldermaston. And it looks the part, too. The C63, like the rest of the Mercedes C-Class, has never been stylish or particularly seductive. AMG’s best efforts have always been three-part function, one-part aerodynamic knuckle duster, and that’s what you get here. The wagon, first driven in the UK, is more pleasing to look at than a BMW M3 Touring and more intimidating than an Audi RS4 Avant. A low bar perhaps on both counts, but it’s empirical proof that, deep down, Mercedes-AMG still knows what we want. Even if the C63 SE Performance is, by definition, partly about withholding what we want.

You can read a more detailed explanation of how the advanced petrol-electric powertrain comes together in Cam’s previous test , but you won’t need to go back there to know that the controversial halving of the C63’s cylinder count wasn’t exactly met in glowing terms. As one might expect, this clearly has little to do with speed. Mercedes-AMG claims a 3.4-second sprint to 62mph for the Estate, and thanks to the always-on nature of the electric assist and the 2.0-litre M139 straining at the leash, that’s probably a good thing for this car. But anyone used to the grunt of its predecessor’s turbocharged V8 (much less the raucous sound of the old 6.2-litre unit trying to free itself) won’t appreciate the lack of much noise or the paper-thin presence of the four-cylinder downshift.

This party-crashing sense of loss is hardly new among hybrids, but every time you drive the latest version, the C63’s old reputation as a lovable hot rod is a monkey on its back. Looking like a linebacker dressed for the court and looking an awful lot like something from a NASCAR pit lane was more of a generational calling card than the C63’s raison d’etre. And even if Mercedes-AMG disputes that description, it quickly becomes clear that the E Performance meets expectations in one respect but not in another. Or at least, in the way that V8s overwhelmingly do not.

There are other things it can’t do. The unexpected softness of the dampers in Comfort mode – one of eight drive settings – is fine on the motorway, but body control often goes south on B roads, and a tendency to pitch under strain doesn’t stop the wagon being jostled by sharper edges. Sport mode doesn’t fix the problem either, or at least not to the extent you might hope. As a result, you might prefer to set things back to normal and spend at least some of your time with the suspension in Sport+ mode. This doesn’t do much for the edgy secondary ride, but it does at least make the C63 a more consistent thing to drive quickly.

That should be plenty, indeed. In fact, given its failure to achieve the belt-fed, point-and-squirt appeal of its predecessors, it’s generally better to embrace the hot hatchback-donor engine and gadget-laden chassis and invite the C63 to the door handles. There’s a crazy, telemetry-guided ‘Boost’ mode located under the kickdown switch for track use, but you won’t need to get close to it to know that the electric motor (and electric turbo) are trying very hard to make four cylinders sound like eight. The M139 itself, spun longitudinally here and mated to the nine-speed Speedshift MCT, can’t summon the elan or effortlessness of the departing V8, but it copes manfully with more than two tonnes of station wagon – and by the time you’re reaching anything close to high revs, you’re usually going very fast indeed.

The chassis meets all this in its own flow much more effectively than it would on a bumpy road. The E Performance’s kerb weight is never a factor because it feels like a big lump – it certainly slows down like that – but with the battery and 30-odd litres of cell coolant in the back (taking up a significant chunk of the available boot space, I must say) it’s suitably well-balanced and doesn’t struggle to turn as the rear wheels do their job. It’s no great surprise that none of this sounds entirely natural, but there’s little doubt that all that torque is being electronically mixed in to good effect – assuming you’re primarily interested in sticking your £100,000 estate car firmly to the road. There’s a Drift mode, of course – but like everything else in the new C63, it’s far less tempting to try than the laugh-meter rear axles of its more recent predecessors.

Mercedes-AMG might argue that all this familiarity with the past is not something that will impress every buyer and is therefore of limited value. It probably imagines that a certain kind of adult techie thinks the E Performance version is just right in terms of looks, power and P11D value. And if we accept that such an audience exists, then the manufacturer cannot be blamed for producing a car that will satisfy it. In fact, there is something to be said for confronting the issue head-on and with a not inconsiderable amount of resources or technical ingenuity, on the grounds that very powerful four-cylinder hybrids are almost certain to become a significant part of the landscape.

However, it’s harder to make a name for itself in the C63, arguably the talisman of the entire Mercedes-AMG range. Heritage is no less a commodity than innovation, and the firm’s four-cylinder solution to the powertrain dilemma simply isn’t exciting enough to replace the V8 engines that built the car’s reputation in the first place. Frankly, with an electric range of just 7 miles and a rather optimistic 38.7mpg combined figure, it’s not convincing enough in terms of running costs.

It doesn’t seem unreasonable to suggest that the four-cylinder hybrid system might be a lot easier to love if it were squeezed into something smaller and lighter, and less hampered by the long-term prestige of an eight-cylinder. After all, the M139 engine is considered a behemoth in other environments, and there’s still something to be said for hybrids that aren’t desperately trying to be hybrids. Like the new Porsche 911 GTS, for example. Or, in fact, the Mercedes-AMG GT 63 SE Performance, which shares the exact same configuration of battery and rear-mounted electric motor, minus the 4.0-litre V8 as a running mate. Beyond the expectation of an even bigger price, it’s hard to see why the C63 couldn’t share a similar setup. Mercedes-AMG has probably spent the last 18 months asking itself the same question.

FEATURES | MERCEDES-AMG C63 SE PERFORMANCE 4MATIC+ ESTATE

Engine: 1,991cc four-cylinder turbocharged plug-in hybrid
Infection: 9-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 680@6,750rpm (system output)
Torque (lb ft): 752@5,250rpm (system output)
0-62 mph: 3.4 seconds
Maximum speed: 168 mph
Weight: 2.190 (EU)
MPG: 38.7mpg
CO2: 156g/km
Price: £101,105