Mercedes-AMG has an annual tradition for motoring journalists: take over the Goodwood Motor Circuit for the day, lay on its latest models, and stand back…
This year, the line-up included AMG GT S, the new C 63 AMG (in regular and S guise), CLS 63 AMG and S 63 AMG Coupe. Five cars to test: total horsepower? Just the 2,666-hp…
And so it was into the famous Goodwood pit lane, where the cars were tightly squeezed in waiting for us to run those terrifying first Goodwood laps where its sheer speed, and sheer lack of safety net, vividly comes back to us.
This was an open-session track day: no rules, no particular order in which to drive the cars. We duly started out with the one we’d come to drive – the new Mercedes-AMG C 63. In, of course, full-on 510-hp S guise.
Mercedes-AMG C 63 S at Goodwood
On the road, this is a £60,000 car. In Brilliant Blue metallic, it looks, um, brilliant – easily the best colour you can choose. We snorted out of the pits, warp-drove to the first daunting right-hander and wondered how we’d got there so quickly.
The S version of the new C 63, boasting the same 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 engine as the GT S coupe, accelerates from 0-62mph in 4.1 seconds. Ah, so that’s how we’d got there so quickly.
We’ve spent a lot of time in the latest BMW M3 Saloon and M4 Coupe; we expected the Merc to be a bit more urbane, a bit less sporty than them. Not a single bit of it. This is one seriously focused car indeed. And not just because of its hysterically burbling V8. Although that does help.
No, it’s the sheer tautly focused sportiness of the C63 that’s the real surprise, particularly if you put the adaptive suspension into full-on track mode. It’s stiff, reactive, extremely agile and brilliantly fluid and rear-biased balanced through corners.
It has a tremendous spread of drive, effective for Goodwood’s very high speed nature but also good for driving it hard out of key sections such as Lavant Corner, getting those rear tyres digging in and working hard for their money.
It does something else brilliantly, too – drift. The Goodwood officials frowned upon us a bit for this – Lord March is very protective of his grass – but we could still get the odd little tweak in (even without setting the ESP fully off: yes, a car that will let you drift, but still catch you if you drift over the edge. Good car!).
Of course, the pro drivers Mercedes-Benz had on hand know all this, and the marshalls know they’re pros. And so, during lunchtime, when one of them fancies showing off just what the car can do, well… they let him get on with it. While the boys back at base got ready with another pair of rear tyres.
Mercedes-AMG GT S at Goodwood
Appetite whetted by the C 63 AMG S – and after proving the regular C 63 AMG was pretty much identical, save for a little less drive out of corners such as Lavant and The Chicane – we spotted a gap in the queue for the Mercedes-AMG GT S, and jumped in.
The first lap was spent being wowed by the effect of the ultra-wide windscreen, massive centre console, general sculptural wonderment and sight of that long, long bonnet stretching far ahead. It’s a big car, alright.
Of course, it’s a riot on track, although it’s a bit more daunting than the C 63. You have to really know what you’re doing to dance on the edge with quite the same confidence – but then, the limits are that much higher as a result…
A few laps of enjoying what a 510-horsepower car that can accelerate from 0-62mph in 3.8 seconds is like – verdict: a tough call between this and a Porsche 911 GTS as, in their different ways, they’re both very good indeed – we noticed there was some sort of big white estate car on our tail. Ah, but not just any estate car. And not the cops, either.
Mercedes-AMG CLS 63 S Shooting Brake at Goodwood
It was the CLS 63 AMG Shooting Brake, fitted with AMG’s 5.5-litre V8 punching out a ridiculous 585hp. Despite its size, it’s barely heavier than the GT S, so still does 0-62mph in 4.2 seconds. All that power, that 5-metre length and that 550-to-1,550-litre boot capacity behind made for one of the more unique high-speed Goodwood track experiences.
Mercedes S 63 AMG Coupe at Goodwood
Breathlessly back at base, we realised something: we hadn’t done the S 63 AMG Coupe yet. Frankly, we weren’t so excited by this one. The S is stupendous on road, but how would the two-tonne, four-seat luxo-barge deal with Goodwood?
Silly us. We’d missed the line describing the Magic Body Control suspension with curve tilting function. This is ‘anti-roll for cars’ – like a bike, as you drive into a right-hander, the car’s suspension will, like a bike, push down on the other side to keep it almost perfectly flat. You can turn in at 150mph and it will still look like you’re cornering at 15mph.
On track, it’s pretty standout. The 585hp beast’s quick, of course, but the sensation of speed is not there because of the silence and comfort – and, when you turn in, only a feeling of understeer when you inevitably drive over the limit tells you how quickly you’re going. Probably the most effortless, easy-going high-speed track-day car ever at Goodwood – and, surprisingly more engaging than it sounds.
Mercedes-AMGs everywhere at Goodwood
By now, confidence was high. The trick to driving Goodwood – drive the corners way faster than you’d ever think sensible, particularly the thrilling St Mary’s section – had been discovered. The circuit was one glorious bellow of hard-worked AMG V8s.
We didn’t want it to end. Only inevitably-fast-depleting fuel reserves called time for some…
Eventually, the chequered flag was waved. What had we learnt? That the CLS is a surprise, the S 63 is AMG’s magic-carpet monster, the GT S is a bona fide Porsche alternative that doesn’t fall apart when you take it out on track…
…But the highlight has to be the wonderful C 63, particularly in S guise. The cheapest car of the day (from ‘just’ £60,000), it’s much more sporting and focused than we’d expected, and served up the most satisfying and engaging track-day experience of the day.
BMW M3 or Mercedes-AMG C 63? Ladies and gentlemen, it sounds like we have a genuine fight in store…