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Carving Malibu Canyon in a C63 AMG

Posted by George Kennedy  March 16, 2012 02:28 PM

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(All photos: Steve Davis/WheelsTV). Click photo for larger version.

LOS ANGELES—Refined excess may sound like a contradiction, but it's the simplest way to describe this city and the monster I'm driving, a 2012 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG Coupe. A fair amount of Angelinos will buy this elegant luxury car, which only gives off subtle hints of its bone-crushing power and finely-tuned suspension.

AMG is the in-house performance wing of Mercedes-Benz, akin to BMW's M Division. Both are well known among car enthusiasts, but with the M3, only BMW had a true world-beating performance coupe. Until now.

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First order: Get out of LA's tough, endless grid and tackle some challenging roads in the greater area.

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I head to Piuma Road, an hour outside of the city, which begins in the depths of Malibu Canyon. It's like a strewn garden hose draped over the side of a massive incline, a series of abrupt switchbacks and steady elevation changes that make it seem impossible to cross. Then a bright yellow Lotus blows past, its engine echoing off the canyon walls, completing the run. Time to join the fun.

It's the perfect place to put the 481-horsepower V-8 to work. While most versions of the C63 are listed at 451 horsepower, this particular test model had the AMG Development Pack, a $6,050 option that includes red brake calipers, a carbon fiber rear spoiler, and engine remapping to bring out 30 extra horsepower. Don't lose sleep over that number; 451 is plenty.

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Lay into the throttle and the V-8 comes to life, rocketing past 6,800 rpm and pressing the driver into the heated sport bucket seats. Climbing the sharp, upward curves of this hill was effortless, and there was always too much power. While this road is better suited to sharp-handling cars like the Lotus, the C63's horsepower adds some havoc to an otherwise smooth experience.

Some people may scoff at Mercedes for not fitting a true manual transmission. If you need the stick-shift, look at the M3. Otherwise, you'll be quite content with the 7-speed AMG Speedshift transmission. With multiple clutches, it manages power well and shifts in 100 milliseconds. That's an impressive number, but you'll be more impressed by the V-8's soundtrack when downshifting with the steering-wheel mounted paddles. Consider it your very own mechanical sonnet.

Shortly after cresting a hill, Piuma turns into Las Flores Canyon Road. Las Flores marks the descent down to the ocean and to the Pacific Coast Highway. Its turns are even tighter, and its sharp descent was ideal to try the brakes and steering.

All four disc brakes are perforated and drilled to dispel as much heat as possible, with six pistons in front and four in the rear. This hardware brings the C63 Coupe down to cornering speed alarmingly fast. You can open up the throttle on a straightaway and come back down to make an approaching S-turn almost instantly.

The speed-sensitive AMG-spec rack-and-pinion steering is jack-rabbit-responsive. Grabbing the squared-off steering wheel is a constant reminder of the car's performance, without even moving.

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Latigo Canyon Road was another 20-minute drive up the Pacific Coast Highway. Unlike Las Flores and Piuma, Latigo has a more gradual incline — and wasn’t as well-paved. But what pure joy. The harder you push the C63 into a corner, the quicker it squeezes out the other end without affair. Body roll was nonexistent, and you felt as though you could take on Le Mans or the Nurburgring. Retracing our steps down Latigo back to the highway was equally as thrilling, but when I returned to normal cruising, the C63 showed its caveats.

For one, the responsive suspension will not deliver any semblance of a smooth ride. Stretches of pothole-heavy roads threatened to shake my fillings loose. In addition, the neck-snapping 7-speed transmission is uneasy in traffic or navigating a parking lot. There is a learning curve to the multi-clutch setup, and it is unnerving to experience rollback during a hill start in a car where you do not control the clutch.

Then there's the price. The C63 Coupe starts at $61,430, quite in line with competition like the M3 and Cadillac CTS-V Coupe. But add a few options, and the sticker skyrockets. On our car, with the AMG Development pack and COMAND infotainment system, the price climbed to just south of $80,000.

Anyone looking to purchase a C63 Coupe already knows the deal and likely will be happy to trade certain comforts for a rewarding drive and heart-racing power. These people are called enthusiasts, and should be applauded. The moment the traffic on the Pacific Coast Highway lets up and there is a free stretch of road, a quick paddle-induced downshift and a healthy application of throttle will answer any reservations, provided you can hear it over the V-8's glorious gargle.

George Kennedy is a senior writer for Wheels TV in Acton and can be reached at gkennedy@wheelstv.net.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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