TRULY FAST WAGONS, LIKE THE 2016 MERCEDES-AMG C63 S ESTATE, ARE A LITTLE THIN ON THE GROUND HERE. WHILE OUR EUROPEAN FRIENDS GET A FULL SMORGASBORD, OUR CHOICES ARE SLIM.
But, it's not a complete famine for Australian petrol-headed pragmatists. At the lower end of the price spectrum there’s the Volkswagen Golf R Wagon and the Holden SS Sportwagon/HSV Clubsport R8 Tourer double-act; while spending a bit more coin can get you into Audi’s RS4 Avant.
Drop even more dollars and the head-stomping RS6 Avant could be in your driveway.
One of the newest entrants in the performance wagon niche is the Mercedes-AMG C63 S Estate - and by golly, if it isn’t the best of the lot.
To this scribe’s eye it looks better than the sedan, while the sizing is perfect for a family of four (with space for an optional labrador in the back).
And then there’s the engine, that taut chassis, delectable steering and that thunderous soundtrack. The sounds this car generates will make you tremble with excitement.
We spent a week behind the wheel. It was a fun week.
Vehicle style: High performance wagon
Price: $157,010 (plus on-road costs)
Engine/transmission: 375kW/700Nm 4.0-litre 8cyl turbo petrol | 7spd automatic
Fuel consumption claimed: 8.7 l/100km | tested: 16.7 l/100km
Introduced three months after the arrival of the current-gen W205 C-Class sedan, the S205 C-Class Estate (European-ese for “wagon”) is a suave, well-proportioned alternative to the endless parade of SUVs that presently saturate the prestige market.
Yet while it provides what is arguably a more useful load area, the Estate’s cargo capacity is listed at a mere 10 litres more than the sedan - 490L versus 480L. There’s also a $2500 price premium compared to the C63 S sedan, and a slight reduction in performance.
To many, though, these differences will be marginal enough that they don’t matter. If you want a car that is genuinely quick AND genuinely usable, AND you can leap the price of entry, the C63 S Estate will be right up your alley.
- Standard equipment: Head-up display, tri-zone climate control, active cruise control, front and rear parking sensors, reversing camera, powered tailgate, power front seats, power adjustable steering column, AMG performance front seats, cabin fragrance system.
- Infotainment: Comand Online with touchpad/dial controller, 8-inch multi-function display, 13-speaker Burmester audio system, digital TV tuner, satellite navigation, Bluetooth phone/audio integration.
- Cargo volume: 490L with all seat up, 1510L with rear seat folded.
The C-Class’ interior is best enjoyed in higher-grade form, where it looks less like a mid-level sedan and more like a scaled-down S-Class cabin.
In the C63 Estate, it’s very much an upper-crust interior.
The centre stack is encased in a broad slab of open-pore wood trim (which is also applied to the door panels), silver metallic coatings are applied liberally around the cabin and the piped ambient lighting makes the joint look like a fancy nightclub when the sun goes down.
The machined alloy speaker-covers for the Burmester sound system are another upmarket touch, as is the supple leather upholstery and part-Alcantara, part-leather steering wheel rim.
It all looks and feels very fancy, but Mercedes should have another think about its combined scroll dial/touchpad interface for the Comand infotainment system.
Menu navigation is a clunky, error-prone affair, and when twiddling the dial that touchpad tends to register false inputs unless your palm is in full contact with it. Audi and BMW do a better job in this regard.
The on-board air-fragrance system is a handy feature for smokers or those who’d rather their car applied deodorant for them, but it takes up precious room in an already-tight glovebox. It’s standard on the C63, we’d rather it wasn’t there.
But that’s about the summary of our complaints. This interior is as comfortable as it looks, and though the boot is “officially” only 10 litres larger than the sedan’s, that measurement is to the underside of the cargo cover.
Retract it, and your seats-up luggage capacity increases markedly.
A 40/20/40 split rear seat also adds some extra versatility to the cabin layout, and a seat-to-roof cargo net is built in to the cargo blind. Shopping bag hooks and a power tailgate are underrated yet much appreciated features.
The front seats are fantastic too. Customisable for length, width, recline and lumbar (with pneumatically adjustable bolsters), they’re perfect for holding you in place on a twisty set of roads.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 375kW/700Nm 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8 petrol engine
- Transmission: Seven-speed automatic gearbox with paddle shifters, rear wheel drive
- Suspension: Four-link front, five-link rear with coil springs and adjustable dampers.
- Steering: Electrically assisted
- Brakes: Front and rear ventilated discs, six-piston fixed front calipers, two-piston sliding rear calipers.
- Wheels/Tyres: 19-inch alloys, Michelin Pilot Super Sport.
While emissions regulations played their part in banishing the C63’s old naturally-aspirated 6.2 litre V8, the 4.0 litre twin-turbo bent-eight that replaces it is a worthy successor.
Pleasingly lag-free thanks to its big displacement (there’s more than enough exhaust gas flowing at low RPM to spool up those turbos quickly) and placement of turbos within the “vee” of the engine, this turbo 4.0 is impressively linear in its power delivery and likes to rev.
Its 375kW peak power figure happens between 5500 and 6250rpm, with peak torque of 700Nm spread between 1750 and 4500rpm.
Not only is that 90Nm more torque than the previous-gen C63 Estate put out, but it’s accessible from much lower in the rev range. The old C63 developed peak twist at 5200rpm, its replacement will yank stumps out of the ground at just 1000rpm above idle.
And that alters the character of the C63 somewhat. Such boundless low-end torque means that 4.0L V8 is endowed with tremendous flexibility for both road and track.
It’ll happily lope around town in high gears, while the full breadth of its rev range is usable on a circuit - not just the top half of the tachometer. Odds are, your favourite mountain road can probably be dispatched with just one gear - third.
If you’re concerned about the extra heft of the wagon, don’t be. There’s 75kg of extra mass, but that translates to just a 0.1 second hit on the 0-100km/h sprint (4.1s for the wagon, 4.0 for the sedan) and a 10km/h reduction in top speed… to 280km/h.
Only available with an automatic transmission, the C63 nevertheless has seven gears to choose from, and, despite not being a dual-clutch, is able to snap through gearchanges in the blink of an eye.
Set the drive mode selector to Sport or Sport Plus and it holds revs higher and hangs on to lower gears, downshifting by itself on hard braking with a satisfying pop and crackle from the quad exhausts out back.
You can manually override the gearbox’s electronic brain by touching the steering-wheel mounted shift paddles at any time, or by locking the transmission in manual mode via a button on the centre console.
Dialling up Sport or Sport Plus modes tightens up the suspension too, reducing pitch and roll at the expense of a more brittle ride.
The steering increases in weight in those modes as well, and it’s wonderfully sharp and responsive with solid feedback through the wheel.
Sport Plus also permits a modest amount of slip at the rear wheels, allowing the C63 Estate to pivot on the throttle on corner exit, Michelin Pilot Super Sports scrabbling for grip..
Driven around town in Comfort mode, the ride is unashamedly firm. This is a performance car after all, and the C63’s ride quality is a constant reminder of that. It won’t loosen your fillings, but it sure ain’t plush - nor should it be.
SAFETY | RATING: 5/5
ANCAP rating: 5/5 Stars - while the C-Class estate hasn’t been tested by ANCAP, the identical-ahead-of-the-B-pillar C-Class sedan has, and achieved 36.46 out of 37 possible points.
Safety features: ABS, EBD, traction control (switchable), stability control (switchable), seven airbags, reversing camera, parking sensors and adaptive cruise control are all standard on the C63 Estate
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
There’s really just one true competitor for the C63 Estate, and that’s Audi’s ageing RS4 Avant.
BMW doesn’t make a wagon-bodied version of the M3 (though it absolutely should), and, from Lexus, there is just the two-door RC F Coupe in the performance midsize niche.
At $151,010, the RS4 has a price advantage that helps compensate for its age, and it boasts a delectable high-revving atmo V8 and all-weather AWD grip. That said, the C63 Estate simply has more pull - in more ways than one.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
We’re resigned to the fact that the C63 S Estate will likely continue to live in the shadow of its sedan brother, but we hope that you, the speed-loving and "money-having" motorists of Australia, give it its due.
The impact on performance is minimal; the Estate handles, stops and goes almost as hard as the sedan. To balance that out, the bigger back end gives you a car that’s more suitable for day-to-day duty, and more pleasing proportions.
For performance enthusiasts, it’s probably the closest thing to the perfect all-rounder. Speed and space in equal measure, with one not compromising the other.