I love watching manufacturers duke it out at the Nurburgring for lap times. Seeing barely camouflaged sports cars and hypercars blasting around, arguably, the most famous track in the world is tons of fun. But, I also hate the ‘Ring because I feel it has caused the ruin of some genuinely magical vehicles.
This opinion is not groundbreaking territory; former Top Gear presenter James May has famously espoused this idea for years. Based on their arguments, the premise seemed plausible, but I hadn’t experienced it first-hand. That is until I spent some time driving my wife’s new car, more on that in a bit.
The thought process of testing at the 12.9 mile Nurburgring Nordschleife Captain-Insano circuit is that if a sports car can handle the twists, turns, elevation and pavement changes, and brutally fast straights, it will be magic on any road or track a driver can throw at it. While that is not entirely flawed logic for a sports car, it doesn’t mean that every car, truck, and SUV a manufacturer builds should be held to the same standard, yet they are.
Dozens of YouTube channels and websites exist for you to watch car companies “secretly’‘ test their latest wares on the circuit in the quest to snag a category record, or at least to make a vehicle that is competent in its class. I applaud the desire to create vehicles that keep their composure when the road gets interesting, but not at the expense of civility.
This brings me to my recent experience driving my wife’s new-to-her 2019 Mercedes C63 AMG coupe. To be clear, the car is glorious. It looks the business with a perfect combination of grace and menace. Even in a cliche German color (silver, with essential black accents, of course), it just looks good. Like, really, really good. The grill screams Autobahn left-lane, get out of my way presence, while the silhouette is sleek and graceful, almost timeless.
While the C63 AMG is certainly powerful and made with sport in mind, it does so while maintaining the buttoned-down presence of a Mercedes. The rake is reminiscent of old-school muscle cars; the wheel and tire combo give it just the right stance to look serious and powerful. But the car is not “shouty” or boy-racer like some competitors.
I was pretty psyched to drive it, and when I did, I was not disappointed by the engine or exhaust note (only that it was a little too muted for my neanderthal half). I also wasn’t left wanting from the handling or feel from the big sled. It may not be lightweight, but this thing can dance!
The sporting nature of the car was everything I expected from an AMG vehicle. However, what hammered home my realization the desire of auto manufacturers to conquer the ‘Ring had ruined this car occurred when I slipped the mode control dial to Comfort.
This may be a blunt instrument of power in Sport mode, but it is still a Mercedes Benz. I expect a certain level of civility when I see the three-pointed star. The ride in Comfort mode, and I mean full-on Comfort for all settings (engine, exhaust, transmission, and suspension), was, frankly, harsh. The car didn’t glide over cracks in the road or absorb expansion joints like memory foam. Instead, it crashed into them like a cart on a wooden roller coaster. I was so shocked by the harsh ride that I had to double-check to make sure I hit the correct buttons and then double-checked the double-check.
All was as it should be, the car was indeed in Comfort mode, but the experience I had was not comfortable. Don’t get me wrong; this was by no means a filling rattling ride. There is no comparison to a Ford Focus RS or a race car with PolyBronze bushings here. But as I said, I expect a Mercedes to ride better in Comfort mode than a Porsche Cayman or a Corvette on 20-inch wheels.
Today’s oversized wheel and tire combinations are guilty of making for harsher rides than a smaller wheel with more sidewall would provide. The C63’s 19-inch wheel and tire setup definitely contribute to the harsh ride, but they can’t take all the blame. I’ve driven cars with bigger wheels, less tire sidewall, and better rides.
The only reason I can grasp for the lack of comfort in Comfort mode is the desire to make sure the C63 blasted the Nurburgring in a time competitive to its peers. The C63 has rather formidable competition in the segment-leading BMW M3, the Audi RS5, and the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio. The BMW and Alfa posted faster ‘Ring times than the C63, and both have also been critiqued for having too harsh a ride by various testers and automotive journalists.
Motivating nearly 4,000 pounds around a race track with poise takes a significant degree of engineering work. It is clear the team did its job in that respect, but I wish there were more of a distinction between the modes. While the job of being taught and fierce when the road gets twisty and the right pedal is mashed is done with aplomb, the cruising mode is just a bit too much. The car is luxurious, and I want it to feel more so at times. But, as GM’s Magnetorheological shock system has proven in every product it is placed, the technology is there. With today’s tech, you can go from fangs out and vicious to smooth and playful with the push of a button.
For me, the C63 doesn’t go far enough towards the comfort side of things, and the constant one-upmanship of manufacturers at the Nurburgring is probably to blame. Would this prevent me from buying the car? It depends. Suppose one of its competitors did a better job going from Batman to Bruce Wayne, then yes. However, this issue seems to plague all high-end sport sedans (and coupes) on the market to varying degrees.
I’m really just picking at nits here, but I am an enthusiast, so complaining is my job. The good news is that each of these cars is brilliant in so many ways. If you’re shopping, buy the one that makes you happy, which will probably come down to looks. For me, even with a slightly flinty ride, the C63 AMG is still the winner. It is the best looking (subjective, of course), the noise the V8 produces is riotously good, and it is so much fun to drive, most of the time.