On a racetrack, there’s something that could be called the art of the slide. In a $130,000 Mercedes-Benz at California’s Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, I think I may just have perfected it.
The C63 AMG Black Series is the ultimate vehicle for this perilous task. Rocket into a corner with a bit more speed than usual, and as you try to turn you’ll find yourself tussling with physics. The car wants to hurtle straight forward while you’re trying to coax it to change direction.
The overheated tires are at the edge of adhesion. Add a taste of gas and the rear tires give up traction just for a second and the back end kicks out. The nose of the Mercedes is now pointed in the direction you want to go. Feed back onto the gas pedal. Turn accomplished.
The technique is fast, and the C63 Black Series was built to do it. Try it in an old Porsche 911 and you might find yourself in a “death spiral,” spinning off the track.
You’d be forgiven for equating Mercedes with leather-drenched executive sedans instead of hell-for-leather racetrack rockets. Yet its performance arm, AMG, turns pre-existing models into more extreme (and expensive) forms. Almost every Mercedes model has an AMG version -- the regular C350 sedan, for instance, becomes the C63 AMG.
Then there’s a level beyond: The Black Series. Only two previous models, the CLK and SL, have gotten Black Series treatment. They are ludicrous. The CLK, a 2008 model that’s no longer available, had all the subtlety of Faye Dunaway in “Mommy Dearest.” You could slide it all right -- but you’d likely end up in that death spiral.
Iron Man Version
Now we get the C63 Black, out in March and based on the C-Class sedan. It’s less extreme than the CLK, but keener. The regular C350 compared to the C63 Black Series is like Tony Stark before he puts on his Iron Man costume. The $41,500 C350 has four doors and a V-6 engine with 302 horsepower. It reaches 60 miles per hour in 5.9 seconds.
Its Black cousin is a two-door coupe that starts at around $105,000 and has a 6.3-liter V-8 with 517 hp. Its top speed is 186 mph and it reaches 60 mph in 4.2 seconds.
Walk around the C63 and its racy intentions are clear. There’s a carbon-fiber wing bristling out of the rear, oversize Dunlop high-performance tires and a fire extinguisher bracketed to the front of the driver’s seat.
This low-volume ride is aimed at Mercedes-Benz customers who probably have access to a private racetrack on Sundays. You have to opt for the track and exterior carbon fiber/aerodynamic packages to get all the hardcore goodies ($5,950 and $13,900). I imagine most Black Series buyers will go for the full monty. You can also do without the rear seats, saving weight.
Laguna Seca is a 2.2-mile course with 11 turns among the splendor of Monterey’s sun-dappled hills. A glorious location and an even better track. It starts with a long scary uphill around a blind corner, followed by a downhill and a series of bends.
The C63 has 457 pound-feet of torque and tears up the hill -- the only pause given is my hesitant right foot on the gas. On the downside the big brakes do their thing and in the ensuing curves I begin playing with the sliding technique.
Do it roughly and the car’s electronic traction controls kick in. You lose speed. Hone your driving and carry through the turns with finesse, and it’s quick and smooth. You know when you’ve got the slight slide just right: The sensation transmits upward from rubber to frame to sports seats to your posterior.
Eventually the track carries you up to another long hill that abruptly terminates in Laguna Seca’s famous corkscrew, a blind descent where the ground disappears under your wheels. The ensuing section loses more than 100 feet of elevation.
The C63 eats it up.
After my time with the CLK Black, the C63 is a lot less scary. It seems like a letdown until my third set of laps, when both the track and the car come into focus.
That’s when I’m able to make the short, sharp slides and remain in total control. The AMG vehicles are getting better all the time. The C63 AMG Black Series is a great one.
The last turn before the front straightway is extreme: You have to enter it slowly and be patient. I’m feeling heady and as I come onto the straight I stomp on the gas, intentionally inducing a tire-shredding power slide.
Mercedes mechanics and AMG honchos are in the pit lane and I see them all shaking their heads as I skid by.
Sorry, maybe I haven’t perfected the art of the slide after all.
The 2012 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG Coupe Black Series at a Glance
Engine: 6.3-liter V-8 with 517 horsepower and 457 pound-
feet of torque.
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic.
Speed: 0 to 60 mph in 4.2 seconds.
Gas mileage per gallon: 13 city, 19 highway (estimated).
Price as tested: $129,350.
Best feature: Extreme performance that’s manageable.
Worst feature: You have to add all the pricy packages to
get the meanest machine.
Target buyer: The driver who likes to spend time on a
(Jason H. Harper writes about autos for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)