AMG C63 versus VW Golf : The second installation of evo Australia’s New versus Used car series.
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It would have been all too easy to decide the outcome of this encounter on noise alone. You wouldn’t even need to get behind the wheel; simply close your eyes and ask a willing assistant to fire each contender into life.
Car one catches quickly then immediately settles into an idle with just a hint of low-frequency burble. It’s an unremarkable four-cylinder soundtrack, one that’s overlaid with a dash of turbocharged whoosh when the throttle pedal is given a quick stab. It clearly means business, but it could be any car.
Move on to car two and there’s a brief mechanical churning before the engine erupts with a flare of revs and a baritone blare that could only come from a very special V8. Squeeze the throttle and the soundtrack quickly changes from a rumble to a glorious cacophony of cracks and pops as the crank spins past 3000rpm. If you’re not already smiling like a loon and thinking of your favourite driving roads, then your assistant’s next job will be to check you for signs of life. We have a winner, surely?
Not so fast. If anything, the stark differences between the exhaust notes of our duo act as a metaphor for the head-versus-heart battle that defines this contest. Both are compact wagons that’ll set you back around $60,000, but they go about their business in very different ways.
In the blue corner is the freshly facelifted VW Golf R Estate, which oozes cutting-edge appeal and is packed with the latest performance-enhancing technology. In the white corner is a pre-loved W204 Mercedes C63 AMG Estate – an old-school muscle machine that’s arguably the last of its kind. The VW starts at $57,490 or $59,990 for the Wolfsburg spec. AMG wagons are relatively rare, but a trawl through the online classifieds revealed several available for around $60K (later model ones are still asking well over $100K).
Nearly a decade after making its debut, and six years after this example rolled out of Affalterbach, the C63 still demands your attention. With its power-bulged bonnet, pumped-up wheelarches bursting with 19-inch rims, and a quartet of field-gun-style exhausts, the AMG is unlikely to be confused with a garden C-class wagon.
By contrast, the go-faster Golf looks a little, well, subdued. But for some, the only way to go is incognito.
The AMG has the more cramped rear seat and, crucially, the driver doesn’t get as much seat and wheel adjustment. That means you sit higher in the Merc. You’re also on more intimate terms with your passenger as there’s not as much shoulder room. However, the C63 rides with greater suppleness than the occasionally stiff-legged VW.
Okay, so maybe with all this talk of practicality and ride comfort we’re listening too much to the head. Let’s allow the heart have its say, because on the move the C63’s wild side comes out to play, and it refuses to act its age.
You’ll no doubt be familiar with the Merc’s bombastic V8, but it’s always worth revisiting its vital statistics. The hand-built 6.2-litre unit is one of the last of the great naturally aspirated engines, pumping out a thumping 336kW at 6800rpm and a herculean 600Nm. The latter arrives at a heady 5000rpm, but with plenty of twist available much lower down the rev range, the AMG feels quick from the get-go.
Despite its large capacity, the V8 needs working hard to give its best, only really starting to come alive as the revs rise beyond 3000rpm. Get caught napping at low revs in a high gear and the turbocharged Golf will easily pull a couple of car lengths out of a corner. In fact, despite its measly looking – in this company, at least – figures of 213kW and 380Nm, the VW has little trouble keeping the AMG in its sights. This is partly down to the benefits of forced induction (peak torque arrives at just 2000rpm), but mostly a result of its lighter kerb weight (1518kg plays 1720kg).
Factor in all-wheel-drive traction and easy-peasy launch control and the DSG-only VW will sprint from standstill to 100km/h in a claimed 4.8sec. With perfect conditions and a peachy getaway, the more powerful Merc will cover the same benchmark in 4.6sec.
One word springs to mind when considering the Golf’s tried-and-tested EA888 2.0-litre: ‘clinical’. There’s torque everywhere and once the turbo is boosting – from about 1800rpm – the VW accelerates with real vigour.
Back in the Benz and the contrast couldn’t be starker. Keep the big V8 on the boil and it’s startling: not only are you assaulted by the NASCAR bellow as the needle on the rev-counter swings quickly around to the 7000rpm war-paint, but the C63 also accelerates with real violence.
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Despite the thundering soundtrack and power delivery, the AMG gives you confidence to go hard through corners. The steering isn’t as quick or hefty, but it delivers more feedback, and the combination of prodigious power and rear-wheel drive gives you the option to trim your line using the throttle. Where the Benz can get scrappy near its limit, the Golf remains totally unflappable and completely planted. And where the Merc is expressive and adjustable, the VW is taut and accurate. It simply demolishes torn and twisty back roads with a laser-guided precision. The process is simple: stand on the brakes, turn-in, stamp on the throttle and then let the all-wheel drive sort out the rest.
This might paint the R as a one-dimensional companion, but it melds this incredible competence with genuine interaction. It won’t be goaded into pulling the same hilarious shapes as the Merc, but if you want, the car’s balance and trajectory can be subtly altered with a lift of the throttle.
So, the Golf is fast, fun and comes with the peace of mind that only buying a new car can bring. On the other hand, the AMG is a hand-assembled performance thoroughbred that’s powered by one of the greatest engines of the last decade. It’s also every bit as fast as the young pretender in a straight line, but even more fun to drive. And while the running costs will inevitably be higher, someone else has already shouldered the depreciation.
And then there’s the noise. Sometimes, it really does pay to listen to your heart.