PARADISE VALLEY, AZ – The car you see here is what makes highway patrol officers all warm and fuzzy inside.

From its bellowing, head-turning rumble to its utter disdain for traveling anything below an Autobahn-like gate, Mercedes-AMG GmbH’s ’08 C63 sedan is a rolling court date waiting to happen.

No less than three members of our recent convoy were yanked by Arizona’s finest for abusing the sanctity of the posted limits.

Not that policing of this desert playground isn’t a bit overzealous, the newest member of the AMG family just loves to go fast and struggles to telegraph the urgency of travel to the driver.

AMGs always have been about power (engines are autographed by assemblers in Affalterbach, Germany), and the new C63 is no different.

The end of the horsepower war may be around the corner, what with ever-louder calls for smaller, lighter cars that spew less and conserve more. But AMG, along with several other high-end horsepower slingers, clearly is reluctant to come to terms with reality.

By stuffing a big 6.2L V-8 – a bespoke piece for which only the auto maker’s AMG lineup is worthy – into the already-fresh C-Class, the C63 is given a much larger 451-hp stick to swing at its 8-cyl. playmates, namely the all-new BMW M3 and Lexus IS-F.

Both the Bimmer’s frenzied, 8,400-rpm 4.0L V-8 and the Lexus’ torque-mongering 5.0L have nothing on this AMG mill. It simply makes power at all bandwidths, with a soundtrack that would make NASCAR proud.

Mercedes’ SpeedShift Plus 7-speed automatic with AMG tuning shuttles the power to the rear, where the 18-in. Pirelli PZeros routinely are reduced to stripes on the pavement.

This joyous disregard for rubber is a welcome change from Mercedes, which long has pushed electronic-stability controls that cannot be muted entirely.

In the C63, ESC modes include on, sport and off; otherwise known as safe, controlled tail-wagging and full-on drift.

Although not as intimate as the BMW’s 6-speed manual, nor as fast as some dual-clutch units, the SpeedShift automatic does feature comfort, sport and manual settings with varying degrees of shift speed. Regardless of the mode, the gearbox feels sharp and never saps the fun out of blipping up and down the gears with the steering wheel-mounted paddles.

However, the intimacy of the experience – or lack thereof, compared with the edgy M3 – is less an issue because the new IS-F is more the C63’s match, not to mention the one most likely to be cross-shopped.

Mercedes says the C63 is all new from the A-pillar forward, and digging into a hard corner reveals the wider front and rear tracks and stiffened suspenders do wonders for improving grip and road feel.

A reinforced axle, additional suspension camber and big, fade-free brakes also contribute to what may be some of the best road holding yet to come from Stuttgart.

All this performance drama is bathed in a conservative, yet stylish, AMG body kit, with four AMG-stamped cannons sounding the horn of thrust out back.

Equal amounts of pizzazz and restraint spice up the interior makeover, highlighted by severely bolstered sports seats capable of securing front passengers in a centrifuge.

The flat-bottomed AMG steering wheel is a joy to hold as surprising amounts of feedback for a Mercedes are relayed through the new speed-sensitive rack and pinion.

As an added bonus, AMG will offer on ’09 models a performance package consisting of a more aggressive suspension, limited-slip differential, lightweight compound brakes and an Alcantara-lined tiller.

’08 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG
Vehicle type front-engine, rear-drive, 5-passenger sedan
Engine 6.2L DOHC V-8
Power (SAE net) 451 hp @ 6,800 rpm
Torque 443 lb.-ft (601 Nm) @ 5,000 rpm
Compression ratio 11.3:1
Transmission AMG SpeedShift Plus 7-speed automatic
Wheelbase 108.7 ins. (276 cm)
Overall length 186.0 ins. (472 cm)
Overall width 70.7 (180 cm)
Overall height 56.6 (144 cm)
Curb Weight 3,649 lbs./ 1,665 kg
Base price $54,625
Fuel economy 12/19 mpg (20/12 L/100 km)
Competition Audi RS4, BMW M3, Lexus IS-F
Pros Cons
Big-block rumble Big-block thirst
Vice-grip seats Numb sense of speed
Bang for buck Traction limited

At $3,900, the option is not cheap, and the suspension and braking improvements are vague. However, the LSD, alone, makes a huge difference in chassis feel and is probably worth the extra pennies.

Mercedes was careful in pricing the C63. Less than $55,000 (not including at least $1,300 in gas-guzzler charges) will be needed to get one – in cloth, without navigation or premium sound – when the cars hit U.S. dealers next month.

However, adding leather seating and multimedia packages easily will raise the sticker to the $60,000-plus average transaction price that Mercedes expects.

The price is similar to that of the M3 sedan and IS-F and is impressive for a practical luxury sedan that Mercedes says will hit 60 mph (97 km/h) in 4.3 seconds and top out at 186 mph (299 km/h) with the performance package.

But the C63 feels like a different animal than the BMW. It’s a true luxury-performance sedan, not a 4-door pretending to be a sports car.

Nor is it the equal of Lexus’ first performance ride. With a history measured in decades, AMG figured out long ago a car of this caliber must be more than a big engine stuffed in a small car with tighter underpinnings.

The C63 comes off as the most effective compromise between performance, luxury and style in its class, and it’s by far the most powerful.

Just keep an eye on the speedometer.

msutton@wardsauto.com