Sometimes you need a car that lets you break away from responsibilities, follow your whim, and burn some rubber along the way. Ideally, it’ll have about 500 horsepower. While in southern Spain testing out the new sleek, refined Mercedes-Benz C-Class coupes, I felt the need to break away from my programmed route. I craved a bit of spontaneity and a dose of adventure, however modest, that would let me explore a place I’d long been curious about. My target: the Rock of Gibraltar. My car: the AMG C63 S Coupe.

Gibraltar is a mysterious piece of real estate at the gateway to the Mediterranean Sea, and my knowledge of the place is fuzzy, but enticing. Thanks to its attractive position at the mouth of the Mediterranean, it has a storied military history; with its gigantic limestone outcrop, it has geological appeal; and courtesy of political tensions throughout the last century, it carries a dose of intrigue. So when my co-driver and I saddled up in the C63 S version of the new coupe before sunrise, we aimed the modestly sized and sensibly sculpted (i.e., non-supercar) frame due west, and lit up the 510 horsepower, 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 engine. The car has a slew of enhancements infused into its sheet metal and carbon fiber structure to help man and machine reach their limits, most of which I had experienced the previous day during a thrashing at the private racetrack Circuito Ascari. Now was my chance to experience all the tweaks that brought the perfectly sporty C-Class coupe to monster-car status at full song on the highway.

We aimed the modestly sized and sensibly sculpted (i.e., non-supercar) frame due west, and lit up the 510 horsepower, 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 engine.

We made a mad dash for the Rock. Instead of protracted evaluations of the car’s cornering chops — at the track I found it highly competitive with an entertaining amount of “twitch” when alternating between throttle and braking in the track’s crazy esses — I relished the buzz-saw dynamic at high speed. The new C63 has millisecond response in acceleration thanks to the prompt seven-speed sport transmission, a far more aggressive piece of kit than found in its predecessor, and it was an exhilarating drive all the way to Gibraltar.

Mercedes-AMG C63 S Coupe Specs
Mercedes-C-Coupe-Gear-Patrol-sidebar
Engine: 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8
Transmission: seven-speed AMG Speedshift
Horsepower: 510
Torque: 516 lb-ft
Drive System: RWD
0-60 mph: 3.8 seconds
Top Speed: 155 mph

But first, what is Gibraltar, anyway? We all know a little something about this British territory, even if it’s simply the fact that the famous Rock contained within its 2.5 square miles is a 1,400-foot tall chunk of limestone that’s featured prominently in the logo of Prudential Financial. It hosts a population of Barbary macaques, and the opening sequence of the James Bond movie The Living Daylights was set there. That was the beginning and end of my knowledge of Gibraltar. The fuller story is more complicated.

The Rock was ceded by Spain to Great Britain “in perpetuity,” in 1713, long before people really thought such eternal commitments through. As a result, the Spaniards have wanted it back somewhat ever since, to the point that Spain closed its borders to Gibraltar (in a huff) in 1969 and didn’t reopen them until 1985. Because of its strategic location at the narrow, eight-mile-wide entrance to the Mediterranean Sea, the Rock was repeatedly targeted by invading parties throughout history, most notably during World War II, when the Nazis tried unsuccessfully to capture it from the British.

Prodigious torque can deliver the car to 60 mph in a stable, balanced 3.9 seconds.

But I wanted to know what the place was really like. Is it just the Rock? Do people live there? We crested a ridge on the highway in the AMG — which rocketed down the Spanish coast with an appropriately Bond-like intensity and sense of purpose — and saw the Rock for the first time. The massive vertical outcrop sits amid flat coastal beaches and a few rolling hills. There was no uncertainty as to whether it was the limestone landmark in question. It’s a strange, distinctive, beautiful place.

As we got closer, with the rising sun casting its rays on the huge landmark, we could see the terrain around it. Essentially, Gibraltar is the rock as well as a small city at the base. People from La Linea were commuting on foot to the city, which has strong finance, online gambling and shipping industries, so it was crowded. We sat in line at passport control, and then crossed over the main runway at Gibraltar International Airport. The runway sits parallel with the border, and it’s the only way to enter the city. When airplanes come and go, they simply close the crossings.

Mercedes-C-Coupe-Gear-Patrol-inline

Once past the border, we executed a quick lap of the Rock, caught views of ships in the sea beyond the road, and peeked into the city. Yes, people live there; yes, it’s a functional little city at the base of a great big chunk of rock. We didn’t have time to explore the Rock on foot, but it’s clearly worth a trip, especially if you’re already in the sun-baked landscape of southern Andalusia. We left Gibraltar and headed back up the coast, pulling over at a scenic overlook on the highway for a final glimpse of the big protrusion. It sat there as a colossal geological non-sequitur by the sea. This brief visit was satisfying enough — sometimes, just a glimpse of a place is enough to grasp its essence.

Upon exiting that roadside overlook, I tried to grasp the essence of our getaway vehicle, via a pedal-to-the-floorboard departure up the ramp to the nearly barren freeway. The AMG C63 S’s enhanced multi-link rear axle, electrically modulated suspension and prodigious torque can deliver the car to 60 mph in a stable, balanced 3.9 seconds, and it sure felt like I hit that. It’s hard to say that you can be surprised by a car that’s as torqued up as this one, but I was. It feels as 911-like as any coupe on the open road, with the advantage of a usable rear seat and trunk. And like that mysterious and beautiful Rock, however brief your interaction, it’s absolutely worth the drive.