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Car reviews - Mercedes-Benz - C-Class - C55 AMG sedan

Our Opinion

We like
Easy power, secure on-road feel, comfort
Room for improvement
The price

Mercedes-Benz logo8 Apr 2005

By TIM BRITTEN

IF the thought of having to find $459,900 just so you can have a Mercedes-Benz CL65 AMG in your carport is a little scary to you, why not consider the latest C55 AMG, which costs a mere $159,900?

While you’re saving yourself exactly $300,000, you’re not falling all that far behind where performance is concerned. The CL65 might lunge from zero to 100km/h in 4.4 seconds, but the C55 tails not all that far behind, at 5.2 seconds for the same sprint.

With a slightly worked 5.5-litre V8 engine and an all-up weight of 1635kg, this is a very fast C-class.

It’s a long way from the base C-class Benz models, which start at 1.8 litres of supercharged four-cylinder, producing just 105kW and 220Nm of torque.

The C55’s alloy V8 winds out 270kW and 510Nm which, as you can imagine, rather changes the character of the volume-selling Benz.

It changes the character, but it does not make the C-class a snarling, snorting, dangerous beast.

In fact after a longish stint behind the wheel, the AMG feels almost restrained. The power comes on in such a linear way, and the AMG-worked suspension does such a good job of containing it, you begin to feel that, yes, this Benz could do with even a little more stick.

Now, 270kW and 510Nm are nothing really remarkable in a relatively high-tech, 5.5-litre, normally aspirated engine. If, for example, the 24-valve Benz V8 was tuned to the same level as, say, a current 32-valve BMW V8, it would be producing around 310kW and 560Nm of torque.

Nor, for that matter, does the C55 offer the supercharged version that offers 350kW in the E55 sedan and wagon, and an even meatier 368kW in the S55, SL55 and CL55 AMGs. Like the CLK coupe and cabrio (and the SLK55 AMG, which is detuned to 265kW), it stick with natural aspiration.

But that’s nothing to be ashamed of, because what you have in the C55 AMG is a deliciously fast, but clearly understressed compact sports sedan.

There’s never the feeling that it’s tightly wound, fragile, or temperamental. Never even the feeling that the engine is particularly big for a car of this size. It feels just right, balanced.

The car is quite different to its predecessor, the C32 AMG, that produced a healthy 260kW along with 210Nm of supercharger-induced torque. The V8 rumble is quite muted, but it’s clearly a beefier engine than the C32’s boosted 3.2-litre V6.

Power is delivered in a nicely linear way, transmitted to the rear wheels via the Benz five-speed automatic which has been tweaked by AMG so that it works, when you want it, in a fashion that gives much more manual control than a regular Benz auto. Select a gear and the AMG Speedshift auto will hold it - whether you activate kickdown, or run the engine up to its red line.

This might grate against normal Benz practices of foolproofing their drivetrains, but it does elevate the importance, and pander to the ego of the driver.

Shifts can be controlled either via the lever on the console, or buttons on the AMG steering wheel. These are a little more ergonomic than some similar systems but are still virtually inoperable when any steering wheel lock is applied.

The C55’s handling finesse is due to the work done by AMG at building up the chassis to match the performance. This includes new springs and shock absorbers, a wider front track (by 14mm) and a seven per cent faster steering ratio. Wheels are 18-inch alloys, wider at the back (8.5J) than the front (7.5J). The tyres are 225/40R18s at the front, and 245/35R18s at the rear.

The electronic systems include a new traction control system that acts similarly to a limited-slip differential by ensuring power is delivered to the wheel with more grip, using the inner-wheel brakes rather than modulating the throttle.

The C55 is recognisable via its front-end appearance (a longer, lower-set front-end than regular C-Class models, with a redesigned bonnet, front guards, bi-Xenon headlights and grille), side skirts and discreet rear spoiler, as well as the meaty dual, twin-pipe exhausts.

Inside, there are power-operated AMG sports seats (with memory, and heating, at the front) and steering wheel, split-fold rear seat, power sunroof, special instrument cluster with 320km/h speedometer, and a full complement of the gear you’d expect, including satellite navigation and a six-disc CD stacker, even in a price-leader car.

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