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First Oz drive: C32 AMG on the wild side

Ready for action: the C32 AMG storms to 100km/h in just 5.2 seconds and is now on sale in Australia.

AMG's supercharged C32 is the hottest iteration of the C-class sedan, revealing no signs of Mercedes-Benz conservatism

2 Nov 2001

DIRECT to Australia from the Mercedes-Benz hot-shop comes Stuttgart's answer to BMW's M3, the supercharged C32 AMG. At $146,900, the wildest ever C-class remains $10K more expensive than M's finest Three, yet offers a driving experience that's as far removed from the M3 as it is from the V8 C43 it replaces.

Packing the same force-fed 260kW, 3.2-litre V6 as the recently released SLK32 AMG, the C32 has a slightly more powerful engine and, despite the extra weight, is claimed to sprint to 100km/h in an M3-matching 5.2 seconds - notwithstanding its exclusive use of an automatic transmission. It, too, has a top speed limited to 250km/h.

As such, the C32 AMG will be one of the quickest cars on the road when it arrives here this month, bettered only by the likes of Mercedes-Benz's own, lighter SLK32 AMG and Porsche's facelifted, more powerful 2002 911.

And it will sell out just as quickly. With the first batch comprising just 20 cars and only 60 to 100 examples allocated to Australia for 2002, many unlucky C32 customers will have to wait up to six months for delivery.

We won't get the wagon version of the C32, so the AMG sedan completes the W203 C-class line-up in Australia, which rates as the fifth best selling AMG market in the world.

Fittingly, the most expensive C-class gets all the standard equipment offered in the flagship mainstream C-class, the C320, such as a full leather interior, automatic climate control, metallic paint, ABS, Brake Assist, Electronic Stability Program and front, side and window airbags.

But the C32 adds a host of extra equipment, including an AMG bodykit, AMG nappa leather upholstery, AMG heated electric sports seats with memory, aluminium interior trim, the Mercedes-Benz COMMAND system with navigation, a multi-function AMG steering wheel, dual chrome exhaust outlets, beefier four-piston AMG brakes, AMG sports suspension, a rain sensor, electric glass sunroof, CD stacker and larger (7.5 and 8.5-inch) 17-inch alloys wearing 225/45 and 245/40-section rubber front and rear respectively. There are no further options.

The C32 AMG's supercharged three-valve V6 produces 260kW at 6100rpm and an outstanding 450Nm of torque at 4400rpm. It's coupled with a more performance-orientated, Speedshift version of the C-class's excellent five-speed semi-automatic transmission, which offers manual Tipshift gear selection.

Though it appears on paper to be almost identical in philosophy, if not execution, to both the BMW M3 and Mercedes-Benz's own SLK32 AMG, the C32 AMG is an altogether different, but equally as potent, performance car.

The C32 AMG builds power deceptively, offering few of the aural sensations delivered by the open-topped SLK AMG from within its whisper-quiet, aluminium-laden cabin. And yet it's astonishingly quick, drawing the horizon toward you in a manner few other cars can match.

Okay, so it lacks the M3's manual transmission, which is a glaring omission in a vehicle with such overtly sporting intentions, but the "Speedshift" semi-automatic gets the job done with surprising efficiency, and the blown V6 is never lacking for torque, regardless of revs.

Of course, the C32 is light-years ahead of the SLK in steering terms. By using a modern, rack-and-pinion set-up, the C-class sedan makes the convertible's recirculating ball system feel antiquated and dead by comparison. The C-class's communicative steering has been further improved in the C32, and combines with impeccable body rigidity to produce one of the most rewarding Mercedes-Benz drives yet.

But it's when the road deteriorates that the C32?s real differences emerge. More softly suspended than both the M3 and SLK, the C32 rides exceptionally well for a performance car and offers the sort of high-speed compliance M3 drivers can only dream of.

In what seems an uncannily effective compromise between ride comfort and sporting firmness, the C32 may lack the harder edge of BMW's sports coupe, but the four-door Benz feels somewhat more forgiving and easier to drive quickly. Which, after all, is what the C32 AMG is all about.

GoAuto can help you buy a new C-Class

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