Review originally published in CarBuzzard 2005
One would like to think that the Mercedes-Benz AMG C55 is the fast and the furious for grownups. Sorta grownups, anyway, but with that corner office, a couple of kids in private school and a feeling that it’s really somewhat gauche to pull in to the lacrosse field parking lot in a slammed CRX with a coffee can muffler. Not that the attitude has changed any. Just the outwards expression.
In fact, the Mercedes-Benz C55 doesn’t look particularly racy from the outside, but it is the Benz family’s bad boy. And we say that in the best way. It’s what happens when AMG, Mercedes’ performance branch, is asked to cram a busload of horsepower into a compact sedan. No doubt the ponies must be sitting in each others’ laps. The five-point-five liter hand-assembled-and-signed vee-eight is rated at 367 horsepower and is somehow made to fit under the standard hood behind the radiator and in front of the firewall and still have room left over for the dipstick.
Diskret und versteck? Yeah, it’s discreet and hidden. But though those in the know will spot the low profile tires, the massive discs behind the open 5-spoke wheels, the massive calipers marked AMG…and of course, that “AMG” badge on the trunklid. Everything is changed but it’s hard to tell it. It won’t particularly impress those who aren’t in on the prank. To civilians it’s just another small German sedan. Until, of course, those horses put their collective hooves to the ground, and with eighty percent of its torque at 2000 rpm, the C55 launches like a sparrow that backed into the paprika on the spice rack.
Then it gets noticed.
Then too, the C55 won’t impress unwitting passengers that it’s anything but the usual C-Class Mercedes. The seats have large side bolsters—the better to corner with, my dear—but otherwise it’s the same nightmare of German ergonomics with unintuitive accessory controls just one hop this side of BMW’s iDrive. There’s this little toggle-and-push controller thingie, touchy and ultrasensitive, for Mercedes’ COMAND audio/air conditioner-heater/nav system, that with one wrong move sends you into an Alice in Wonderland maze from which there’s seemingly no way back. One exception is the CD changer in the glove box. It’s still has the “old-style” six-CD cartridge, but as big as it is, there’s usable room in the box, and to the right there’s a compartment sized just for standard jewel boxes. Cool.
Otherwise the driver has the usual white-on-black Mercedes instruments but with an AMG logo on the speedometer face and a “V8” on the tach. The speedometer reads to 200 mph. That’s not an affectation. There’s a line or two of code in the engine management system that shuts down the fun at 150 mph in deference to tire (and passenger) life.
Anyway, back to the interior: The rear seat is pretty much standard with no extra bolstering. Egress is OK but finding something to hold on to when Mr. So-Called Mature plays on the entrance ramps isn’t. Rear legroom is spare but there’s more than in an Audi S4, if that sort of thing really matters.
What does matter is the faint rumble rising from the floor at idle. Pull the cord and there’s a mad water buffalo underneath—mixing metaphors with the horses in each others’ laps of a moment ago—scrabbling for traction. Just make sure the five-speed automatic transmission, manually shiftable from the steering wheel, is in the proper gear. Behind the right and left spoke are buttons—one each—for shifting up and down, labeled “+” and “-“ on the front of each spoke as a reminder. Left to itself, the transmission has to sift through its deck before deciding on the right ratio. Even then the transmission is still a regular automatic that therefore doesn’t shift with the alacrity of, say, BMW’s gearbox with SMG. On the road it’s not too much of a bother; on the track, if one were so bold, it takes the edge off.
Otherwise the C55 would acquit itself well on a road course. Handling is quick, agile and the steering nicely weighted. Grip is unsurprisingly prodigious and the chassis communicative even up to the ultimate understeer in tight corners. And the only trouble with the brakes is that in panic braking you’re likely to have the odd Cavalier getting intimate with your rear bumper.
Sixty and change may seem like a lot of money for a V8-powered C-Class, though maybe not, considering all the personal attention that goes into it. The CarBuzzard gives it two primary feathers up, but if it were the royalties from my Great American Novel, I think the choice would be between the BMW M3 and Audi S4, if only for the control from real manual gearboxes
C55, M3, S4…sounds like a bingo game. Bingo? Isn’t that what old people play? Sure, and when the superannuated fast and furious guy plays C55, no one has to know about his wild youth. Especially since he’s still having it.
Philbert J Thrombockle* comments: Here’s the deal on the price. The MSRP comes to $53,900. Our test car had $680 Diamond Black paint; $765 “handsfree cellphone integration kit”; DVD COMAND navigation for $2,210; 6-disc CD changer, $420; lighting package including bi-xenon headlamps and headlamp washing system, $790. Destination and delivery adds $720 and the sanctimonious environmentalists who ignore how much extra fuel is consumed by toting a pair of kayaks on the roof of a Volvo have gleefully arranged for a gas guzzler tax of $1,300 (for a vehicle EPA rated at 16 mpg city/22 mpg highway). Do a little addition for a total of $60,785.
If you have to ask “how much,” that we can understand. But if you have to ask “why,” this isn’t the car for you.
The Mercedes-Benz C55 AMG debuted in 2005 and was sold only through 2006. It replaced a the C36, with was powered by a 3.2-liter supercharged V-6 rated about 350 horsepower, fast but with a reputation for poor reliability. The C55 didn’t make much higher peak horsepower but had that marvelous V-8 torque. The C55’s replacement arrived in 2008 in the guise of the C63, and continues through today with the introduction of the 2024 Mercedes-AMG C63 S E Performance, a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with an electric motor that combine to make a stunning 671 horsepower altogether. Plus all-wheel drive. And it’s a plug-in hybrid. Y’all be careful out there.
*Philbert J Thrombockle is my alter ego I used to add information too clumsy to add in the regular text. Or just lazyness on the part of the author.