This involves a rear-mounted 6.1-kWh battery pack powering a motor that drives the rear axle via a two-speed gearbox. Oh, and there’s also an 800-volt subsystem that spins up the 2.0-litre engine’s electrically assisted turbocharger. We suspect you get the idea, but it’s worth pointing out this trend of Mercedes-AMG’s products getting ever more serious and sophisticated has been going on for a little while.
As for the current crop of AMG models, we have a hot-V8 turbocharged V8 powering a great deal of them, an electronically-controlled differential in the C63 S and a smart all-wheel drive system in the E63 S that’s capable of dropping drive to the front axle entirely. Then there’s the bonkers AMG GT Black Series with a bespoke flat-plane V8 and all its active aerodynamics, and the One hypercar, which has a ruddy F1 car engine in it.
AMG has caught up with its BMW M Division arch-rival and overtaken it in some areas. But it wasn’t that long ago that Affalterbach seemed to show no interest in going toe-to-toe with M. Its cars were of a more relaxed disposition. Cars like the C55.
The AMG’d V8 W203 C-Class has intrigued me for some time, and happily, Historics were happy to indulge my curiosity by letting me drive a Japanese import C55 ahead of its auction, alongside the 600 Pullman we’ve already written about. With a mere 43,677 kilometres on the clock (around 27,000 miles), it’s surely one of the freshest C55s out there, and like a lot of sporty Mercs of the era, it’s aged brilliantly.
At first glance, though, you might mistake it for a boggo C-Class. AMG styling was a lot more restrained back then, although there are some bespoke touches, including lightly flared front wheel arches to go with a 14mm increase in track width. The C55 also received 20 per cent firmer springs and a subtle geometry tickle, but that’s about it – what you’re looking at here is pretty much just a C-Class with a big engine dumped under the bonnet.
Said engine is an AMG-tickled version of the M113 V8, this being before Affalterbach starting developing its own powerplants from the ground up. Displacing 5.4-litres, it has a single overhead camshafts giving three valves per cylinder. Power sits at 362bhp, some way down on the circa-600bhp output expected from the inbound four-pot C63, while the torque peaks at 376lb ft.
This eight-cylinder engine awakes with very little fanfare, AMG’s ‘emotional’ firecracker starting sequences being a more recent phenomenon. There’s enough of a rumble at idle to let you know this is no ordinary C-Class, though, and out on the road, it goes further in this regard with a big fat wad of mid-range torque.
It feels faster than its 5.2-second 0-62mph time suggests it might, although again, there isn’t a whole lot of drama. It may redline at 6800rpm, but there’s little need to go that far – peak power comes in at 5750. It’s a muted, lazy-feeling V8, although there is an appeal in the latter trait. If you’re going to buy one of these, some exhaust work is surely essential.
A five-speed automatic gears changes cogs with reasonable efficiency, or if preferred, there are a pair of very flimsy-feeling plastic up and downshift buttons on the back of the steering wheel. They’re best avoided though, not just because they feel like they could fall off at any moment – the delay between pressing one and a shift happening merely highlights how far the auto ‘box game has moved in recent years.
The C55 corners reasonably tidily without too much in the way of body roll, but it’s clear comfort is higher up the agenda here than for the much sharper-feeling E46 BMW M3. Traction even in damp conditions is better than expected though, and when the back does let go, it happens in a slow, non-threatening way.
The steering is probably the least impressive part of the package. It’s just about fast enough, but it feels too light and lifeless to really satisfy. But in a car that seems to have been made more with long-distance autobahn blats rather than circuit thrashes in mind, it does the job well enough.
It’d be a pleasant enough space to spend those cross-country thrashes in. Granted, the build quality is a little way off where Mercedes is now, but the cabin is a nicely designed space and the electric leather seats are brilliantly comfortable.
Pulling up to take some photos and hand the car back, I feel a little underwhelmed by the experience, although I’m not sure that’s entirely the fault of the C55. V8s are becoming ever more exotic, but in the C55’s day, there were plenty, and it happened to end up with a relatively ordinary one. Plus, there were no snazzy active exhausts around back then to spice up the soundtrack.
What the C55 does do is make me wish that cars like this were still in abundance. I’m talking about saloon cars that have the V8 but without the chassis designed for Nurburgring lap time glory. Once upon a time, this was Mercedes’ speciality, but ironically, these days the only car fitting the bill that I can think of is from BMW – the M550i. How times change.