You really never can tell how this Performance Car of the Year hootenanny is going to pan out.
This article was first published in MOTOR magazine's March 2005 issue.
And the process of finding the top six this year proves that much. Okay, so most of the top six suggested themselves from the off, but, inevitably, a couple of cars snuck in that really caught us off guard. Most notable of those is the C55 Benz.
By the time the raw numbers were added up, the little car with the big, big heart actually finished fifth. With judges’ votes counted, however, it had clawed its way up to fourth outright, a hell of an effort. So exactly how did a mini-luxo like the C55 manage to stomp all over so many big reputations?
Let’s be honest, on the racetrack, the AMG was not the happiest of campers. The auto gearbox that doesn’t let you choose your own gears (despite what the owner’s manual would have you believe) is pants. The ESP can’t be entirely switched off and remains a bit old school by being too invasive for our liking.
Throw in the suspension tune that is aimed at fat blokes with big wallets rather than tappet-heads like us, and you can see why the wee Merc wasn’t really at home in the hairpins. But on the road… different story.
Suddenly the spring and damper settings make sense and the way the AMG dispatches broken bitumen and lumpy corners makes for mad, mad fun of the rapid progress variety. And the car never, ever lets you forget that there’s a monster wedge of AMG-massaged V8 up front, always willing and always able to hurl you at the future Hand-o-God style.
Hell, you could even live with the gearbox provided you never took it on a track (and let’s be honest, how many owners will?). And that’s the point: While PCOTY is always going to feature a racetrack somewhere in its make-up, a car that is brilliant on the road can stay in the hunt even if it lacks the track-day smarts of some of the other contenders.
Just as we forgive the EVO and the STi for riding like drays on the basis that they can take apart a place like Winton, so do we cut the AMG some slack by dint of its wonderful on-road demeanour. Meantime, the C55 is also a proper four-seater with four doors, no less, and could make a decent fist of towing a boat or dragging four big arses up the freeway.
And, in a way, that’s something that’s always characterised AMG versions of Benzes. They might not be out and out road racers, but if you could only own one car, they’d be somewhere near the top of the list. Oh, and don’t be too put off by the price: It’s pricey for a C-Class, but damn cheap for a 5.4-litre AMG.
In Benz speak, not all 55s are created equal. On the face of it, the C55’s power is at least adequate. That is, until you look at its 55 brethren and their hitting power. The E55 has 80 more kilowatts, the SL another 18 again. They both have 700Nm.
Both cars run the same engine (the SL uses a freer exhaust), except supercharged, and it propelled them into the 12s for the quarter, deep into the fours for the 100km/h sprint and into the low 23s for the kilometre. The C55 is also slower in a straight line next to its spiritual predecessor, the C32.
The older car ran about 0.5 seconds faster in every increment. For all that, the C55 chassis tips the balance back in the favour of the atmo version of the 5.4 on lap times. It’s two seconds a lap faster than the C32 and a marginal 0.01 slower than the big-hitting E55. But the sexy, crunching SL55 is just too quick, by about 2.5 seconds.
Mercedes Benz C55 AMG Specs:
Engine: front-mounted 5.4-litre SOHC 24-valve V8
Power: 270kW @ 5750rpm
Torque: 510Nm @ 4000rpm
Transmission: five-speed auto
Fuel Economy: 19.1 litres/100km (70L tank)
0-400m: 14.25 @ 168.4km/h
0-1000m: 25.29 @ 220.1km/h
Winton lap time: 1:43.67
Winton top speed: 175km/h