THE Mercedes-Benz C450 AMG 4Matic is set to bring the sporting essence of the legendary C63 sports sedan to a more affordable price point, around $40K cheaper than the new C63 S AMG, with more accessible performance.
WHAT IS IT?
It’s a sporty C-Class with a 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 that’s been fiddled with by the motor sport madhouse that is AMG to produce 270kW and 520Nm, with all-wheel drive to keep it all under control, and properly sporty ride and handling.
WHY WE'RE TESTING IT
This car will establish a new price point for aspiring buyers who would really like a C63 S – certainly one of the best family cars on the market – but would like to spend a lot less for the same-sized offering. Plus we’ve been given a sneaky early drive of it, considering the C450 won’t lob here until next year.
In essence, it’s up against a BMW M135i, except that it’s a size bigger so it’s really more in line with a BMW 335i, yet still more expensive. Audi’s S4 is a far closer match.
THE WHEELS VERDICT
Brings to mind the best moments of the wild BMW M1, but far less savage (or sideways) to drive. Feels faster and more fun than even its spec sheet suggests.
PLUS: Quality interior with sporty highlights; seriously smooth and classy AMG engine under the bonnet; nicer ride than the C63 S
MINUS: The sound doesn’t gel with the AMG badge; you’ll probably end up pining for the C63 S every time you see one
THE WHEELS REVIEW
IS BIGGER always better? Not if it’s a boil on your neck, obviously, or a bear that’s attacking you, but when it comes to cars (and televisions) the accepted wisdom is that more of everything is our global desire.
It was interesting, therefore, to drive the new Mercedes-Benz C450 AMG 4Matic just one day after the world launch of the angry C63 S, which has embiggened itself to a colossal 375kW and 700Nm.
The C450 is very much ‘AMG lite’ by comparison, and priced at a more aspirational customer (no official word, but we’re tipping about $110,000) who can’t quite stretch to more than $150K.
Theoretically, the ‘cheap’ AMG is relatively puny, with just 270kW and 520Nm from its 3.0-litre bi-turbo V6. And while it makes a fine selection of spirited, slightly whiney noises – with some charming crackle backfires on the overrun – it does sound meek after the mad metal sounds of the C63. Switching to the C450 is like going from Metallica to Mumford and Sons.
In isolation, on a different day, I’m sure it sounds sporty, which would reflect its character. Less powerful and cheaper it might be, but on the brilliant, climbing and spiraling roads of Portugal where we drove it, I would choose the V6 model, because it simply felt more competent, better weighted, less intimidating and more fun than the barking V8 C63 S.
On a drag strip, of course, it would be embarrassed, being almost a second slower to 100km/h than the big-daddy AMG, at a still spry 4.9sec (0.1sec quicker than BMW’s M235i).
Theoretically it also loses some driver involvement by being all-wheel drive rather than rear-wheel slidey. But the 4Matic system is so clever you really don’t lose much aside from lurid drifting action, with its standard rear-biased torque set-up of 33:67 providing both balance and fun.
With its full 520Nm available from 2000rpm to 4200rpm, the C450 proves more than fast enough to frighten the hell out of yourself as you whip from short straight to unfamiliar hairpin corner. It’s so stable, sharp and easy to control, however, that you just keep pushing harder, because getting better at driving it is so easy.
AMG’s Ride Control is a brilliant system, understeer is near imperceptible, and the steering is almost flawless, except that it could do with a trip to the gym. More weight and more feedback would be welcome, which AMG can do brilliantly; witness the SLS.
After two days of joyous driving, I was not the only one who dared to whisper that they’d choose the ‘lite’ AMG C450 and pocket the change. You certainly lose little in terms of the interior, which is C-Class impeccable, and the ride is actually more forgiving of bumps, and would be better day to day.
The C63 S would make you wake up in the morning thinking about shredding your licence, and it will drink like an oilaholic (regardless of what the official figures say) while the C450 won’t be quite as far away from its claimed 7.6L/100km. It’s also the kind of performance you can live with; there when you need it, but not shouting in your ear every day on the commute.
The problem is, you’ll have to wait, because the C450 won’t come to our shores until next year, despite already being available in Europe.
If it does manage to arrive at around the $110K mark, it will be a tempting proposition; if there’s one area where bigger isn’t better, it’s price.
Model: Mercedes-Benz C450 AMG 4Matic
Engine: 2996cc V6 (90°), dohc, 24v, twin turbos
Max power: 270kW @ 5500rpm
Max torque: 520Nm @ 2000-4200rpm
Transmission: 7-speed auto
Economy: 7.6L/100km (claimed)
Price: $110,000 (estimated)
On sale: 2016