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Mercedes-Benz C55 AMG

Broadcast dates : 3rd October  2004
7th October 2004

The C55 AMG version of the Mercedes-Benz C-Class is so special it would take a couple of hours to describe each and every detail that has been re-engineered for this supercar in a four-door package.

Perhaps the most distinguishing feature to the layman is the extended nose on the C55, giving it a sleeker, sharper look than its more conservative C-Class stable mates.

This was not done purely for cosmetic reasons. Fitting the 5,5-litre all-aluminium V8 into the C-Class body required more space in the engine bay for items like larger radiator elements and other ancillaries.

The result is a frontal look with headlights more horizontally laid-out, and a deep spoiler that reduces lift by a claimed 30 per cent.

There are other AMG visual clues. The car rides lower than standard on distinctive 18-inch alloy wheels, 7,5J wide in front and 8,5J at the rear. The track is wider than standard and the fenders have been subtly flared to accommodate the wider wheels and tyres.

At the rear, the distinctive AMG apron has been restyled to house the fat twin tailpipes, signifying that V8 power has replaced the previous C32 AMG, which uses a supercharged V6 engine.

The AMG-tweaked V8 produces 270 kW, 10 per cent more power than the V6. Torque is up by 60 Newton metres over the V6 to 510 Newton metres, making this new Merc a performance benchmark car.

It will accelerate to 100 km/h in just 5,2 seconds, and surge effortlessly, almost brutally, to its electronically-limited top speed of 250 km/h.

Perhaps even more exciting than the engine is the new transmission package that Mercedes has introduced on the C55.

This is the AMG Speedshift, which has been tailored specifically to the sporty V8 sedan, and is yet another variation on clutchless, paddle-shift performance transmissions seen in cars like the BMW M3 and the new Audi TT 3,2 V6.

Unlike these Merc rivals, the AMG Speedshift still utilizes a conventional five-speed automatic transmission.

However, it features a manual programme that does not allow any automatic up-or down-shifting once a gear is selected.

This offers the control that sporty drivers have always missed in a full, fluid drive automatic.

The two other programmes are C for Comfort and S, which stands for Standard. In Comfort the shift points are programmed early in the rev range for gentle driving, while in S or Standard mode they occur at higher revs.

Shifting can be operated in any of the three modes, either by the centrally-mounted gear-lever or by the buttons on the rear of the special AMG steering wheel.

The latest version of the Mercedes-Benzís Electronic Stability Programme, or ESP, has been employed in this car, as illustrated by its almost uncanny prowess through a lane-change situation.

As Clint demonstrates in this safe track environment at Wesbank Raceway at speeds of up to 140 km/h, the C55 will brake individual wheels to ensure that the driverís chosen path is adhered to, even when the tyres under extreme loads of have broken traction.

Body roll is at an absolute minimum and the carís progress is fluid and fast.

Grand-standing to show the carís fun aspect and enormous reserves of power is something every AMG driver would like to do. But not on the public road system!

To enable this spectacular oversteer attitude, or tail-slide in laymanís terms, the ESP was dialed out using a special switch installed on this particular car for demonstration purposes.

Production models have a limited switch out function that enables limited oversteer, but the ESP still kicks in when the car gets seriously out of shape.

Suspension specifications include lower and stiffer springs, special damping and even re-enforced wheelbearings, suspension arms and a high capacity rear-axle cooler.

When indulging in such antics, the AMG sports seats hold the driver and front passenger firmly in place. These have increased lateral supports in both the squab or seat base and the backrest. They are covered in Nappa leather with Alcantara inserts for subtle, sporty look.

Although the C55 AMG has been configured with sporty driving as a priority, it features more than its share of creature comforts, as a car costing R585 000 should!

These include rain-sensing windscreen wipers, and Thermotronik climate control that uses sensors continuously monitoring interior and ambient temperatures and humidity.

Top quality audio and a satellite navigation system are standard, as is electric adjustment on the seats and steering column.

Bi-Xenon lights are also standard, and the driver will always be aware he is in a special C-Class thanks to the AMG-specific instrument cluster with a speedo calibrated to 320 km/h.

In the past 10 years some 20 000 of these special AMG-developed Mercedes C-Class machines have been sold worldwide.

This 5,5-litre example, which has its engine hand-built and signed by the individual technician responsible for its assembly, is the most impressive example to date.

At just under R600 000 itís expensive if viewed as a rather ordinary-looking medium-sized sedan. But for those who appreciate the ultimate in engineering and road dynamics, itís actually something of a bargain.

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