Mercedes-Benz's C36 is a carnival ride for adults.Stomp the gas pedal and it pins you back in the seat like a roller coaster heading downhill. Crank the fat leather steering wheel into a corner and it's hard to hold your head upright. It is so rewarding to drive that even the shortest trip is enjoyable. In general, the C36 looks pretty much like a regular C-Class sedan, but closer inspection reveals a meaner stance, huge tires and discreet lower-body spoilers for improved high-speed stability. Modified for Mercedes by AMG, a German aftermarket company known for stuffing monster motors into Mercedes-Benz sedans, the C36 is a limited-edition, high-performance sedan about the size of a Ford Contour. AMG has packed a hand-built, 3.6-liter engine under the hood, and when you unleash all 276 horsepower it romps to 60 mph in 6.2 seconds and has an electronically limited top track speed of 155 mph. It will humble many sports cars. Only about 200 of them will be imported in this, its final year, with a $51,925 price tag that reflects its exclusivity. Born in a country where cruising at more than 125 miles per hour is common, its top speed capabilities are largely wasted in America, yet it is immensely enjoyable for those who love driving a car that responds like a thoroughbred. It gathers speed so deceptively that 80 mph feels like 60 mph, requiring extra vigilance if you want to avoid getting nabbed for speeding. With a reworked suspension and ultra-low profile tires on 17-inch wheels it grips the road like a tick on a dog's back. The taut ride occasionally gets bumpy over bad pavement, but at speed it is so firm you appreciate the security it provides. Most of the interior is understated Mercedes-Benz, but AMG added light gray accents to the small, thick steering wheel and around the instruments. Polished wood is used on the center console and across top of the dash. The sport bucket seats, covered in perforated leather, are firm and deeply contoured. They gripped the sides of my torso as if they were custom-fitted just for me, yet never did they feel confining. Switches for the power windows and rearview mirrors are located on the console alongside the gearshift. While I would prefer window switches on the doors, getting used to these is not too hard. A large leather knob sits atop the gearshift lever, which slides through a notched gate that enables you to manually select gears without taking your eyes from the road. The five-speed automatic transmission is a delight to use because it learns your driving habits and shifts accordingly. If you drive slowly, it shifts so smoothly you can't feel it. Drive hard and it holds each gear longer. The transmission's winter start mode lessens the chance of wheel slippage by starting off in a higher gear. For $1,875 you can add an advanced traction control system, heated seats and headlamp washers. This package is $275 less than it was last year. Other standard features include a programmable garage door opener built into the sunvisor, anti-lock brakes, dual airbags and a sensor that deactivates the passenger-side airbag if it detects less than 26 pounds in the seat. The C36 is an immensely rewarding car for people who love high-performance cars with a rock-solid feel. Its discreet profile lets it slip through traffic like a minnow in a school of sharks. Price The base price of our test car was $51,925. Options included a built-in, hands-free cellular phone, compact disc player, heated front seats, headlamp washers and ASR traction control. The sticker price was $56,490. Warranty The standard warranty is for four years or 50,000 miles. Vehicles for The Star's week-long test drives are supplied by the auto manufacturers. Point: The C36 is an expensive, exclusive high-performance tool that is as discreet as it is fast. It gobbles up the road, never f ls flustered and doesn't show off to passersby. A perfect Stealth-mobile. Counterpoint: A car this good has little to criticize. It rides a bit harshly, and the back seat is rather small, but that's it. SPECIFICATIONS: ENGINE: 3.6-liter, 6-cyl. TRANSMISSION: automatic WHEELBASE: 105.9 inches CURB WEIGHT: 3,550 lbs. BASE PRICE: $51,925 PRICE AS DRIVEN: $56,490 MPG RATING: 18 city, 24 hwy.
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