Does power corrupt?
Maybe when it comes to holding a position of authority.
But power in a motor car?
It will only corrupt your will power.
Take the Mercedes-Benz C55 AMG as exhibit A. The C55 designation stands for Mercedes-Benz's smallest model, the C-Class, endowed with a 5.5-liter V-8 that churns out a mere 362 horsepower.
Keep in mind the C55 is roughly the size of a Toyota Corolla, but has about three times the horsepower. with 0-60 mph taking just 4.9 seconds. Top speed is limited electronically to 155 mph, and I will not admit how close I came to reaching it, otherwise, I will be involuntarily walking.
But the incredible amount of power available is simply stunning. And not just slightly stunning. Its heart-stopping speed will make you realize that the car may be more powerful than your ability to handle it. It will allow you to outrun anyone at a stoplight, except perhaps another Mercedes-Benz AMG model or local law enforcement.
And it's AMG that does the magic here.
AMG, at one time an outside firm, is now Mercedes-Benz's in-house high-performance arm. Aside from conjuring up a truly sick amount of performance, AMG also reworks the chassis to handle all that wonderfully excessive horsepower.
The front wheels are spaced further apart than those of the standard C-Class, wider fenders and a unique grille show off the re-engineered front end. Engineers added stiffer springs and shocks, while reworking the suspension to optimize handling. The exhaust system also is redesigned, being larger and having a sportier note than that of other C-Class models. Of course, the brakes and wheels are larger than other C-Class models as well. The test C-Class model sported stunning low-profile Pirelli P-Zero tires.
All this means is that once you've plunked down your wad of cash for the C55 AMG, you're ready to re-enact your favorite scene from ''The Fast and The Furious.'' Press the loud pedal and you can go as fast as your nerves, driving record and traffic will allow.
The five-speed automatic transmission, the only one offered on the C55, is a willing partner. It not only adapts its shift patterns to your style of driving, it can be shifted manually. But it's such a willing partner, the manual shift is redundant.
But it's not all about speed. AMG did a superb job of tweaking this otherwise mundane entry-level luxury sedan into a true world-class sports sedan. The ride is very firm, without a trace of rebound over bumps or body lean in corners. Steering is lightning quick, braking equally so with good progressive feel from the brakes.
Mercedes-Benz ensures your safety by adding a host of electronic goodies, so that you don't live fast and die young. The Electronic Stability Program uses various degrees of throttle, brake, ignition intervention as well as yaw control and traction control to keep you on the road safely.
Even with the sporting tires, it's easy to lose grip in foul weather if you're not prudent. Otherwise, it's quite safe and secure.
With performance like this, what's not to like?
Well, keep in mind that with a price tag of more than 50k and some extra metallic trim on the center console and AMG-specific seats, the interior feel is more akin to a sports car than a luxury car.
The front seats are very firm, with snug contours that might be difficult for those broader of beam. The rear seat comfort was hampered by a low, flat seat and a relative lack of leg room. Rear-seat entry was hampered by small door openings. One passenger likened exiting the rear seat of the C-Class to the ease of exiting the birth canal.
For the driver, the dash looks complicated, but once mastered all the controls are easy to use. Audi telephone and navigation systems are integrated into one screen. The design never suffers from button overload, even if you have to take your eyes off the road to use it. Strangely, the C-Class's climate control isn't fully automatic, so you must set fan speed.
But the most obvious flaw was the steering wheel. Thin in contour, it bulged at the 10 and 2 positions. A uniformly thick steering wheel would be preferable. But that's minor compared to the transmission buttons located behind the steering wheel spokes. The buttons allow the driver to shift the five-speed automatic transmission manually without removing hands from the steering wheel. But the large rectangular buttons are easy to hit inadvertently when turning the corner. You may start the corner in third gear, but end up hitting a button and winding up in first with the engine lugging.
What's to like? The list includes the quiet ride, accented by the exquisite exhaust note and the wonderful front seats, which can support you for hours on end without backache or fatigue. And did I mention the body-sized trunk?
Overall, the C-Class's stunning subtle, but sporty style, incredible speed and top-notch road manners make more practical matters easy to overlook. Whether it's worth the money or not is something only a test drive can truly answer. Just keep it under 130 mph.