Versus the competiton:
Expensive hot rods have hit the big time, with wealthy collectors spending nearly as much for famous customs as they do for vintage Ferraris and Duesenbergs.
Here’s another way to spend big bucks on a hot rod, the Mercedes-Benz C32 AMG. And it’s a real sleeper. What looks like a modest compact sedan is actually a tight, powerful performer that will hunker down and run away from nearly anything else on the road.
Mercedes’ performance division, AMG, added a supercharger to create a 349-horsepower V-6, with a muscular 332 pounds-feet of torque, that hauls this 3,500-pound car like a rocket, reaching 60 from zero in just over five seconds. AMG, which was an outside tuner until Mercedes brought it in-house, also added stiffer suspension, stronger brakes, and a set of 17-inch alloy wheels and Pirelli P-Zero tires to make the C32 a formidable package of power and handling.
Also formidable is C32’s $50,000 price tag, compared with about $35,000 for a non-enhanced C320 with a 215-horsepower V-6.
The C32 is Benz’s effort to match the M3 of archrival BMW, though it’s a tossup depending on personal preference. The enviable choice between C32 or M3 is a comparison of superlatives. These are performance heavyweights despite their small sizes.
The C32 falls behind the M3 only because there is no manual-shifting option, especially since Mercedes now has a superb six-speed that it offers in other C-Class and SLK models.
The five-speed automatic works flawlessly, though. The Speedshift system, which creates faster and more-precise shifting, as well as allowing manual-shift functions, always seems to be in the right place at the right instant.
Though Mercedes-Benz is famous for its exceptional large cars, my favorite Benzes are the smaller ones. The big S-Class and CL cars may be smooth, powerful and technologically sophisticated, but I like the tight performance of the small models.
The C32 had all the hallmarks of the German automaker: the solid structure often referred to as vaultlike, the heavy but precise steering, the rich interior. On this sedan, the weight is subjugated by the lightness of acceleration, braking and handling.
This car is sharply fast and maneuverable. On winding side roads, C32 showed itself to be capable, predictable and unflappable, even when pushed hard. Part of this effect is electronic with Mercedes’ Electronic Stability Program helping keep things under control. Unlike some handling programs, ESP never seemed to intrude on the experience.
The braking is stupendous, real race-track stuff. Four big discs are cross-drilled and vented for consistent stopping power. Four-channel antilock braking is standard.
There are some comfort compromises related to the sports suspension, which can get harsh enough to rattle your teeth.
Aside from its performance, the C32 is a totally practical car, very tractable at low speeds, and with a comfortable interior, spacious trunk an d most features desired by luxury car buyers.
This is a small car, and rear-seat passengers may have to crunch up to fit in, although the driver and front passenger will find plenty of space. The AMG treatment includes leather seats that are supportive and bolstered to keep you in place during sporty maneuvers.
The dashboard of the C32 is mercifully free of gimmick or gadget, with straightforward controls and adjustments in a simple arrangement.
The stereo was excellent except for one thing: no CD player. I mention this because, at more than $50,000, some things should just be there.
Otherwise, the C32 came with the full run of luxury and convenience equipment. There was also an impressive array of safety features, such as side-impact curtains and Tele Aid emergency calling and communications.
The only extras were $640 for “desert silver” paint, and $665 shipping and handling.
Oh, and one other thing: $1,000 gas-guzzler tax. For a compact car, MPG f the AMG doesn’t satisfy the EPA .
Mercedes-Benz C32 AMG
Vehicle type: Five-passenger, four-door sedan, rear-wheel drive.
Base price: $49,900.
Price as tested: $52,205.
Engine: 3.2-liter V-6, supercharged, 349 horsepower at 6,100 rpm, 332 pounds-feet of torque at 3,000 rpm.
Transmission: Five-speed automatic.
Wheelbase: 106.9 inches.
Curb weight: 3,540 pounds.
EPA mileage: 17 city, 22 highway.
– Awesome power.
– Excellent handling.
– Amazing brakes.
– Premium price.
– Suspension harshness.
– No stick shift.