EXPERT REVIEW

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There was no need for conversation, awkward glances, or recriminations.

Repeat performances were instant and long-lasting — each one as thrilling as the first.

Driving the 1998 Mercedes-Benz C43 supersedan — it was better than sex.

If everyone could afford this car, the Pfizer pharmaceutical company would go out of business. Viagra? Ha! Gimme the key to the C43! This car is addictive.

I couldn’t leave it alone. I’d start out for a 10-mile run and wind up driving 50 miles. I’d head for home, put it in the driveway — and then volunteer to go shopping, or attend to some other errand that required getting back into the car.

This went on for the entire week I had the C43. I must’ve driven 300 miles to the Safeway that is only four blocks from my house. My wife caught on. She stopped asking me to buy frozen foods.

This was not rational behavior. But irrationality is appropriate in the presence of the C43, of which only 1,500 will be sold in the United States over the next three years.

It is not a normal car. It is not for normal people. It is for well-heeled fanatics — people who love to drive, who find so much joy in taking the wheel and playing with the road, they are willing to pay top bucks for a car that performs with aplomb.

And what a performance! Zero to 60 mph in barely six seconds! The C43 launches from stops, but not with any squealing of tires or other post-pubescent behavior. It’s just smooth, powerful, steady. It maintains its composure as it moves through the higher gears — no downshifting or jerky motions, no tail wagging in curves or other evidence of skittishness. Just smooth, disciplined power.

Credit, of course, goes to the C43’s V-8 engine, as modified by the famed German race-car development company AMG (Aufrecht, Melcher, Grossapach). AMG tuned the 4.3-liter V-8 to kick out 302 horespower at 5,850 rpm and produce 302 pound-feet of torque within a range of 3,250 to 5,000 rpm. Talk about elastic! Wow!

The C43 is equipped with an electronically controlled five-speed automatic transmission, which I find disconcerting. This is a true driver’s car. It should come with a manual gearbox.

But it’s also a plushmobile, which perhaps explains the presence of the automatic. Other spiffs include leather, high-bolstered, power-adjustable heated sports seats; burled-walnut trim; a power glass sunroof; cruise control; and an automatic climate-control system engineered to make breathing easier for asthmatics — seriously.

I know, I know. This drooling doubtless will provoke the ire of the Citizens Against This and That (CATT), people who believe it’s shameful — most certainly politically incorrect — to indulge in the pleasure of driving an automobile as seemingly wanton as the C43. But frankly, my dears, I don’t give a damn.

I had one heck of a lot of fun in this car. I hated letting it go.

Complaints: That automatic transmission. It’s excellent, but it just seems out of place in the C43.

P raise: It’s just an absolute pleasure to drive something this well-engineered. And to think that all of this good stuff is housed in what could pass for a rather ordinary, four-seat, rear-wheel-drive passenger sedan. Unbelievable!

Ride, acceleration and handling: In all three categories, it’s better than any sedan or sports car I’ve ever driven. Period. Excellent braking (large, vented power four-wheel-discs with standard antilocks).

Head-turning quotient: Looks like any other Mercedes C-Class car, with the exception of some aerodynamic cladding, a racing-type instrument panel and the “AMG” and “C43” markings. But it draws lots of attention when it moves.

Mileage: About 23 miles per gallon. Takes 16.4 gallons of premium unleaded. Estimated 365-mile range on usable volume of fuel.

Safety: Roll-cage crash frame; standard traction control; dual front and side air bags; superior suspension system, built to handle extreme steering inputs; automatically tensioning s eat belts; Ba bySmart automatic child-seat recognition system that turns off the front passenger bags if a baby’s chair is in the front passenger’s seat.

Sound system: Eight-speaker AM-FM stereo radio and cassette with trunk-mounted CD changer. Bose system. It rocks.

Price: Base price on the C43 is $52,750. Dealer’s invoice on the base model is MDRV $45,890. Price as tested is $54,815, including $1,470 in options and a $595 destination charge.

Purse-strings note: Are you kidding? If you want it, you want it. It’s a high-class toy.

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