► We drive new Mercedes C450 AMG
► A kinda cut-price C63 saloon
► 4Matic, twin-turbo V6
This is the Mercedes-Benz C450 AMG 4Matic, a high-performance C-class that sits a rung below the range-topping C63, just as the Audi S4 tucks below RS4. The basics are this: a twin-turbo 3.0-litre V6 pairs with a seven-speed automatic gearbox and all-wheel drive.
A choice of saloon and estate body styles are available. Left-hand-drive markets get the C450 from June 2015. UK sales, however, don’t start until June 2016. Why? Because this is the first 4Matic C-class, and engineering the application for right-hand drive is responsible for the delay.
So is this a real AMG, or just a trim level?
It’s a proper AMG, albeit AMG-lite. This is the only V6 in the C-class line-up, and it makes 362bhp and 384lb ft. There are carryover C63 suspension components, the seven-speed ’box shares C63 programming logic and, just like the C63, the electro-mechanical steering ditches the base car’s variable-rate ratio for a more natural fixed ratio.
But where AMG says there are no plans for an all-wheel-drive C63, the C450 comes only with the 4Matic all-wheel-drive system. It’s specially fettled for C450 duties, with a more driver-focussed 33/67 front-to-rear torque split.
Does the drive merit the AMG badge?
It does. This is a neatly positioned vehicle, with a large portion of the driving flair that elevates the C63 so far beyond its C-class siblings, without stepping on big-brother’s toes – and, of course, all-wheel drive adds a further level of separation and a significantly altered character
There’s a different character to the V6 too, with none of the explosiveness that defines the V8 AMG. After the C63, it’s a little disappointing when you first turn the key, but it’s smooth, refined, fast and flexible and, actually, when you up the ante, a keener soundtrack comes to the fore – a really engaging warble that’s comparable to a slightly dialled down Jaguar XE 3.0 S. There’s a tiny delay between accelerating and all that torque coming on tap, but it’s very small and, ultimately, inconsequential to driving enjoyment.
There are five driving modes to choose from: Efficient, Comfort, Sport, Sport Plus and the driver-configurable Individual; they tailor the steering weight, throttle response, gearbox logic and engine sound. Select Sport Plus and there are some properly engaging thunderclaps on the overrun
The electric steering has a nicely weighted consistency and is a marked improvement over lesser Cs, but a more natural self-centring action would be welcome. Really, though, it works very well with the C450’s impressively tied down and very consistent feeling front end.
The gearbox is swift and obedient, if lacking the absolute incisiveness of dual-clutch units and Jaguar’s eight-speed auto.
What about that all-wheel-drive chassis?
It’s very, very good. Our test route flowed up into the Portuguese hills over some pretty challenging terrain, and the C450 delivered a brilliant balance of composure and engagement. The front end grips hard, and when you get on the throttle you can really feel the rear bias pushing you through the corner. In some ways it’s actually more satisfying than the C63, because you can deploy most of the power most of the time. It’d be fascinating to compare lap times on a wet circuit.
In Comfort mode the chassis feels very, well, comfortable, with the obvious trade-offs in absolute handling finesse. Perhaps Sport Plus will feel like overkill in the UK, but on these test roads it worked brilliantly: excellent body control, meatier steering, telepathic gearbox logic and that more exciting soundtrack.
And all – on these roads at least – without completely destroying the ride quality.
The C450 AMG neatly fills a fairly yawning gap between the comfort of mainstream C-class models and the outlandish excesses of the C63. The V6 engine, gearbox, steering and all-wheel-drive chassis make this car a great drive in all conditions, with little apparent trade-off in comfort compared with lesser models. It’s a compelling alternative to the Audi S4, though the new rear-wheel-drive Jaguar XE 3.0 S remains a dynamic benchmark – and an all-wheel-drive XE should hit the UK market at a similar time to the Merc.
I drove the C450 only in saloon body style, but the idea of a car this well-rounded in everything-but-the-kitchen-sink estate guise could be a dream combination.