Ask any Mercedes-Benz fan to pick three letters that mean speed, and they’ll likely come up with AMG. Since its birth in 1967, tuner AMG has been turning Mercedes-Benz luxury cars into potent performance machines. Now a division of Mercedes, AMG waves its magic wand over a selected few three-pointed star vehicles every year. So come along as we try two of AMG’s current creations, one a fire-breathing compact sedan, and the other a robust ragtop that offers a lot more than just wind in your hair.
Well, faced with taking on a fire-breathing family sedan and a robust ragtop, it’s hard to know where to start. But with spring in the air, we’re itching to taste the breeze, so let’s take on the drop top first.
This particular drop top is the 2002 Mercedes-Benz CLK55 AMG Cabrio, the latest addition to popular CLK line. And like its Coupe counterpart and the other 55 series AMG Benzes, the CLK55 Cabrio is powered by AMG’s hand-built 5.4 liter aluminum V8 with twin- spark, 3-valve-per-cylinder heads, and dual resonance intake manifold. In the Cabrio this muscular monster meters out 342 horsepower and 376 pound-feet of torque.
With that kind of oomph under foot, 60 MPH came in 5.3 seconds, with the quarter mile zipping by in 13.7 seconds at 106 MPH. Right from the launch, power hits like a Mike Tyson roundhouse and keeps rocking you to within 500 RPM of the redline before slacking off. Mercedes’ TouchShift 5-speed automatic is the only trans available and it manages all that power smoothly through the gears.
When tracking our tightest slalom exercise, Mike Tyson comes to mind once again. The AMG 17-inch multi-piece wheels, shod with ultra-low profile Z-rated tires, grip the pavement like a fighter’s teeth on a calf muscle. Steering is spot on with no noticeable understeer, although it is heavy in feel and lacking in feedback. The completely re-tuned, double wishbone front, 5-link independent rear suspension system delivers a sporting ride. And, while Mercedes designers claim that the CLK lineup was designed from the get-go with open air motoring in mind, there is still more body flex and vibration than we expected or like.
No complaints with the CLK55’s racing-derived brakes however. Huge vented discs at all corners controlled by ABS and Brake Assist brought us down from 60 in 118 feet with rock solid stability.
The top and its simple operation also receives a thumbs up. Fully lined with a glass back light, it takes about 25 seconds to drop once you release the header latch and hit the button. Control layout in the CLK55 is identical to other CLK models with the main differences in interior accommodations being the AMG steering wheel, sport seats, and special Charcoal designo Nappa leather throughout.
Now for those looking for a little more practicality in four-doors, but don’t want to sacrifice tuner-performance, Mercedes’ answer is the 2002 C32 AMG Sedan.
The C32 builds on the reputation for tail-kicking C class performance first established by the legendary C36, and it takes it to dizzying new heights. Boosting the new C32 to those heights is Mercedes tried and true 3.2 liter 18 valve V6. But in the hands of AMG masters, it’s been supercharged and intercooled, massaged and tweaked nine ways to Sunday to produce a stunning 349 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque. It’s also mated to a new adaptive 5-speed automatic transmission called Speedshift. It offers the most manual tranny-like characteristics of any self-shift automatic we’ve tested.
At the track this combo was good for quick dashes to 60 in 5.1 seconds and quarter mile sprints in 13.5 seconds at 107 MPH. The C32’s launch is strong and power is abundant throughout the powerband. Hauling the C32 all the way in from speed is a cinch with ABS-backed 4-wheel vented discs and Brake Assist. Stops from 60 averaged 120 feet.
Unlike the CLK55, the C32 shows a definite tendency to understeer when run through the low speed slalom. Due most likely to the simpler McPherson strut suspension under the front versus the CLK55’s double wishbones. But aside from a bit of push, the C32 exhibits a nearly perfect balance during rapid switchbacks, and when hauled over smartly in our emergency lane change exercise.
Those that have followed our reports on our recent long term C320, know the C-Class gets high marks for interior amenities and comfort. Like the CLK55, the C32 gets leather AMG sport seats and leather wrapped AMG steering wheel.
And those familiar with the AMG product line know that this kind of hand-built performance doesn’t come cheap. Base price on the C32 is $50,540, with our tester hitting the street for $54,265. The CLK55 Cabrio reaches even higher with a base price of $79,665, and our tester topping out at $82,750.
That’s pretty thin air, but then again, the Mercedes-Benz AMG standard for luxury and performance has always been equally lofty. And when it comes to holding that standard against stiff competition from BMW’s M and Audi’s S divisions, the 2002 CLK55 AMG Cabrio and C32 AMG pass muster with high-flying colors!
Engine: 5.4 Liter V8
Torque: 376 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 5.3 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 13.7 Seconds @ 106 MPH
60-0 MPH: 118 Feet
EPA Mileage: 16 MPG City 22 MPG Highway