Progress is a funny thing. It creeps up on you inexorably, until one moment brings into sharp focus just how far things have moved forward.
Case in point: almost 10 years ago, MOTOR was behind the wheel of a Mercedes-Benz C-Class with 270kW and 510Nm, and yet today we’re steering another Merc mid-sizer, this time with 270kW and 520Nm.
Here, though, is where the progress comes in. Back in 2005, those numbers belonged to the C55 AMG, the biggest and baddest C-Class you could buy thanks to a 5.4-litre V8 that allowed it to hit 100km/h in 5.7sec while slurping 13 litres of premium fuel every 100km.
Today, those numbers are deemed fit only for the most junior of AMG’s models; the new C450 AMG 4MATIC. This is despite the 0-100km/h time being slashed to 4.9sec, fuel consumption to a mere 7.6L/100km and the power being produced by a 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 rather than a naturally-aspirated V8.
The price, too, is likely to be far lower, with Mercedes Australia estimating “low-$100,000s” when it arrives early in 2016 – $50K less than a C55 a decade ago.
Why the long delay? The hint is in the name. The C450 AMG 4MATIC will be the first C-Class available in Oz with all-wheel drive, and the production of right-hook cars doesn’t begin for a while.
What’s a C450? It’s designed for those that want more than a C250, but aren’t quite ready to step up to the C63. It’s a similar approach to BMW’s ‘M Performance’ range or Audi’s S models – a sandpit Benz hasn’t played in until now.
The idea is to take the range-topping variant, have your chosen performance arm sprinkle some mechanical magic over it and, even more importantly, put their badge on it. AMG sales are exploding all over the globe, and particularly Australia, so Mercedes is understandably keen to cash in.
In this case AMG has taken the regular C400 (not sold in Oz), fiddled with the engine and transmission software, tweaked the all-wheel drive system and added a number of suspension bits from the C63, including AMG Ride control adaptive dampers, lightweight aluminium suspension components and C450-specific tuning including increased negative camber at the front.
From the first turn of the steering wheel it’s clear there’s a competent and engaging chassis underneath this pseudo-AMG. There’s strong grip, nudging gently into understeer when you approach the limit, but a lift of the throttle tightens the line beautifully.
With a little more aggression, oversteer is possible. You can even hold it momentarily thanks to the 33:67 rear-bias, though if you're envisaging wild, smoking power slides you can calm your imagination.
It offers a surprising level of entertainment for an all-wheel drive C-Class wagon (the variant we drove). Rides reasonably well, too, thanks to the ability to alter the suspension (as well as powertrain and steering) through Eco, Comfort, Sport and Sport-Plus modes.
The 3.0-litre biturbo V6 sings a sweet tune, howling its way through the rev range, has a nice linear power curve and offers ample acceleration for most, thanks to AMG's boffins fiddling with the software to liberate a little extra boost.
With the seven-speed automatic slipping swiftly through the gears, Mercedes claims 0-100km/h in 4.9sec (a tenth slower for the heavier wagon), however, driving it after the new C63 with which it shared its launch puts into sharp perspective the performance gulf between these quasi-AMG models and the real deal.
And that’s kinda the C450’s biggest problem: adding the AMG badge promises a level of excitement that, based on our admittedly brief first drive, it can’t deliver. It’s quick, comfortable and reasonably entertaining, but at the projected price point it’s going to be up against the BMW 435i Gran Coupe and Audi S4, stiff competition that offer greater driving thrills while lacking little in the way of comfort. We feel a comparo coming on.
3.5 out of 5 stars
Engine: 2996cc V6, DOHC, 24v, twin-turbo
Power: 270kW @ 5500-6000rpm
Torque: 520Nm @ 2000-4200prm
0-100km/h: 4.9sec (claimed)
Price: $110,000 (est.)
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