Owners Review: 2005 Mercedes C55 AMG

Mohamed Humaid buys himself a rude-boy Merc!

Owner/Reviewer: Mohamed Humaid
Model: 2005 Mercedes C55 AMG
Purchased: September 2011
Price: N/A
Where: UAE

We know the new C63 is awesome, but what about its predecessor?

This car is another chapter in a long-lasting lasting feud between the two sporty arms of the two definitive German Luxo brands: Mercedes Benz’s AMG and BMW’s M division. It is a tough game, this one. On the one hand, these manufacturers had to come up with rapid, good handling, and fire-breathing road warriors that have all the muscle to reverse mother earth’s rotation. On the other, these cars need still be BMWs and Mercs, which burns down to this: they need to be comfy.

Over the years, the BMW M3 and the Mercedes C-class AMG have been the best illustration for the aforementioned matter. The M3 has evolved steadily with time from 4 to 6 and now boasting an 8-cylinder engine. Mercedes, on the other hand, have varied their choice of powertrain to stuff under the AMG’ed C-Class’s bonnet. In 1995, they started out with a V6. Three years later, they thought “If we want to beat zat M-zree we’ve got to give zem za power of eight”; so there was the C43.

Then, mysteriously, they switched back to 6 cylinders in the C32 AMG (amusingly, 3.2L is the exact displacement BMW was employing in its M3 at the time!). When they decided to facelift this generation of the C, they didn’t just alter the shape of the grills and light clusters; instead, they also changed what’s under that hood. They now fitted the 5.4L previously found in the CLK55AMG. To be precise, they went even further and changed the whole nose of the car as the previous one wasn’t big enough to house a V8. The result? The car you see in those pictures.

This is the 2005 Mercedes C55 AMG, a car that came out of a desire to out-M3 the M3. And it’s got the right arsenal for the job. Firstly, what’s under that bonnet is a 5.4L V8 engine lifted from the un-“Kompressed” CLK55 AMG. In this guise, it develops a healthy 362bhp and 376lb ft of twist (13 and 44 more than the C32, respectively). As they couldn’t fit it under the C’s bonnet, they had to borrow the whole CLK55’s nose. Interestingly, and despite the bigger engine, the C55 manages somehow to weigh less than its supercharged predecessor. The gearbox is the tried-and-trusted 5-speeder SpeedShift with shifting buttons behind the steering wheel.

This particular car has the front bumper of the 2007 CLK63AMG, retrofitted by the previous owner (note the double vents on either side). His efforts also extend to the roof as it is painted black to give a panoramic-roof effect. Despite the car being produced for three consecutive years 2005-2007 (although the newer C-Class was introduced in 2007, the C55 continued to serve as the most powerful C until the C63 arrived) the car is not really too common here. It is in fact rare. I hear only four exist in the UAE. As in 1, 2, 3, 4…

Inside, there’s nothing to be surprised at. Save for, maybe, the shape of the 3-spoke steering wheel which looks kind of odd. It could be only me, of course. The gauges are crystal clear with “AMG” and “V8” reminders thrown in at the bottom of the speedometer and rev-counter, respectively. The speedo reads a top speed of 320kph but the electronic nanny steps in (supposedly) at 250kph. The seats also get the AMG treatment. Otherwise, it’s a normal C-Class.

Twist the key, and you’ll be sure this is a V8. One with premium fuel recommended. If you, however, choose to fill it up with other than 98 Octane (premium), don’t expect a big bark akin to the latest AMG metal; it’ll be more restrained. To drive around town, and in true German rockets tradition, it is a bit hard. There are no settings for the suspension. The latter is definitely tuned more for handling chicanes than handling groceries. To counter that, there are three settings for the gearbox: Comfort, Sport, and Manual. And this is one car that flicking between the settings does make a difference…

In Comfort, the car is more relaxed in its responses. You need to bury the throttle to get the car hurling through the horizon. This setting is perfect for in town driving or if you really, really, don’t want to find that egg pack scrambled all over your back seats.

Once you go back home and unload your groceries, though, go back to the car and switch it to “S” or “M”. Yes, the responses are sharper in “S” but not really uncomfortable for daily driving. Just learn to feather the throttle on pickups and all will be fine. If it’s the weekend and you happen to find yourself a twisty stretch of tarmac, “S” or “M” are obligatory. Press the throttle hard and the car’s lightened weight would help it jump ahead devouring the straights.

As the first right-hander approaches, you brake and notice a bit of tendency to understeer. Here, you’ll discover that the steering wheel is not giving you as much info as you’d hope in such position. Hence, you’ll slow some more; only to find mid-turn that the chassis would have taken a higher entry speed—easily. So you go harder at the next twist and carry a bit more speed and power through with no trouble to report. The chassis on this car is so capable of making rapid progress through the mountains. And so is the suspension setting for this car. And while at the mountains (Jebel Hafeet in my case, as can be seen in those pictures), that V8 would feel at home flexing each individual cylinder’s muscles while the combination of barriers/rocks would do their best echoing its 6500rpm scream at them. In true AMG tradition, the note is bassy, and gets crisper as you travel up the rev-counter. But, as hinted at before, not as crisp or sharp as the more modern 6.2L.

If you were some kind of a control freak, then “M” is your preferred setting. It will allow you command over the brilliant SpeedShift gearbox. The changes are quick enough, and are actuated through plastic buttons located behind the two horizontal spokes of the steering wheel. Not wishing to let your manic cook the engine, it’ll automatically upshift if it bounces at the red line.

In my opinion, this car is the definition of the previous generation of AMG hotrods. Hell fast in a straight line, and, if you trust it, in corners too. Its rock-solid chassis gives it handling potential but you don’t initially know it thanks to its somewhat rubbery steering feel. You have to learn to trust it with time. When you do, the C55 will rise as a great weekend thrasher.

If you value steering clarity above all else, the M3 is your definite tool. The C55 AMG is a muscle car: one with leather and creature comforts only Germans do. It is the second best thing of a German car with an Americanized attitude issue. The best thing is its successor…

(Read more Readers Reviews here)

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