2016 Mercedes-Benz C450 AMG Sport First Drive
"AMG Lite" Still Proves Substantial
EngineTwin-Turbo 3.0L V6
Power362 HP / 384 LB-FT
0-60 Time4.9 Seconds
Curb Weight3,693 LBS
Base Price$52,000 (est.)
Those three letters carry a lot of weight, especially to those who firmly believe that AMG is the hallowed performance pinnacle of the Mercedes-Benz brand. Those purists probably lifted an eyebrow at the front-drive platforms behind the CLA45 AMG and GLA45 AMG, and virtually every AMG-branded SUV that has hailed from the tuner-focused nameplate. But they might want to consider a second look at the 2016 Mercedes-Benz C450 AMG Sport.
No, it's not a full-blown, fire-breathing AMG like the C63, and it doesn't get the newfangled "Mercedes-AMG" nomenclature. But after spending some seat time in the C450 AMG Sport, there's a decent chance you'll be quite alright with that.
Inside and out, the C450 bears a strong visual resemblance to the mean looking, V8-powered, 469-horsepower C63 and its even fiercer, 503-hp, C63 S variant. The C-Class cockpit feels a bit snugger than you might expect considering its exterior proportions, particularly from the passenger seat. On the other hand, the new C-Class is also quite a bit more nicely appointed than its predecessor, which has inspired more than a few comparisons to the super posh S-Class. As for the C450 AMG, its more purposeful design cues and sportier details lend it a buttoned-down, modern feel. The biggest differentiator between the C and CLA class, however, is the rear of the cabin: the C's back seats are considerably roomier than the entry-level CLA's posterior perches.
In place of V8 power, the modest 450 AMG packs a more reasonably endowed twin-turbocharged, 3.0-liter V6 that pushes 362 hp and 384 lb-ft of torque through a 7G-Tronic Plus automatic gearbox (in place of the the C63's dual-clutch seven-speed). Power is routed through all four wheels with a 66-percent rear, 33-percent front torque split.
For some numerical context, the C450 AMG exceeds the C400 by 33 hp and the C300 by 121 hp, while it lags behind the C63 by a rather significant 107 hp. Crucially, the six-banger helps shed between 231 and 242 pounds compared the C63 models – this, despite a heavier all-wheel-drive arrangement, as opposed to the C63's rear-drive configuration.
The C450 AMG shares a few pieces of hardware with its big brother AMG sibling, including the front axle, electromechanical steering, and upgraded brake setup (though you can't get carbon ceramic stoppers like you can in the C63 S). The C450 isn't equipped with launch control or a locking rear differential, but the performance fundamentals are still strong, from the electronic suspension dampers to the speed-sensitive AMG-tuned steering.
The V8-powered C63 is a seriously powerful sports sedan with generous grunt and quite a bit of potential for tail-sliding shenanigans. Though its V6 isn't quite as punchy, the C450 delivers strong acceleration off the line, with cleaner launches and less likelihood of lighting up the small yellow traction control icon, thanks to its all-wheel-drive setup.
As for power, the C450's 3.0-liter V6 is well suited to the chassis, offering a meaty 384 lb-ft of torque whose peak output starts at 2,000 rpm (versus the V8's plateau, which kicks in at 1,750 rpm). That broad spread, along with the seven-speed, torque converter-equipped gearbox, is flexible enough to deliver urgent acceleration at most speed/gear combinations. Though the C450 performs the 0-60 sprint a full second slower than the C63 S (4.9 seconds, versus 3.9), the difference doesn't feel so vast by the seat of your pants. The V6 delivers a nice whoosh of power, particularly in the powerband's mid-section, while the seven-speed offers quick, smooth, dual-clutch-like upshifts and rev-matched downshifts.
The C450 has plenty of chassis and drivetrain adjustability thanks to its drive mode settings, with Eco, Comfort, Sport, or Sport+ modes that manage suspension stiffness, steering effort, and throttle response/shift style settings. These parameters can also be personalized. The three-stage suspension controls can also be adjusted independently, and deliver noticeably different stiffness levels with a baseline setting that's firm but unpunishing. Though the C450's milder transmission isn't mated to a locking rear differential and the model doesn't come with launch control (as found in the C63) or Race mode (as equipped in the C63 S), drivers who don't autocross or track their C-Class should find plenty of buttoned-down dynamics and rewarding performance in the C450.
The AMG brand is no longer just an astronomically priced, reach-for-the-stars halo offering; similar to BMW's more generously sprinkled M badge, Mercedes-Benz's sub-brand is consciously expanding its accessibility in order to sell more cars. And while the previous-gen C63 was the most successful model to date (with sales surpassing 40,000 units), that figure pales in comparison to AMG's anticipated future growth that will be aided by milder variants like the C450. The C450 AMG is expected to start in the low $50,000 range, roughly $10,000 beneath the C63, and $20,000 less than the C63 S.
Is this newfound accessibility good, bad, or irrelevant to the AMG brand? Well, it depends on how you look at it. While the C450 AMG isn't quite the pedigreed, race-ready thoroughbred you might have expected to hail from Sindelfingen a few years ago, it's still a quick, well-handling, capable performance car that's damn entertaining to drive fast. Equally relevant to the Mercedes brand's more affordable options are what's happening at the opposite end of the spectrum, where the ultra-low-volume, quarter-million dollar S65 AMG Coupe resides (which also happens to be the priciest Benz you can buy). Don't like big, heavy, twin-turbocharged V12s? Think about the AMG GT S, its insane GT3 racecar spinoff, and (hopefully) a future Black Series iteration, which would deliver even more competition-inspired exotica.
Whether or not the C450 is a true AMG is open to debate. But there's no arguing that this kinder, gentler C63 alternative offers satisfying dynamics and serious bang for buck, making this a sort of AMG Lite that's a substantive choice for enthusiasts.
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