I waited until I reached put on 5000 miles and broke in the car to write this review and while it may still be premature to tell how reliable the car is, the initial and short-term impressions are accurate. The following is also the result of comparing the C55 with the C240 sport.
The C55 AMG is basically a C-class sedan with some performance modifications. It is the direct competitor to the BMW M3, Porsche Boxster S, and Audi S4. It is the successor to the C32 AMG which is a supercharged vehicle.
The suspension is extremely stiff and for a daily driver and may even be too sporty for some. Driving on a bumpy city street gives you the feel of going off-roading. The suspension's stiffer than a 3-series sport package, stiffer than an M3, stiffer than a Porsche Carrera S but not as stiff as the Subaru WRX STi. This is the result of AMG-modified suspension components
In the turns, there is almost no body roll and it makes them almost effortless at high speeds. I was completely blown away by the handling ability. I'm not a race car driver or anything so all I can say here is that the car handles wonderfully but the trade-off is comfort and you'll definitely notice that trade-off if you're not used to sports cars.
There is absolutely no comparison to the suspension in the C240. The C240 is squishy and uninspiring in every respect.
There are very few differences that distinguish the C55 from a C-class sedan equipped with a sport package. The AMG sport package shared between the C55 and the standard C-class has the same side skirts and front airdam. But, the C55 has a special trunk wing, special AMG front grille, AMG 18" wheels, and AMG quad-tip exhaust. So, the differences in styling are so slight that no one would turn their head to notice that the C55 is truly something different. C55 owners seem to like this though for its "sleeper" looks. Also note that the same body style has been around since 2001, with some freshening here and there with the lights and such.
The interior also looks much like a standard C-class with the exception of AMG door sills, AMG gauges, and AMG seats. The AMG seats are great and give you just enough side support to hug you in the turns. There's a bit of alcantara on the shoulder areas with a nice metal AMG logo in the middle of the seat. They look really nice and have white stitching all around. Aside from that, the standard trim is a textured silver and everything else looks the same. A black marble wood grain is optional. It's a bit plain and feels much like the c-class coupe inside with some of the same problems in my opinion.
The rear seats are a 60/40 split which has already come in handy more than once. I was able to pack it up with all the luggage I needed for a snowboarding trip for two by folding down these seats.
Some problems with the way the interior C55 (and the C-class for that matter) are designed are:
1. Window controls are really low on the door (this appears to be fixed in the 2007 C-class).
2. Opening the driver's side window allows a massive blast of air into your face compared to other cars. I know this sounds wierd but when you open the window on the freeway, you usually don't get punished by the the wind but the design of the window sill makes this happen.
3. Little headroom - For big guys or those of you with long torsos will find there to be very little headroom. I frequently hit the ceiling when I'm backing up and straining to see over the trunk.
4. Not much legroom for the rear passengers unless you sacrifice quite a bit up front. 4 guys would be cramped in this car.
I won't go into specifications but everyone knows that it has 367HP and even more torque than that. The power is absolutely breathtaking. There's more power than you'll ever need and perhaps more than you can handle. 0-60 is in a blink of an eye and it's all too easy to go from innocent cruising speeds of 70MPH to over 100MPH without trying. Acceleration is fantastic and torque is available all across the power band. Stomping on the pedal definitely snaps your neck back. There's so much torque that I spin my wheels quite a bit when taking off because I'm still not used to the available torque.
With all that performance comes it's inevitable downside: bad gas mileage. There's a gas guzzler tax of $1000 and this thing definitely guzzles it. Spirited driving will get you no greater than 15 MPG. Freeway driving can get you up to 21MPG but the average for me is about 17-18MPG. I'm used to this because I had a V8 before but the problem is that the gas tank is not any bigger than the standard C-class. So, when you do the math, the approx 16 gal tank only gets you about 240-280 miles. I fill up every opportunity I get.
The C55 comes with an AMG-modified transmission program that adapts to your driving style. There are "paddle-shifter-like-buttons" on the back of the steering wheel. When the car is placed into Manual mode, one can shift through the gears using the paddle buttons only (auto-shifting won't kick in). The dangerous thing here is that one can over-rev the car pretty easily if you're not used to the delay between shifts and there is no protection against this when you put it in manual mode. But, this is a difficult thing to do when you consider that redline is at 6500 and the RPM gauge tops out at 7000. Also, shifting with the buttons has a pretty DISGUSTING delay. It's the same as playing with any tiptronic on a BMW, audi, porsche, etc. There is a delay of up to 2 seconds for the gear to shift after you press the button. Placing the transmission into Sport mode allows for much quicker shifts and is really the way to tear it up on the roads. When compared to the BMW M3, the C55 transmission is the weakest part of the car in comparison to the M3's manual or SMG transmission.
I used to use a TomTom Go portable navigation unit and switching to the Mercedes navigation system has been painful to say the least. Overall, I can't stand the navigation system, but to be objective here are the ups and downs:
* Voice is clear and intelligible
* Voice prompts come out on your radio speakers (attenuates music volume to make announcements)
* Map shows you both a top-down view and another screen showing you how far until the next turn and what the turn looks like
* Voice volume is adjustable
* Repeat button
* Personalized database
* Screen automatically changes color scheme based upon outside light
* Approximate arrival time is calculated
* Option to view next navigation directions in the dash multi-function display
* Horrible 4-position joystick is located on far right and requires fairly precise input to move around. (i.e. move the joystick in the diagonal direction and you won't get any response)
* Prompts are sometimes too late and don't give you enough warning to make a lane change and exit.
* Database is difficult to browse through and confusing.
* Very steep learning curve.
* Porsche Cabriolet S
I drove my brother's Porsche Cabriolet S in a side-by-side comparison and I have to say that the two are very different animals but still worthy of comparison. The Cab S has 355HP and more importantly, you can get it with a manual transmission. The torque in each gear of the Cab S is most definitely neck-snapping and just solid. Surprisingly, the suspension in the C55 is much stiffer than the Porsche. The C55 also felt significantly lighter and more nimble in quick turning situations. The Porsche wins hands down for sports-car feel and while the C55's engine does not feel as well tuned as the Porsche, it gives it a run for its money. Note that the Cabriolet S well equipped runs about $95k+ so it's not even in the same league as the C55.
* BMW M3 & M Roadster
I've driven an M3 SMG and a M Roadster with manual transmission and again these cars are very different from the C55 in many ways. The M3 engine feels like a very high-revving engine that is just begging to be floored to the max. The C55's engine is every bit as powerful but the real power doesn't feel like it kicks in until about 2nd or 3rd gear. The suspension is about the same stiffness but the M3 does seem more precise and it clearly has a more sports-car feel to it. Problem is, no M3 coupes are available anymore and only the M3 convertibles can be purchased, albeit for significantly less than MSRP. Note that the convertibles will still run $60k+ well equipped. Also, note that the M3 and M roadsters are really sports cars with less versatility than the others compared here. BMW provides all maintenance.
* BMW 335i Coupe
The new 335i coupe is a helluva car that really feels great to drive. The twin-turbos really give it the extra power w/o any noticeable turbo-lag and the exhaust is surprisingly throaty. The cabin is very comfortable with plenty of headroom and legroom, optional folding seats as well. The problem here is that the 335i coupe well equipped will run you close to $48k and when you consider that it's just a 3-series, that's quite a bit. It brings it within reach of competing with the $50k+ vehicles. BMW provides all maintenance which is a plus over the Mercedes.
* Audi S4
I was very close to buying this car instead of the C55 and the notable thing with the S4 is that the engine is very responsive and the all-wheel drive is wonderful. One big difference between the C55 and S4 is that the S4 felt significantly heavier and a bit like maneuvering a tank on coil-overs through the turns. Very comparable performance, but I found it very difficult to find a manual transmission for the S4. The S4 also provides split-folding seats for some versatility, which is nice. Ultimately, I doubted Audi's reliability and chose not to get it. Audi S4's suffer from severe depreciation, a hefty gas guzzler tax of up to $1700 and run about $57k w/navigation. Audi does not provide for standard maintenance coverage anymore.
I think a car is only as good as the service you get from the dealer. Although the level of service you receive is usually dependant upon the specific dealer, the general level of service I got from BMW was pretty good. If I asked them to do something, they did it. I've only had one service visit for my Mercedes and it was absolutely horrible. I asked the service rep to check out a list of things that were all relatively minor. After leaving the car overnight, I discovered that he didn't fix ANY of them and in fact, refused to do any further tests because he did not feel there was anything wrong. Interestingly, they did fix a transmission leak, which was shocking to me because the car only had 600 miles on it at the time. Needless to say, I have a feeling I will be having some major headaches with Mercedes service and I've already decided I need to switch dealers.
UPDATE: The jerks at the Mercedes dealer in Glendale can kiss my a$$. The service advisor had the balls to call me up and ask for a good review. I switched dealers and took my car to House of Imports in Buena Park, where I purchased the car. I live about 10 miles from Glendale and about 25 from Buena Park. After getting star treatment from House of Imports, I'll gladly drive it there any day.
Comparison Conclusion -- BMW and Audi each have very fine competitors to the C55 and also have the edge as far as providing maintenance. Obviously, I felt the C55 had the edge on all of them, so you already know my decision, but overall, the Mercedes was the most versatile. I have to disclose that I was previously a "BMW guy" and jumping ship to Mercedes doesn't necessarily make me a Mercedes enthusiast, but in the price range and considering the competition, it was just the right car.
The C55 comes standard with the Harmon Kardon Logic7 Sound system and in a word, it SUCKS the big one. I'm a bit of an audiophile so my views may be a bit more critical but overall I am having a rough time swallowing the fact that the sound system is so horrible. I have to be honest so first, there are a few good things.
* Aux Jack - There is a 1/8" AUX jack for plugging in your iPod or other MP3 player. The sound quality is not too bad but it's a bit inconvenient because you have to keep your iPod stuffed in the glove box or run a wire outside the glovebox.
* iPod interface - This is also optional and must be installed by the dealer. It replaces the AUX jack and gives you full control over the iPod with your steering wheel controls. Sound quality is supposed to be better than using the AUX jack alone but I can't imagine it's that great when the speakers are really the weakest link.
* In-dash CD player - The in-dash slot-loading CD player provides for direct MP3 support with folder navigation.
* 6-Disc CD Changer - The CD changer mounted in the glovebox does play Mp3s but there is no folder navigation, so you may have to skip to track number 65 to get to the one song you want because it's folder is low on the alphabet. This is really painful to do with the joystick on the stereo or the seek buttons, and not much fun with the steering wheel either.
* Logic 7 - So I guess this is supposed to be "surround sound" but the only noticeable thing about the Logic 7 system is that it spreads the channels everywhere and completely makes the stereo separation muddy so that you lose any sense of left/right channel sound separation. All the sound ends up being beamed right at your ears, which I felt was annoying. The only good thing about the Logic7 is that you can turn it off and each source can be configured to use standard 2-channel stereo, Logic7 or speech (useful for AM radio). From what I gather though, the stereo channels end up being blasted in your face through the center channel.
* Speakers - These speakers are horrible horrible horrible. They're muddy! They have terrible highs and so much mid-bass that you'll feel the hair on your legs moving. It also rattles the entire car. Nevermind the fact there are dedicated tweeters, it sounds ilke something out of a Jensen speaker at Pep Boys. As you can tell, I'm really disappointed in the speakers. Although there's a center channel, I turn it off by using "standard" most of the time. For you audiophiles, upgrades to add a sub aren't too difficult because you can splice into the dedicated sub on the rear deck via a line converter.
* No equalizer - No equalizer settings are available at all. You only get Bass and Treble. It really doesn't cost much to program in at least a 5-band EQ, and I think any high end audio system should have one. Note to Mercedes: ditch the center channel and use that money on higher quality speakers and EQ software. (sigh)
* NO RDS - Another peeve is that this fancy Harmon Kardon sound system does not even have RDS for telling you the station name and song name. Lameness again.
* Sirius Satellite - This is an optional component. You would think it's already installed and you just have to switch on the service. In reality you have to spend quite a bit to get it installed by the dealer.
In a nutshell, I am more than happy with my purchase of this car, especially since I got such a great deal on it. The really strong features of this car that made me pull the trigger is the versatility of it being a four-door with split folding seats, while having that enormous amount of horsepower and great handling. As far as what I was personally looking for, it fit perfectly. The new AMG C-class model will be coming out relatively soon but there are rumors that the model may never make it to the US. The C55 was never a really big seller for Mercedes, perhaps due in part to the lack of a manual or other "auto-manual" hybrid similar to BMW's SMG. With the new Lexus IS-F, new BMW M3, new C63 AMG, new Subaru STi, new Evo-X, there are just a ton of 400hp+ cars coming out you can sink your teeth into. But if you're looking for a used high performance luxury sedan, you can't go wrong with the C55.
Amount Paid (US$):
2005Model and Options:
Lighting Package & Navigation