Home Auto Mercedes-Benz Sport AMG finds a middle road

Mercedes-Benz Sport AMG finds a middle road


Nature abhors a vacuum almost as much as product planners abhor white space. Thus the AMG Sport Models from Mercedes-Benz, a series of high content, breathed upon vehicles positioned between Stuttgart’s usual fare and the seething tar dragons of AMG, the performance division in Affalterbach, Germany. Audi has its S cars, BMW its M Sport products. Now come Mercedes’ more polished stars.

It’s all very orderly. The C450 AMG Sedan starts at $50,800. That buys you the C450’s bi-turbo V6 with 362 hp. That’s a rung above the C300 (241 hp, 2.0-liter I4, for $40,950); but a nearly equal interval below Mercedes-AMG C63 (469 hp, 4.0-liter V8, for $65,250). Alfred Sloan would approve.

But the big news, and your best friend if you sell Mercedes-Benz, is the GLE Coupe, the dolphin-backed, four-door sport crossover with the optional and mega-bratty 22-inch wheels. Yes sir, you can park it here. I’ll just tell these diners to move.

The Mercedes-Benz AMG sport line

In the U.S., at the moment, the well-equipped GLE450 AMG Coupe ($65,100) is the entry trim and the bi-turbo V8’ed, 577-hp Mercedes-AMG GLE63 S Coupe ($109,300) is the upsell. The nomenclature is getting annoying.

But some white space is worth filling. The Sport line is brilliant if you concede the overkill of flagship AMGs, and I do. The Sport line is AMG in all but engine—the badges, the deep-sculpted grille and aero skirting, the argument-ending, optional 22-inch wheels, plus a lot of go-fast gear signed off on by AMG, all available with lower cost and system overhead.

I’ve driven both AMG Sport models and loved only one, alas, and it wasn’t the nearly 5-foot, 8-inch-tall crossover with air suspension. Oh, I get it. The GLE Coupe crossover strokes a boldpen, a nice recapitulation of Mercedes’s certain savoir-faire in exterior design, like the cars have show-car silk still clinging to them. In the Sport line’s interiors, AMG division tastes can turn distinctly Ottoman, with contrasts of hides and topstitching, glowing wood and carbon-trim options, and extravagances of metallic trim or aluminum paint on switch caps, door pulls, and instrument bezels. It’s bold. It’s busy.

While there is some concession to rear headroom and luggage space behind the foldable rear seat backs, this design provides space mainly suitable for shopping bags, and I don’t mean from Costco.

Challenged on a country road, the GLE450 AMG grows a bit limber and floaty, the consequence of a very comfortable air suspension, lots of wheel travel, vehicle weight (4,894 pounds) and plain old CofG, center of gravity. If you swing the Dynamic Select to “Sport+,” the powertrain wakes up and the suspension, stability, and steering parameters grow more focused. But mostly, the thing only gets more vocal. Full throttle upshifts evoke a crisp, computer-orchestrated Brrap!! from the tailpipes, a sound weirdly imported from some two-stroke motocross race. Engine overruns on downshift spit and murmur. Coast-downs sound like you should be dragging a spent parachute. I like it!

Still, the pairing of these two vehicles, with the same engine and with much of the same luxe-y lather upon them, only makes me wonder why? Why would anyone not prefer the finely balanced, respectably powerful sedan to the high-riding trendy crossover?

The C450 AMG is the Gentlemen’s Special, the Buddhist’s Middle Way between the austerities of the entry-level C sedan and the tongue-thickening indulgences of the C63 AMG. Critically, the C450 enjoys an upgraded lightweight suspension with AMG calibrations, including: three-stage adaptive dampers; aluminum four-link front and five-link rear; stiffening at the pickup points; and wider front track and more static camber for better handling under high cornering loads.

Also, per dynamics, the C450 AMG has a charming all-wheel-drive static torque split of 33/67, front/rear, which gives the AWD system a decisive acceleration when you get back on the throttle. I gave the C450 AMG a good caning over the past two weeks. This car is stout, stiff, with powertrain refinement galore and plenty of urgency, if not crushing power. The steering is nicely heavy and direct, and I love the AMG steering wheel with its molded, leather-wrapped grips. It’s not a track-day car but a road car, much improved.

Zero to 60 mph rolls up in 4.9 seconds, says the company, and the Sport + mode’s harder algorithms help the 7-speed automatic transmission slip ratios convincingly like a dual-clutch. Gear changes nick by, up or down, with barely any pause in power. Cornering is flat and midcorner poise much enhanced by the right-sized, 19-inch Continental summer tires (optional) on the alloy AMG rims.

But mostly, the sedan is more satisfying at the wheel due to the fact that it’s nearly a foot shorter than the crossover and weighs 1,167 fewer pounds. Those metrics matter.

Our test C450 AMG sedan got the full cigars-and-supper-club treatment, with rich black pleather contrasted with brilliant red double topstitching. The wood trim and wainscoting was a low-sheen black ash with open pore figuring. The seat belts are red as his eminence’s cassock. Very nice.

It’s a mystery, but often less engine means more car.

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