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Mercs I Would Consider: The W202 C36 AMG

February 11, 2012 by Matt

Mercedes-Benz Merc MB W202 C36 AMG Silver Gray Grey

Any casual Spannerhead reader knows I’m a dedicated BMW and Audi fan. I may raise concerns over those two automakers’ (particular BMW’s) directions of late, but given the choice of an offering of one of the German “Big Three,” I’ll almost always opt for a BMW or Audi over the Mercedes-Benz equivalent.

There are a number of reasons for this: BMWs, for their part, are generally more enthusiast-oriented and almost universally available with manual transmission, whereas Mercedes’ cars typically aim more for the comfort side of the high-end German executive car spectrum. Also, the slushbox is practically an institution for M-B; range-topping sports GTs such as the SLR McLaren or SLS AMG that would normally be fitted with a manuals receive automatics in conformity with the automaker’s orthodoxy.

As far as Audi is concerned, they have design cred in spades; their rivals from Stuttgart tend to err on the conservative, stodgy side when drawing up their cars’ lines. And Audi has always appealed versus BMW and Merc as the underdog, the outsider, the German automaker with the market cornered on uniqueness, if nothing else. That non-conformist cachet is something I really dig.

So, Mercs are conventional, frumpy, boring, cushy and always equipped with an autotragic when it really counts. Are any really worthy of enthusiast consideration? In a word, yes.

Mercedes-Benz Merc MB W202 C36 AMG Interior Inside Cockpit Dashboard Dash Console

Take the car featured in this post: The ’95-’97 W202 (internal model code) C36 AMG. Hard on the heels of the legendary 500E, in response to the Bavarian salvo that was the E36 M3, Mercedes took their small sedan, the C-Class, and turned it over to in-house performance division AMG. The stock M104 DOHC, 24-valve inline 6 was bored out from 2.8 to 3.6 liters and blessed with number of external and internal fortifications that boosted output to a healthy 276 hp in Euro guise (268 here until ’97). AMG lowered the car, uprated the suspension and brakes and fitted an appropriately aggressive and functional body kit paired with gorgeous 17″ Monoblock wheels.

Mercedes-Benz Merc MB W202 C36 AMG Engine Motor M104

The resulting performance—0-60 in 6.4 seconds and an electronically-limited top speed of 155 mph—only tell part of the story. Again, much like its older brother the 500E, the persona of the C36 is a bit out of step with the typical enthusiast craving for a light and nimble corner carver. Instead of a direct point-by-point rebuttal of the E36 M3, Mercedes offered a vision of performance in keeping with their ethos: A iron fist wrapped in a velvet glove, an executive express of the highest order. It is an Autobahn dominator, a CEO cruise missile, but in a slightly smaller, slightly less exclusive form than the pricey, Porsche-developed 500E. As mentioned, it was never built to attack an autocross course, but the commendably low weight of 3400 lbs certainly helps handling, and to me, gives the C36 a more well-rounded feel than the larger, E-Class-derived siege weapon.

Motor Trend understood where Mercedes was coming from in developing the C36, and awarded it first place in a four-way comparo against some very worthy European hardware of the day. They wrote, “For the money, the C36 is the best performance sedan in America.” Accolades don’t get much higher than that, and truthfully, I don’t know if I’d go that far. As a Mercedes, though, it’s one of a select few I’d give thought to owning.

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series highlighting Mercedes models worthy of enthusiast consideration. Read the other installments here:

Filed under: Mercedes, Mercs I Would Consider

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