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AUDI S4 IS a snappier name than Mercedes-Benz C450 AMG 4Matic, but that's exactly where Mercedes is training its sights - the C450 tucks below the C63, just as S4 tucks below RS4. There's never been anything quite like it in the C-class line-up. In this case AMG isn't just a trim level, it denotes some Afalterbach-fettled kapow; engine, gearbox, drivetrain and chassis all beneft from AMG know-how. In the UK at least, the C450 is the only C-class to get a V6. The 3.0-litre bi-turbo engine is familiar in other markets, where it produces 324bhp and 354lb ft.
Here the wick's been turned up to 362bhp and 384lb ft; the AMG infuence doesn't seem to extend beyond a boost increase and new exhaust, but still that's signifcantly more than the Audi S4, BMW 335i and Jaguar XE 3.0 S. The seven-speed auto gearbox shares ratios, fnal drive and programming logic with the C63, chassis components are carried over, and, crucially, the C450 gets an all-wheel drive system - the frst C-class to do so. It's rear-biased, with 67% of the available torque going to the rear axle in normal driving, and up to 70% going to either end. in extreme situations. That's just as you'll fnd it in an all-wheel-drive E63 AMG. This is a smooth, refned and incredibly potent engine.
There's a very small delay when you frst accelerate and the turbochargers spool, but this is lag that you look for, rather than notice. When you really let loose, there's an engaging, slightly melancholy warbling, like a toned down Jaguar F-type V6. This motor sounds good. Just like the C63, the C450 ditches the oddly calibrated variable-ratio steering rack deployed in lesser C-class models for a fxed ratio, and it's key to the C450's satisfying driving experience.
It's still electrically assisted, and it still self-centres a little too keenly, but the linearity and precision gives you an instant confdence boost. So too does 4Matic. Drive hard at a corner and you'll feel the front end bite incisively, and then - and here's the big diference with the C63 - you can accelerate early and feel that rear bias kick in and push you through the corner; you have to be really pushing on dry tarmac to get the rear end to wiggle. Uprated steering knuckles, increased negative camber, a stifened bodyshell and C63-sized 360mm front brake discs also contribute to the C450's twisty road prowess. There's a choice of drive modes: Efcient, Comfort, Sport, Sport Plus and Individual. Somewhat surprisingly, Sport Plus actually works on public roads. Perhaps it was the smooth Portuguese tarmac, but Sport Plus's frmed up suspension retains some compliance while making for a much more dynamic, more controlled drive.
Equally impressive is the fact that turning the leather steering rim doesn't feel like you're lifting 20kg dumbbells. Sport Plus also elevates the transmission to a whole new level of second-guessing your hooning intentions, and unleashes some raucous thunder from the exhausts when you back of. Both Jaguar's eight-speed auto and dual-clutch 'boxes swap ratios more crisply, but there's no cause for frustration here. The C450 AMG will be ofered in saloon and estate body styles. But if the idea of a car that's this well rounded and has a tailgate makes you want to head straight to the nearest Merc dealer, there's a snag.
Neither variant lands here until June 2016. This is the frst all-wheel-drive C-class and the engineers haven't yet sorted the right-hand drive installation. When the C450 does arrive, the Jaguar XE 3.0 S AWD will enter its orbit. That'll be a very tough bout for the Merc, but there's an awful lot to like about this mini-me AMG.

Mercedes-Benz C450 AMG 4matic Price £40,000 (est) Engine 2996cc 24v bi-turbo V6, 362bhp @ 5500-6000rpm, 384lb ft @ 2000-4200rpm Transmission Sevenspeed automatic, four-wheel drive Performance 4.9sec 0-62mph, 155mph, 37.1mpg, 178g/km CO2 Weight 1615kg On sale June 2016

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