So if you’re looking for a used high-performance Mercedes-Benz and can stomach the potential running costs, here are some suggestions to suit most budgets.
C36 AMG (1994-1998) - from £5000
The C36 AMG was the spiritual successor to the venerable 190E 2.3-16 and 2.5-16 Cosworth. Designed to rival the likes of the BMW M3, it was based on Mercedes’ W202 generation of C-class.
Besides a modest ‘Sport’ body kit, the C36 received uprated suspension, 17-inch alloys and a heavily developed 3.6-litre straight-six engine. With 280bhp and 284lb ft, the Mercedes could sprint from 0-60mph in 6.0sec and reach 152mph.
Back when it was unveiled, the C36 cost a not insignificant £38,250 – and that was before you started ticking options boxes. Today, however, you can pick up immaculate examples with less than 100,000 miles on the clock for around £5000.
Models produced in 1995-1996 have a four-speed automatic transmission that is usually trouble-free. Those made from 1997 onwards get a five-speed automatic that can be problematic, so check the transmission fluid and make sure the gearbox behaves properly on a test drive.
The build quality of this generation of C-class is acceptable, but check for any signs of corrosion. Otherwise, notable problems are few and far between, so it’s wear and tear that’ll cost you. Make sure the brakes, suspension and tyres are in good condition, or budget for replacement items.
E55 AMG estate (2003-2006) - from £10,000
The E55 AMG estate proved itself to be one of the fastest ways to move a wardrobe from point A to point B when it was launched in 2003.
Besides immense power and pace, the E55 majored on everyday usability with that huge boot, a cosseting interior and plenty of equipment. You could even get seven-seat versions, ideal for those with larger families.
With a hefty 5.4-litre supercharged V8 sending power to the rear wheels through a relaxed five-speed automatic transmission, the two-tonne E55 can sprint from 0-62mph in around 4.8sec and reach a limited top speed of 155mph.
Mercedes of this generation are prone to corrosion, so inspect the wheel arches and underside carefully for any signs of rust. And on the test drive, make sure the car feels taut and composed, as worn suspension or slack steering can be costly to put right.
The E55 AMG’s powertrain should prove hassle-free, but check the operation of the Airmatic suspension as repairs are expensive. The Sensotronic brake control system can cause issues, too, so check the service history to see if it has been worked on at any point.
You should be able to buy an excellent E55 for around £10,000. Most have less than 100,000 miles on the clock and relatively few previous owners, but keep an eye out for examples with a comprehensive service history.
SL55 AMG (2002-2008) - from £25,000
If you want a combination of top-down motoring and prodigious performance, you could opt for a fifth-generation SL55 AMG.
Based on Mercedes’ R320 SL-class, the AMG version first appeared on the price lists in 2002. Following a facelift in 2006, which added more modern-looking styling and trim improvements, production of the SL55 AMG ran until 2008.
Partly thanks to the 469bhp and 520lb ft initially available from its supercharged 5.4-litre V8, the SL55 could sprint from 0-62mph in just 4.7sec. When it was launched, it was reputed to be the most powerful road car ever offered by Mercedes. Unlike alternatives from Porsche and Ferrari, it was also much easier to live with from day to day.
Despite the complexity of the car, serious issues tend to be relatively rare. The powertrain is generally bulletproof, but the Active Body Control hydraulic suspension system can leak and cause premature failure of the pump, so check carefully for any problems or excessive hydraulic fluid loss from the reservoir.
The roof itself can leak and fail too, so make sure it operates correctly and that there are no damp areas in the car. Otherwise, just carry out the normal checks and ensure that there are no signs of crash damage.
For £25,000, you’ll find a range of examples in excellent condition, usually with less than 60,000 miles on the clock.
CL65 AMG (2007-) - from £50,000
The CL65 AMG is an insanely powerful, imposing and luxurious coupé. Powered by a twin-turbocharged 6.0-litre V12 engine producing 612bhp and 737lb ft, it’s capable of 0-62mph in just 4.4sec.
It’s not all about straight-line performance, however. The CL65 can also seat four adults in comfort, cruise effortlessly at high speeds and corner remarkably well.
The CL65 AMG was also a big improvement over its predecessor, offering vastly better dynamics. Admittedly the nigh on £70k premium it commanded over the standard CL500 was difficult to justify for most, but if you wanted the ultimate way to cover vast distances with ease then the £150k CL65 AMG was the way to go.
Depreciation has, fortunately, taken its toll and these days you can buy 2008 examples with under 40,000 miles on the clock for around £50k. Keep an eye out for those with a full Mercedes service history and matching high-quality tyres, factors that suggest proper and appropriate care.
One notable issue is with that of the Active Body Control hydraulic suspension system, which can be costly to maintain and repair. Look for any warning lights, check the fluid level in the reservoir and inspect the underside of the car for any visible fluid leaks.
For that reason alone, if you’re considering a CL65, it’s worth investing in a decent aftermarket or official extended warranty.
SLS AMG (2010-) - from £100,000
The SLS AMG superseded the Mercedes SLR McLaren and, as such, marked the end of the collaboration between Mercedes-Benz and McLaren in road car production.
The SLS was also notable for being the first road car that AMG developed from the ground up, as opposed to being based on an existing Mercedes.
With styling that echoed the original 300SL Gullwing, a 563bhp naturally aspirated 6.2-litre V8 and a host of cutting-edge design features, the SLS was – and is – every inch the all-out supercar.
Sure, it isn’t one of the most emotive supercars around, but the gullwing-doored SLS offers a remarkably complete and capable package – and one that’s capable of 0-60mph in 3.9sec.
These days you can pick up an SLS for around £100,000, which represents a significant saving off the list price of £165,030.
Buying a decent example isn’t difficult, as most will be under three years old and have covered less than 12,000 miles. Most will also be offered with the remainder of their original warranty, and extended warranties are available.
Just take time to ensure that there are no faults or cosmetic issues, as even a relatively minor problem could be costly to resolve.
While admittedly not being the ultimate guarantee of a trouble-free history, it’s also worth carrying out a car history check on any prospective SLS purchase.
The SLS is itself due to be replaced by the GT AMG supercar in 2015, so expect prices to fall afterwards.
CLK GTR (1998-1999) - from £1,000,000
If you’re in the market for something really exotic, how about a CLK GTR? Only 26 were built by AMG, in order to help Mercedes-Benz meet the homologation requirements for the FIA’s GT1 class.
Both coupés and roadster variants were built and modifications from the competition version were few. The road-going GTRs benefited from leather trim, air conditioning, traction control and storage lockers.
Each is powered by an Ilmor Engineering-developed 6.9-litre V12 that produces 604bhp and 572lb ft. Thanks to a kerb weight of around 1440kg and sleek bodywork, the Mercedes can hit almost 200mph and sprint from 0-62mph in just 3.8sec.
Finding one for sale won’t be easy, though, and be prepared to spend more than £1 million on a prime example. However, it’s probable that, provided you care for it properly, its value will only increase over time.
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