We had a very unique opportunity here at TestDrive this week. Almost every single vehicle we review is owned by someone who agrees to meet up with us for a few hours to film their car. We get all of our film footage captured, drive the car for a bit, and if I haven't forgotten (which I often do) to take some photos and then part ways. Some of the newer cars we featured in the past are press vehicles or rentals which we get for a week or so at a time. This week we had someone else's car for a full week!
We reached out to a local enthusiast group, Mercedes-Benz True North, to ask for cars to feature on TestDrive. We assumed much like our attempts on BMW True North that we'd receive no replies and move on with our lives. This was far from the case. One owner asked if we wanted to review his 1996 Mercedes-Benz C36 AMG but didn't have time during the week to meet up with us, so he gave us the keys and let us drive it home from a MBTN event in Kitchener.
A full week with the first true Mercedes-AMG vehicle ever produced. But what about the AMG Hammer? you ask. Of course AMG was tuning and building insane vehicles for decades, but it wasn't until 1991 when Mercedes-Benz and AMG signed an agreement of cooperation that allowed for the two companies to jointly develop products and have them sold directly through the Mercedes-Benz dealership network. After a few years the W202 C36 AMG was born. Although the E60 AMG came out in the same year, that W124 was still an 'unofficial' tune.
The C36 pumped out 276 horsepower new, and 284 lb-ft of torque, which AMG later admitted could have varied by ~10+ HP given the fact that the engines were hand-assembled. The car we drove had 300,000 km on the odometer but still pulled hard as if it were fresh out of the factory. The ride was good considering the low stance and handling was very good on Michelin Pilot Spot A/S 3 tires. I never had an issue getting unto speed on the highways, although my wallet felt the burn of that 4-Speed automatic transmission.
As a very large individual I found the seating to be comfortable and I had enough space in the driver's seat that made the 2 hour original drive home easy. It seems older cars end up being more spacious than their newer counterparts. We even threw some passengers in the back seat for good measure and they were comfortable enough with enough legroom given the size of the car.
Overall I love the design of these cars. The W202 C-Class looks a lot like the outgoing W124 E-Class and the newly unveiled W140 S-Class. The Mercedes hood ornament is one of my favourite design elements, and it's disappointing that due to pedestrian crash laws and overall sportier design is putting an end to this classic cue. Inside is just as great, finished with black leather and wooden trim throughout. I know carbon fibre is the new sexy, but I prefer the look of wood in a luxury car.
We were pleasantly surprised to find that common problems for these cars are quite low, which is probably why this W202 C36 AMG with 300k kilometres to it's chassis can look and run this well. The infamous biodegradable wiring harness we discussed with the W124 is still an issue up to January 1996 build date models. Rear differential seals are leaky and the head gasket needs to be replaced more often than other cars. Aside from that you need to look for typical issues with any 20 year old car, and electrical issues with any older german luxury car.
Some problems we've experienced with this car was the lack of A/C, the climate cluster's screen is fading, passenger power seat controls don't work, and the gas gauge is all over the place. The radios are very brittle as well, but the CD-based unit seems to have a better build quality over the tape version. There's also something important to note if you're looking at a European/Japanese import. They didn't install OBDII ports on those cars, only ones sold in North America. So if you buy an import you will need a specialized diagnostic connector for the engine bay OBD port in order to diagnose any faults with your car.
We thoroughly enjoyed our week on Spotlight with this 1996 Mercedes-Benz C36 AMG. To watch our full review of this car, head over to our YouTube page!