2000s / German / Mercedes-Benz

Great automotive failures: Mercedes-Benz C30 CDI AMG

Mercedes-Benz C30 CDI AMGThe C30 CDI AMG holds a special place in Mercedes-Benz history because it’s the first and only mass-produced AMG-badged model powered by a turbodiesel engine. Introduced in 2002, it was billed by AMG as the world’s first diesel-powered sports car. The claim wasn’t true, but it likely helped would-be buyers get used to the idea of seeing CDI and AMG emblems on the same trunk lid.

Offered as a coupe, a sedan and a station wagon, the C30 CDI AMG wore the same exterior add-ons as gasoline-powered AMG-tuned w203 C-Classes. These included front and rear spoilers, side skirts and 17-inch alloy wheels mounted on fat tires. The chassis and suspension modifications were carried over from the C32 AMG, meaning the C30 had a slightly stiff ride that was nonetheless comfortable enough to spend hours on the Autobahn.

Power for the C30 CDI AMG came from a five-cylinder 3.0-liter turbodiesel engine that was derived from the mill found under the hood of the non-AMG, Europe-only C270 CDI. To be deemed worthy of sitting in the engine bay of a car fitted with an AMG emblem, the straight-five underwent a long list of modifications and it ultimately shared very little with the engine it was based on.

Hand-built in Offenbach, Germany, by the same mechanic from start to finish, the oil-burner was tuned to deliver 231 horsepower at 3,800 rpm and 398 lb-ft. of torque from 2,000 to 2,500 rpm. Power was sent to the rear wheels via a five-speed automatic gearbox. In its fastest configuration, the C30 could reach 62 mph (100 km/h) from a stop in 6.8 seconds and go on to an electronically-limited top speed of 155 mph.

To put those figures into perspective, the gas-burning C32 AMG was used a 349-horsepower supercharged 3.2-liter V6 engine that allowed it to hit 62 from a stop in 4.9 seconds.

In 2002, when governments around Europe were still struggling to explain to people what a euro was, the C30 CDI AMG carried a base price of €49,590. The list of standard features was fairly slim but it included Electronic Stability Control (ESP), a feature that many period journalists agreed was a necessity rather than a luxury. Buyers who wanted creature comforts such as a CD changer, headlight washers and a leather-upholstered interior had to pay extra.

That made the C30 a very tough sell, especially when performance-minded buyers could skip the Mercedes-Benz showroom altogether and buy a V8-powered 344-horsepower Audi S4 for just €52,420. Too expensive, not powerful enough and not very well suited to the AMG image, all three variants of the C30 CDI AMG were phased out in 2004.

Looking Back

The idea of a turbodiesel-powered sports car wasn’t new at Mercedes-Benz. In the 1970s, many years before the company purchased AMG, engineers toyed around with the C111, an experimental two-seater with Gullwing-like doors that started life with a powerful Wankel rotary engine.

When it became evident that the Wankel would never comply with the ever-stricter emissions regulations in both Europe and the United States, Mercedes changed course and fitted the coupe with an evolution of the 3.0-liter five-cylinder OM617 engine that was found in the w116, the w123 and, later on, the w126, among other models. Miscellaneous modifications (including the addition of a Garrett turbocharger) bumped the oil-burner’s output to a healthy 230 horsepower.

Mercedes set a couple of speed and endurance records with the C111 III, but it eventually dropped the idea of a diesel-powered sports car altogether and focused on building gasoline-burning engines.

4 thoughts on “Great automotive failures: Mercedes-Benz C30 CDI AMG

  1. Fascinating. I didn’t know this car existed. At this time Europe was going mad for high power/torque diesels – for example BMW were doing very well with sports versions of the 330d and 530d albeit with ‘only’ 204ps – so the sales failure must have been a pricing issue as you say.

    • Right, I think if it was priced a little lower it would have been more popular.

      AMG just launched a mid-level sub-brand called AMG Sport. Right now they only sell gasoline-burning models, but I wouldn’t be surprised if later on we see a diesel-powered AMG Sport car.

  2. Just seen two models in Valencia in saloon forms which I didn’t know were produced I thought it was only produced in sports coupe form

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