Buyers Guide Mercedes-Benz C32 AMG W203

Buyers Guide Mercedes-Benz C32 AMG W203

Over the years there have been countless extremely appealing fast Mercedes models that have been unleashed upon the world from both Stuttgart and Affalterbach. While not all of would have been attainable to many of us, deprecation has done its job and you can now pick up some seriously rapid German machinery for not a lot of money at all. We decided to go virtual shopping to see just what you can get for your money and we’ve got a veritable cornucopia of cars with something swift to suit just about every budget.

UP TO £5KW203 C32 AMG



If you’re looking for a rapid, practical and entertaining machine that can slip by unnoticed, the 2001-2003 W203 C32 AMG is the car for you. We begin with the practical side of things and on that front, there’s no knocking the W203, with this mid-sized saloon seating four in comfort and five in a little less, with a generously sized boot, all wrapped up in a package that is ageing well and the AMG styling additions only serve to enhance its appeal. Discreet is the watchword with this generation of C-Class AMG, so while there is some added muscle here there’s nothing that will get people’s attention, which is all part of the appeal. The C32 sits 30mm lower than a stock W203, there’s a more aggressive front bumper, sculpted side skirts, twin-spoke 17s and those twin exhausts, all of which means it has more presence than a non-AMG model, but not too much. Inside you get more supportive seats while the five-speed Speedshift automatic gearbox shifts 35% faster than the non-AMG version. Of course, the real appeal of the C32 lies under the bonnet in the shape of the M112 E32 ML 3.2-litre supercharged V6. Equipped with a positive displacement twin-screw supercharger making 14.5 psi of boost, it develops a very healthy 354hp along with 332lb ft of torque, and that’s enough for a 0-62 time of just 5.2 seconds, which is very appealing indeed. The C32 is a seriously rapid machine, with the supercharger offering serious mid-range torque as well as a strong top end and there’s also scope for upping the power with a smaller supercharger pulley and a map to match, at which point you’ll have around 400hp to play with and one of the most unsuspecting sleepers around.


With £5k in your pocket, you’re not exactly going to be spoilt for choice when shopping for a C32 but there are some decent cars out there. All the examples we found were pretty similar, that is to say, they were all early cars with around 130k on the clock and we found a couple of saloons and estates, so at this price point, it will be a case of not being picky and choosing the best car you can find for your budget. With C32s being pretty rare, even a slightly bigger budget doesn’t increase your chances of finding one by all that much so don’t feel like you’re at a huge disadvantage if you’ve only got this sort of money to spend.


The biggest issue you’re going to face with a C32 is rust – post-2004 W203s were galvanised but earlier ones were not, and that means that all C32s fall into the rust danger zone and it can be very bad. The main areas to look out for are the bottoms of the doors, both on the inside and outside; where the front doors meet the front wings towards the bottom, and all four arches, as well as the boot and bonnet and anywhere with stone chips through to the bare metal. Bad rust can destroy a W203, so make sure you inspect any potential purchase thoroughly. The intercooler pump can fail – it’s pretty common and easy to diagnose (reduced power is the main symptom); expect it to last around 40,000 miles but luckily it’s not complicated or too expensive to replace. A common problem on the earlier cars built up to late 2003 is the factory-fitted Valeo radiators leaking coolant into the gearbox and causing contamination which can, in a worstcase scenario, mean you’ll need a new gearbox – replacing the radiator with a revised Behr unit will prevent this from happening. The vast majority of other potential problems are all electrical – the driver’s-side heated seat base will fail over time, dimming mirrors will fail and stop dimming, CD changers get sticky with time and stop working properly and the wires to the folding mirrors split causing problems.


The appeal of the C32 is easy to understand, and while it won’t offer up a faultless ownership experience it won’t break the bank either. If you buy one that’s been cared for you should end up with a car that you can really enjoy and every time you bury your right foot into the carpet, you’re going to have a huge smile on your face. If you’re looking for discreet speed on a budget, the C32 is a compelling car.

W203 C32 AMG is a real performance bargain

No comments yet. Be the first to add a comment!
Drives TODAY use cookie