The stability control light starts flashing at 170 mph through a fast right-hander on the busy autobahn, but after three hours in this crazy C-class, there isn't much left to shock you - not even stability control telling the captain that his ship is now approaching the very limit. A few miles back, at an indicated 195 mph, the car suddenly sounded as if its sunroof would peel off. It didn't, of course, but we found evidence of the brute force that high speed can exert. Encouraged by massive aerodynamic lift, the four small lids that cover the roof-rail mounting points flipped open and changed shape just a bit.
Although the engineers from Brabus have simulated velocities of up to 230 mph on the computer, none of the tuner company's test drivers has yet actually cracked the 200-mph mark in this C-class, which is aptly named the Bullit. After a couple of high-speed runs, it becomes clear why 200 mph is plenty. The exhausted tires smell like a Formula 1 grid seconds after the red lights have gone out.
"It's not so much the actual experience that counts, but the imagination of what it might be like to do 200, 210, or 220 mph," says a grinning Ulrich Gauffrés, the head honcho of Brabus's R&D department. "With the long axle ratio, the Bullit could theoretically exceed 230 mph. But because of the extreme mix of power, torque, and load, we pull the plug at 350 kph [217 mph]. Incidentally, all our customers so far have opted for the more explosive but ultimately less dramatic shorter final-drive ratio."
The four cars built to date, including the example we drove, will reach a maximum speed of 196 mph. That's fast, but it isn't excessively fast for Brabus, which has a long tradition of building modified Mercs, including the CLS Rocket that was clocked at 227 mph on the Nardo oval.
Give it stick, and the Bullit will instantly ricochet, fishtail, squeal, and be a general nuisance on the road. Whipped hard, the rear axle attempts to overtake the front, reigned in only by the electronics restraining the truly monstrous maximum torque of 974 lb-ft, which needs to be chip-restricted to 811 lb-ft to protect the drivetrain from premature disintegration.
The test car looked particularly satanic. Its original silver body was covered with a matte-black finish, at an extra cost of € 4000 ($6200). The paint treatment may be supercool, but the surface finish is more casual than solid paint, and stone chips will tear small holes in the elastic armor. Complementing the stealth bodysuit are dark aluminum wheels, a carbon-fiber grille and rear apron, generous wing and sill extensions, a rear spoiler, and a widemouthed lower fascia that feeds plenty of air to the brake-cooling ducts and the radiators.
The Brabus Bullit Black Arrow boasts a 6.2-liter twin-turbo V-12 that musters 720 hp at 5100 rpm and serves up 811 lb-ft of torque from 2100 rpm. Compared with the twin-turbocharged 5.5-liter unit that it's based on (the one that powers Mercedes-Benz's S600, CL600, and SL600 models), the uprated engine features a longer-stroke crankshaft, bigger-bore cylinders, special pistons and connecting rods, high-performance camshafts, and a free-flow exhaust that's brutal enough to crack an egg from half a mile away.
The reinforced automatic is only a five-speed, but when you can dish up more torque than a run-of-the-mill turboprop engine, the number of gears is almost immaterial. The downside of the dated transmission is the absence of shift paddles, which would nicely match the overkill character of this brutal beast. Theoretically, you can always stir the console-mounted shifter, but in view of the rear axle's tap-dancing tendencies, both hands on the wheel is the preferred position. Brabus engineers fitted a limited-slip differential to aid grip. Traction and stability control help, too, as do the 285/30YR-19 rear Yokohamas, which are a little fatter than the 265/30YR-19 footwear on the front wheels. Other chassis upgrades include beefier antiroll bars, a wider track, high-performance brakes, and a specially prepared ten-way-adjustable spring and damper setup. Extra money buys carbon-ceramic brake discs, but the standard setup is better-suited for everyday use. Combining twelve-pot fixed calipers and 15.0-inch rotors in the front with six-piston calipers and 14.2-inch discs in the back, the Bullit decelerates with vigor.
On a perfect airport runway surfaced with grippy asphalt, the 4079-pound Bullit will accelerate from 0 to 62 mph in 3.9 seconds, according to Brabus. After 10.5 seconds, the Bullit reaches 124 mph. Give it fourteen more seconds, and it will thunder past 186 mph, still gaining momentum. While lesser cars like the Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG or the BMW M5 start to run out of steam at 155 mph, the monster from Brabus keeps charging ahead. To save stress and fuel, fifth gear is summoned relatively early, but there is still so much oomph on tap that this maximum Merc doesn't run into an invisible wall until an indicated 202 mph, which is all the relatively short 2.65:1 axle permits.
We drove the very first Bullit built, an almost new car with fewer than 200 miles on the odometer. Brabus chose a suspension setting that was fine for secondary roads, where the ride turned out to be surprisingly decent for such a radical machine. On the autobahn, however, we would encourage a few subtle changes. The front end felt a little stiff in the springs, which affected ground contact at high velocities, when a mix of floating and hopping motions on undulating surfaces was at odds with the otherwise compliant chassis. At the same time, the rear spring and damper setup was a touch on the cushy side. Together with the flex factor of the tires, and in view of the inherently generous wheel travel, this relatively relaxed calibration permitted too much lift and too much vertical movement. As a result, the directional stability wasn't as arrow-straight and uncompromised as the SL63 AMG we recently drove. It's an issue that can probably be fixed in half an hour in the shop, but at 200 mph, you need total confidence, absolute clarity, and reassuring composure.
At speeds below 125 mph, the genetically manipulated C-class is a hoot, and the suspension feels very well-connected. On-ramps are perfect for lurid slides, traffic lights present a good opportunity for creating long black stripes and clouds of gray smoke, and on-demand third-gear wheel spin - even in the dry - never fails to make your passengers pale. Any second-gear corner that is clear from entry to exit beckons for a drift-challenge audition. Of course, this machine really deserves a racetrack, a drag strip, or at least an empty supermarket parking lot with not too many lampposts in the way of one's impromptu auto slalom.
There's no doubt about it: this C-class should display a prominent skull-and-crossbones warning sticker instead of backlit Brabus doorsills. The 720-hp, V-12-powered hypersedan is definitely not a car from this planet. Fact is, it deserves a different planet, where it can waltz through an endless series of corners with rhythmically contracting and expanding radii, a talented solo dancer in search of a suitable stage.
Brabus wouldn't say where our test car will end up, but it definitely won't be in America, because no Bullits will be officially sold here. (Of the other three Bullits built so far, two went to the Middle East and one went to Russia.) Although the base version could never be described as a bargain, our matte-black specimen commanded an even more outrageous asking price of 379,108 (about $587,000). Its factory options list included navigation, xenon lights, power-operated memory seats, keyless go, and the totally counterproductive sunroof; it also boasted classic Brabus add-ons such as full leather and Alcantara trim ( 16,570 - or about $26,000 - including hide-covered footwells), as well as the carbon-fiber pack (as always, a matter of taste). The ballsiest C-class is very expensive compared with, say, the even faster Porsche 911 GT2, but it is still less expensive than a Bugatti Veyron or a private jet.
What you get with the Brabus Bullit isn't just the sum of its parts but a kind of ecstasy pill on wheels. The instruction leaflet is long and complex: side effects may include loss of license and momentary addiction, and the only known antidotes are quitting cold turkey or a blocked bank account.
No, the Bullit definitely does not make a perfect second or third car. But Mercedes-minded millionaires who already own their top fifty dream mobiles will be hard-pressed to find a more hilarious plaything.