Ah, there it is...hidden, quite literally, around a corner.
I'd been searching for it - the AMG-ness within the brand-new C450 AMG 4 Matic - for the first half an hour behind the wheel, admittedly commuting through rural villages, during our preview drive in Portugal recently. But it just wasn't there ...
Sure, the steering feels a little meatier than the regular C-Class variants below it, the sports seats are little more snug and the twin-turbo 3.0-litre V6 has more effortless surge away from the lights.
However, there's none of the signature muscle car character traits - a burbling, crackling exhaust and purposely stiff suspension - that are carried across every variant in the genuine AMG range, from the baby A45 hot hatch right the way through to the flagship GT sports coupe.
Instead, the C450 AMG is as quiet, refined and as comfortable to drive at a leisurely pace as the C200 we crowned Drive's 2014 Car of the Year. Having driven the ballistically brawny AMG C63 before, my first impressions of the C450 was a little underwhelming.
Lost and found
But then, as the road begins to climb and twist its way through the mountains and having flicked the Driver Select system from its default Comfort setting to the top-rung Sport +, suddenly everything changes and that AMG-ness I'd been searching for pops its head up like a gopher.
The engine - which features additional boost pressure to generate 270kW at 5500-6000rpm and 520Nm of pulling power between 2000-4200rpm - feels more energetic and its meaty mid-range surge is easily accessible with barely a hint of turbo lag. It also revs cleanly all the way to its 6500rpm cut out and emits a sonorous V6 exhaust note under heavy acceleration. It's better when you flick the paddle shifters to change up a gear and it burps a mouthful of unburnt fuel out the quad exhaust tips. But, like its V8-powered brethren, is more addictive when you back off the throttle altogether and it crackles and pops like a fireworks display.
The seven-speed transmission has a conventional torque converter set-up rather than AMG's sharper-shifting clutch pack, which makes it smoother in everyday situations and, with a rev-matching function on downshifts in the Sport modes, is nearly as quick and precise when you're having fun.
A pinch of C63
And during those times, the C450 AMG is an amazingly agile and quick car to punt through the bends thanks to the adoption of the C63's wider front suspension and electric power steering set-up as well as its uniquely tuned all-wheel drive transmission that delivers 66 percent of its torque to the wider rear wheels.
Ultimately it isn't as playful as the C63, but nor is it as demanding to drive quickly with a neutral balance that generates plenty of grip through the corners and brilliant traction out of them.
The C450 misses out on a few toys, such as a launch control function, locking rear differential and the option of carbon brakes, but it's still no slouch with Mercedes claiming it can sprint from 0-100km/h in 4.9 seconds. It's smaller capacity engine is also more efficient than any other legitimate AMG, with a claimed average consumption of 7.7L/100km.
The ultimate sleeper
And it is that balance between practicality and performance - to create the ultimate sleeper - that the German hot rod division set out to achieve, and executed to great effect. The C450 follows the A250 Sport (and its derivatives in the CLA four-door and GLA baby SUV) as the next addition to a series of AMG-engineered - rather than re-engined - mainstream models from Mercedes-Benz, the likes of which are designed to rival the M Performance and S-Line variants from BMW and Audi respectively. It will be joined by a similarly powered version of the new GLE coupe-style SUV, with the treatment also expected to be applied to the next-generation C-Class coupe and GLC soft roader due to be revealed later this year as well as the all-new E-Class in 2017.
The C450 AMG isn't due to arrive in Australian showrooms until early 2016 - with an expected pricetag of around $110,000 - and will be available in both sedan and wagon body styles with an extensive list of standard equipment.
When it does, it is an undeserving tag to call it AMG-lite. It is a genuine AMG, but only when you need it to be.
Price: $110,000 (estimated)
Engine: 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6
Power: 270kW at 5500-6000rpm
Torque: 520Nm at 2000-4200rpm
Transmission: 7-spd automatic, AWD