For as long as AMG has been around – first as an independent, Mercedes-focussed tuning house, and now as the performance arm of Mercedes-Benz – anything wearing that much-vaunted badge was guaranteed to be a thriller.
Not always in a good way, it has to be said. While those hand-crafted AMG engines have a deserved reputation for prodigious power, harnessing all that muscle effectively proved to be more of a challenge.
Many of the big-engined AMG models struggle with ultimate composure: they’re always champing at the bit, challenging the stability control systems, chirping rubber at the slightest throttle provocation, and generally feeling a little out of sorts around town.
But swap congested city driving for the open road, and those AMG models come into their own. With enough scope to unleash all that urge, and an ability to cover ground with almost indecent ease, the monster becomes more manageable, and easier to handle – even if you need to keep those kid gloves close at hand.
Against that gung-ho, mightier-than-thou backdrop, the Mercedes-AMG C43 may appear to be almost disappointingly tame – at least in sheer engine output terms. But you’d be wise not to judge this junior AMG by its on-paper credentials.
Not that those credentials are anything to be ashamed of: 287kW of muscle and 520Nm of twist are more than respectable by sports sedan standards, underlined by a power-to-weight ratio well north of 100kW/ton.
The urge comes courtesy of a marvellous twin-turbo V6, which is not only lighter and more compact than AMG’s traditional V8 mills, but more efficient, too. It’s no fuel-sipper by econobox standards, but the C43’s appetite is certainly more restrained – and its exhaust gases are cleaner.
The rest of the drivetrain comprises a nine-speed dual-clutch gearbox, and all-wheel drive – a combination that promises race car-quick gear changes and plenty of traction. In case you’re worried about the all-wheel drive spoiling the fun, the system is rear-biased, suggesting that the C43 will retain at least some rear-wheel drive wieldiness.
A recent facelift has added welcome zest to the generally conservative and slightly swoopy styling of the C-Class. In AMG guise, the grille gets a bolder look with dual chromed strakes linked to the large three-pointed star logo, while hungry air intakes and vents add visual muscle.
Deeper sills, a pronounced rear diffuser framed by two pairs of big-bore exhausts and large, aerodynamically sculpted alloy wheels complete the sports sedan picture. The wheels come in 18-inch diameter as standard, but our test steed wore 19-inchers, complete with fatter rear rubber, which added to the car’s planted stance.
The interior has undergone a welcome revamp, too. Of particular note is the all-digital instrumentation, linking a configurable, virtual instrument cluster depicted on a high-res TFT display to a large, centrally located touchscreen for the full-house infotainment system.
Cleverly, touch pads on the grippy, flat-bottomed steering wheel allow scrolling through and selecting items from the on-screen menus, making for an intuitive interface that’s a welcome upgrade from the previous generation’s clunky navigation.
There’s still a rotary controller and larger touchpad in the centre console, while you can also opt for voice control. Either way, accessing the C43’s comprehensive functions and features has never been easier, and more convenient.
The interior execution is top-class, too, finding just the right combination of sportiness and comfort. Black, suede-like microfibre cloth and leather bolsters, red stitching and open-grained black wood veneer make for an inviting and attractive mix of colours and textures.
Add the aluminium accents on the steering wheel, dashboard, air vent surrounds and the black-studded pedals, and the overall effect is striking without becoming overbearing.
The contoured seats are electrically adjustable, and provide good support without compromising comfort, while the ambient lighting can be adjusted for brightness and hue: you can opt for anything from boring white and soothing blue to garish red at the push of a few buttons.
Perhaps more important in the AMG context is the ability to adjust the dynamic character of the C43. A drive mode selector allows a choice of five modes, each of which offers different levels of throttle response, suspension damping, gearshift speed and steering response.
Regardless of mode, the damper settings and manual shift mode can also be independently selected to suit specific driving conditions without having to swap to an entirely different driving mode.
The nine-speed dual-clutch gearbox is happy to do the shifting for you, and is a convenient choice in stop/start city traffic. But to extract the best from the C43, manual mode is the preferred option, using the gear shift paddles behind the steering wheel.
Besides offering the driver more succinct control of the gearbox, it also adds to the involvement of the driver – and this is car that invites engagement.
Press the start button, and that the V6 still sounds reassuringly aggressive in the best AMG tradition comes as a pleasant surprise. Turbo engines can sound muted and benign, but there’s a welcome growl and burble to this six-potter, even at idle.
Prod the throttle, and that growl crescendos into an elated, spine-tingling roar. You can attenuate or open up the exhaust note at the push of a button, depending on how discreet – or obnoxious – you want your progress to be.
But for all its fancy features and advanced tech, it’s the driving experience that really sets this C43 apart. If you expected it to be a tame, insipid shadow of the C63, you’re in for a surprise: the Mercedes-AMG sedan is rapid, competent and entertaining in equal parts.
It’s benevolent in town traffic, showing off ample tractability and refinement, while offering instant throttle response and incisive acceleration when you need it most.
Indeed, it’s even happy to crawl along at pedestrian speeds, or to trundle through suburbs, and while it always feels tauter and more composed than your normal C-Class, there’s nothing nervous or impatient about its disposition.
If anything it will be the driver that becomes impatient to swap the city snarl-up for some less populated tar – because that’s where the C43 really shines. Point it down a long, deserted ribbon of black, select Sport mode and manual shifting, and bury the load pedal.
There’s no slithering of the rear, no aroma of burning rubber – just a clinically clean, indecently rapid getaway and the kind of incessant acceleration that blurs the landscape as the horizon hurtles towards you.
The stats confirm that the C43 is a fast machine, but even the 4.3sec statistic for the 0-100km/h dash doesn’t do the experience justice. It always feels quicker, more focussed, more invigorating than the figures suggest.
Pitch the AMG into some curves, and it’s the composure and the balance that impresses. The all-wheel drive splits the power delivery 31:69 between the front and the rear axles, and the overall handling response feels more rear-wheel drive than all-wheel drive.
Unsurprisingly, traction levels are high, allowing the kind of cornering speeds that will have the G-force sensors applauding. The steering has ample heft and precision, especially in sport mode, feeling more analogue than expected, and offering good feedback.
You’ll need a racetrack to really push the C43 to its limits, because those limits are so elevated. But even driven briskly, with no attempt to break any records, the sedan is satisfying and enjoyable to pilot.
And that’s the magic of this Mercedes-AMG: you don’t need to push it to the extreme to enjoy it, and it never feels out of place in conventional driving situations. It’s a luxury four-door that’s as docile around town as it is intoxicatingly ferocious when driven with intent.
No wonder the Mercedes-AMG C43 has become something of a sales success for the brand. It’s more accessible in both price and dynamic terms than the hardcore C63 S, with its 375kW V8 and rear-wheel drive.
Better still, it’s the more balanced machine, without becoming boringly benign. And that makes the Mercedes-AMG C43 the better all-rounder. DM
Sleek, sporty looks, ample power and reassuring poise make for balanced, entertaining package.
Thirsty when pressing on.
|Mercedes-AMG C43 4Matic|
|Engine||2,996cc V6, twin-turbo|
|Power||287kW @ 6,100rpm|
|Torque||520Nm @ 2,500 – 5,000rpm|
|Power-to-weight ratio||176.07 kW/ton|
|Gearbox||Nine-speed AMG Speedshift TCT, AWD|
|Wheels/tyres||19-inch alloy, 225/40 (f) 255/35 (r) R19 tyres|
|Top speed||250km/h (limited)|
|Fuel tank capacity||66 litres|
|Fuel consumption (claimed/tested)||9.3 / 13.1 litres/100km|
|Operating range (claimed/tested)||710 / 504km|
|CO2 emissions||208 g/km|
|Retail price/as tested||R948,500 / R1,124,764|
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