The rear-wheel-drive C63 S, with its raucous 4.0-litre V8, is the most desirable C-Class AMG. However, given its lofty price tag and lairiness, it's out of reach for many and can be intimidating to drive. The (recently facelifted) Mercedes-AMG C43 4Matic, however, offers much of its big brother's performance at a lower price... Should you consider it?
We like: Fearsome soundtrack, upmarket interior, intense acceleration, adaptability and tech
We don't like: Thirsty when pushed, no launch control, some iffy build quality issues
- Price: R1 007 365 (February 2019, without options)
- Engine: 3.0-litre 6-cylinder turbopetrol
- Gearbox: 9-speed automatic
- Fuel economy: 9.3 L/100 km (claimed)
- Power/Torque: 287 kW/520 Nm
- 0-100 kph acceleration: 4.7 seconds
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There's something wonderfully discreet about the C43 4Matic. The only giveaways are the subtle badges, quad exhausts and drilled brakes.
Where does it fit in?
The C43 story is an interesting one. For many years, Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz (plus one or two others) each had 1 halo derivative per model range (most of them), each of which flew the flag for their respective brands' performance divisions (RS, M and AMG). As time has progressed, the chasm between the flagship performance derivative and the top-spec conventional-range offering grew immensely. Consider Mercedes-Benz as a case in point. The gap between C300 and C63 S is huge, both in terms of performance and price. A business case for bridging the gap can easily be made and thus the C43 was born. The 43 nomenclature is not new, however: it was first seen back in the 90s with the V8-powered W202 C43.
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Redesigned C43 exhausts deliver a magnificent V6 soundtrack
What's good about it?
The stylish and upmarket steering wheel is a joy to wield and really heightens the cabin's sportiness.
The facelifted C-Class has received a major interior makeover and is all the better for it. The updates to the fascia and infotainment screen are comprehensive. Our test car featured a matte black wooden finish, which seems a big step up in look and tactile feel compared with the standard gloss black plastic. The infotainment user experience has been cleaned up and simplified too; it now feels like a tablet, with upmarket graphics.
Meanwhile, the steering wheel in the Mercedes-AMG C43 is a masterpiece and our favourite part of the cabin. It's of a flat-bottomed design and has elements lifted directly from an S-Class. We're glad to see the cheap-feeling cruise control column stalk of the previous car has been removed; the system is now operated by toggles on the 'wheel. The shift paddles have a lovely mechanical feel to them and are mounted to the back of the tiller, as opposed to the column, which is great, because you're likely to find yourself using them often to get the best out of the car's performance.
New screen with new graphics brings a level of sophistication to the C43
Eager, responsive performance
Power comes from a revised version of the 3.0-litre V6 biturbo unit. The pre-facelift W205 C43 boasted peak engine outputs of 270 kW and 520 Nm, and for this updated version, maximum power has been bumped up to 287 kW, while torque has remained the same. While the C43's predecessor certainly had poke, it didn't feel particularly enthusiastic, whereas this latest iteration feels and sounds purposeful. Mechanically, the turbochargers are bigger than those utilised in the pre-facelift car. Plus, there's a sports exhaust fitted as standard, and it's controllable at the touch of a button.
The exhaust button, suspension settings and dynamic modes clearly visible. Drive with the exhaust on like we did for maximum pleasure
Some may suggest the extra 17 kW would be difficult to notice, but in terms of standing-start and in-gear eagerness, the C43 sets off at a heady rate, easily dispatches slower traffic in its path and emits a glorious V6 howl. Frustratingly, the car doesn't have some form of launch control, so we resorted to the old-school method of "left foot on the brake, let engine revs rise, then release the left pedal". There's momentary lag, but then the all-wheel-drive car catapults off the line. We don't have official testing equipment, but the C43 feels as fast as its claimed 0-to-100 kph time (4.7 sec).
The driving experience
Subtle and stylish, yet potent in its most aggressive settings. This is the C43 mantra
The C43 rides on 18-inch wheels, but you can opt for bigger, sportier-looking 19-inch units. Thanks to the suspension's 3-stage damping settings, the ride is firm and sporty, but forgiving. Even in the sportiest suspension setting, the AMG's ride only becomes jittery/crashy when the car traverses the roughest of surfaces. The ride quality is fair given the C43's purpose, but unlike that of its more hardcore C63 S sibling, it's quite manageable.
The 4Matic setup imbues the Benz with appreciable surefootedness, allowing you to attack twisty roads with confidence – which is something you might be reluctant to do in the rear-wheel-drive C63 S, unless you're exceptionally talented... or particularly brave. The steering feels positive and the handling is best described as neutral/well-balanced. Even when you're piling on the pace, the Affalterbach-tuned sedan exhibits a lack of dulling understeer, and few hints (if any) of oversteer, despite AMG's claim that the C43 can direct up to 70% of the engine's torque to the back axle. Perhaps if we ventured closer to the Benz's limits, that could change, but as a day-to-day business-class performance machine, the AMG delivers.
What's not so good about it?
Fortunately, the gearbox paddles are lovely to use, because you'll be using them a lot
No launch control/gearbox mode
To reiterate, the C43 doesn't have a computer-assisted launch control system, which we find bizarre, because, in our experience, an AMG 4Matic car can be devastatingly quick off the line. But why not? Well, we suspect Mercedes-AMG has deliberately not included launch control on this model purely based on its potential to embarrass its C63 S bigger brother. While the V8 biturbo comfortably outguns its 6-cylinder sibling in pure of sheer outputs, we think it just can't put its power down as reliably/effectively due to a loss of grip, something which doesn't affect the all-wheel-drive C43.
While the C43's selectable driving modes brilliantly allow a driver to toggle the car's power delivery, exhaust note and suspension settings to their taste, the transmission's 'shift mapping, unfortunately, seems unable to adapt dynamically to changes in driving style. To provide you with but one example: in Sport+ mode with the 'box set to automatic, the car frequently changed down to keep the engine in the sweet spot – and jerkily so.
We found the solution was for the driver to take the reins (via the manual mode) and utilise the oh-so-satisfying steering-wheel gearshift paddles. The thing to note here is that unlike some of its Teutonic rivals, which utilise dual-clutch setups, the Benz has a less-urgent-shifting torque-converter transmission – you have to live with it. What's more, there is a soft limiter short of the motor's redline, so you'll need to be quick with those shifts...
The AMG sport seats are comfortable and the red seatbelts/stitching are a reminder that you're in the baby AMG
The thirst is real
Should you wish to enjoy the C43 as (we believe) AMG intended – or choose to leave the Benz in its Sport+ driving mode more often than not – be aware that the car's appetite for unleaded will increase dramatically. While Mercedes-AMG claims a fair 9.3 L/100 km on the combined cycle, our long assessment of the vehicle proved that you can keep it around the 12 L/100 km mark in traffic, if you make strict use of the conservative modes.
Sport+ is AMG code for flat-out mode and with those quad exhausts singing harmoniously behind you, expect fuel consumption figures north of 16L/100 km. That being said, if you have the means to buy the R1-million beast, you should be able to afford to feed it.
Some iffy build quality
The cabin of the current-generation C-Class is not the best-made in its segment and while we are prepared to acknowledge that the majority of test cars suffer hard lives (resulting in pesky rattles and squeaks), it does become a bit much when a R1-million performance sedan doesn't feel solid and well put together. The C43's fascia, for example, creaks when you press on it. It's shame because the rest of the package is surprisingly sweet.
The Mercedes-AMG C43 cabin. Upmarket, stylish, but let down by some marginal build quality (given its asking price).
Pricing and Warranty
The Mercedes-AMG C43 4Matic retails for R1 007 365, which includes a 2-year/unlimited kilometre warranty and a 6-year/100 000 km maintenance plan. Consider the optional Driving Assistance Package (R36 100) and Parking Package (R12 850); they nicely modernise the C-Class experience.
At just over R1 million, the Mercedes-AMG C43 is a smart and potent offering. Would we have it over the snarling V8-powered C63? Yes!
The C43 treads closely to the C63 S (of which the sedan version is not on our price list yet) and possibly too closely; it offers sufficient performance (for most people's needs) without the compromises of a harsh ride or always-on-or-near-the-edge driving experience, at a substantially lower price.
That's not to say that the brutal C63 S is unworthy of its (rarefied) position in the marketplace. But as a package, the C43 is beautifully balanced and that's its appeal. Not only can it vault off the line and utilise its surfeit in-gear shove to humiliate those pesky boy racers, but in the right mode, it can be docile enough to easily deal with the school run and congested traffic. Sport+ delivers hammer blows; Comfort is perfect for the daily commute.
That fettled 3.0-litre V6 turbopetrol engine is really something special. While most of us secretly pine for a fiery full-fat V8 AMG experience, the reality is that the C63 S is a bit of a handful. The C43 offers generous performance, an exhilarating soundtrack and, by virtue of 4Matic, plenty of sure-footedness, which minimises the risk of nasty surprises (should you wish to tackle corners at pace) – impressive for a product considered to be an "AMG-Lite". And, with the latest additions to the C-Class in terms of infotainment and spec, we regard the C43 4Matic better than its direct rivals.
There are some drawbacks, however. Launch control is surprisingly omitted and specific modes to alter the transmission's responsiveness would have been widely welcomed. Overall, however, the C43 AMG proved an enjoyable and competent business-class performance sedan. It's more entertaining than the equivalent Audi S4, yes, but the real acid test will come when BMW releases its M340i Performance in September 2019...
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