Does the C43 live up to its AMG badge?
|3.0L, V6 Biturbo||385hp @ 6,100 rpm||384lb ft @ 2,500-5,000 rpm||4.8sec||250kph||1919kg||TBA|
I got the call from the EVO editor and it went something like this: “I know you’re an AMG fan, guess what, I have the new C…”, at which point I interrupted him with: “C63? C63S?”. “Hmmm no”, he said. “I have the new C43 convertible for you to try out”. Dang. I was so looking forward to testing the facelifted C63S, that this felt like a bit of a letdown.
So when I walked up to the new C43 convertible, deep down I was thinking: meh… Thankfully that prejudice began to wear off pretty quickly, as I took a good look at the car in the flesh. The refreshed design was focused on all the right places. The previous C43 looked almost identical to a standard C class, whereas this new generation really looks the part. Gone are the plastic, purely cosmetic exhaust tips at the back and in are proper round, stainless steel exhaust pipes. They look great and along with the new rear-diffuser, they give you the visual impression that this car now belongs to the AMG family. The front looks a lot more menacing than before too, with a previous gen C63-inspired, twin-blade grill and an aggressive bumper.
But it is when you step inside that you see the biggest changes in the new C43. The previous generation model had a steering wheel plucked straight from a standard C-class. This car on the other hand has the steering wheel reserved for flagship AMGs, and it has one of the most compelling layouts in the industry. It feels like AMG wants you to know that this is not a Mercedes with a few AMG badges slapped on it. The attention to detail in the new interface is noticeable, from the red glowing rev needle, to the textured digital backgrounds and animations, it is one of the best HD screen interpretations on the market. And as you look up, you are greeted with a clear, cleanly designed head up display so you can keep your eyes on the road.
You also get the Command screen and while I have never really liked the dash-mounted screens in modern Mercs, the elongated proportions of this display no longer make it look like a grafted ipad, and it looks much better for it. It is still not a touch screen, but it has the updated UI and it is intuitive and easy to use. With machined buttons everywhere you look, high quality materials surrounding you, and a Burmeister sound system, it’s definitely an AMG-esque interior. The front seats are supportive and get the heating and cooling treatments. The seating in the back is also surprisingly comfortable for a 6 foot tall passenger like myself.
That said, one thing that drove me off the wall was that every time you turn off the ignition and open the driver’s door, the seat slides back (so far so good) and then adjusts into a sharp upright position. It is profoundly annoying and makes you feel like the dreaded moment when a flight attendant asks you to put your seat up for landing.
Besides that minor hiccup this is nothing short of an AMG experience on the inside, but when I press the gorgeous, pulsating engine start button that’s when things start to change. The turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 sound on start-up is not what we’ve come to expect from AMG. It is in fact NOT an AMG engine built by one man in Affartelbach, like its more illustrious family members. I would highly recommend you opt for the performance exhaust option when speccing your C43, to recoup some of that missing snarl. Once you drive off things start to improve, the sound of the engine is bassy in low revs and gets peakier through the power band. You can clearly hear the turbos, over the V6 sound. In fact it sounds like a grown-up, mega Dyson vacuum cleaner, but I don’t mean that in a pejorative way. Helping matters are the delicious over-runs pops and crackles that make it sound more satisfying. Is it AMG satisfying though? Not really.
The C43 pulls well from 2000rpm once the turbos spool up. You are sometimes caught in the wrong gear, in the wrong rpm range, and at that point it feels somewhat lethargic. In its defense though, that only happens in Comfort mode, in Sport and Sport+,it gathers pace with real conviction . The nine-speed automatic transmission is responsive and gear changes are fast, but if you are in manual mode and pull the upshift paddle as the rev cutout is triggered, you get a big jolt. Downshifts on the other hand are sluggish for a car with an AMG badge on it.
I know that a lot of people obsess over horsepower and torque (390bhp and 384lb ft) and 0-100kph numbers (4.5 sec) but in the real word what matters is traction. It’s being able to put down the power on the tarmac when it absolutely matters and not have any of it lost because of wheel slippage or ESP cutting you off. And with a 4matic setup the C43 has serious traction (with a 31/69 front to rear split). In fact, in a galaxy far far away, there is this little underpass that comes at the end of a favorite winding road. That road is practically deserted especially in the early hours of the morning. I have taken this tunnel before in a previous gen C63 at 120kph and at that speed you can feel its behind begin to step out. I attempted it in the C43 (for scientific purposes of course), aaaand… 150 kph and it didn’t bat an eye. Woah. Wasn’t expecting that.
The steering is electronic and while it doesn’t deliver the last word in feedback, it’s direct and well-weighted,. The AMG derived suspension package is compliant, and it is a wonderful setup for a daily driver. On the plus side, the extra power and torque have improved the C43’s already excellent driving dynamics, allowing you to exploit the natural poise and agility of the four-wheel drive chassis. Part of the car’s appeal can be traced to its suspension, which in Comfort mode soaks up the bumps with just a hint of relaxing float. Ramp up through the Sport and Sport+ settings though, and you can sense the dampers tensing up to deliver impressive body control.
I have a confession to make. I am not a fan of convertibles. They are heavier, often structurally compromised versions of perfectly good vehicles. And with hot summers that span 6 months out of the year, I don’t see the point of them in our region. Nevertheless on this particular day, the weather is fantastic. The sky was a rare African blue with a few large clouds casually floating about, and with the roof down, on a great road and the right DJ set playing in the background, l start to see the allure. The C43 was comfortable, it pulled when it needed to, the engine sound was enjoyable but not intrusive, and with the air scarf doing its thing the junior AMG really came into its own.
So to the Elephant in the room. Is the new C43 worthy of the iconic three letters that adorn its name? AMG was born in the crucible of motorsports, and like BMW’s M and Audi’s RS it embodies and embraces that motorsports DNA. So I philosophically struggle with the positioning of this new C43. It is definitely a big upgrade from a regular C class, it has a wonderful interior, new tech and suspension, but it neither sounds like an AMG nor is it as dynamic. Don’t get me wrong, the C43 is a really good car, and with the endless amounts of product sub-niches that Mercedes is focused on these days, I can see why the C43 is being propped up as a more affordable entry into the AMG brand. I just don’t think it’s done quite enough to justify its place in the AMG club.