after nearly 20 years seems odd, doesn't it? For AMG fans it inspires memories of the first V8-powered C-Class and the very definition of its early brand values. Namely a simple combination of big-engined firepower and 'stick it in D and nail it' dynamics, all contained within nicely understated looks.
Do you really want an SUV?
This new generation C43 is a totally different car. From its twin-turbo V6 to its 4Matic all-wheel drive, nine-speed gearbox and huge array of driving modes it's a product packed with technology and a remit to appeal to a huge cross section of drivers. It also leads the charge for a whole new generation of 'junior' AMG cars designed to bridge the gap between regular Mercedes and the full-fat products while offering an alternative to S-branded Audis and M Performance BMWs. As such we'll be getting '43' C-Classes in
, not to mention equivalent variants of E-Class, GLE and their various offshoots.
If the C63 remains the unashamed pinnacle of the AMG range the C43 is clearly intended to win over those who like the idea but for whatever reason won't take the plunge. That might be purchase price - the C43 wagon starts at £46,255 while a C63 equivalent is £62,395 - or daily running costs, the C63's 33.6mpg and 196g/km not that much greater than the C43's 35.8mpg and 181g/km but with real world fuel consumption more old school than the figures suggest. Or it could be dynamics, Mercedes and BMW having to accept Audi has successfully schooled a generation of buyers into thinking four-wheel drive is essential in any premium performance product. As such 4Matic opens the door to those perhaps intimidated by AMG's macho big power/rear-wheel drive manifesto.
Enough scene setting though. In theory there's a lot to like about the idea of a 367hp Mercedes with a dusting of AMG magic on top. Does it translate?
Look away now if you're not a fan of that screen...
Just as BMW builds 'Tourings' and not estates can we just agree that an equivalent Mercedes is a 'wagon'? This isn't needless Americanisation, just a question of context.
Right, that settled... Whatever you want to call it Mercedes certainly knows how to build a handsome fast family motor. The C43 doesn't get the '63 style wide arches and rolls on mere 18-inch wheels as standard but it's got a low, purposeful stance and more elegant proportions than the saloon. Most people probably wouldn't spot it in a crowd of AMG-optioned C-Classes but those who do will recognise it as something just a little more special. And as full fat AMGs get steadily blingier this return to 'need to know' looks is welcome. Maybe reviving the C43 badge wasn't such a bad idea.
The column shift is disturbingly similar in size and position to a conventional column stalk (we'll just say watch yourself if you're coming from a Japanese car with a right-mounted indicator...) but, again like that older car, this is very much a 'stick it in D...' kind of car. Assuming you haven't pre-selected any of the driving modes the first impressions are that it feels rather more Mercedes than AMG with light controls, excellent refinement and a plethora of gadgets and gizmos set amid the brand's current trend for extravagant and opulent interior design. There's a tremor more low-speed feedback and a naughty little growl to the exhaust, but it's all very mature and sensible.
Managing how much AMG to inject into the proceedings is as much a technical challenge as it is a marketing one, though given the price gap between the civilian range and the V8 flagships perhaps not as hard as you might think. Technology can be an enabler after all.
Looks a bit like a C220d, goes a lot quicker
This idea takes the shape of three-step AMG Ride Control dampers with settings, suspension links, bushings and other components incorporating C63-influenced calibrations and reinforcements. Although not a 'full' AMG motor the 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 has been tickled from the 333hp and 354lb ft it had when first encountered in the (non-UK)
to 367hp and 383lb ft. That's broadly what an AMG V8 of a few years back would have got you and the same as this car's previous incarnation, the
C450 AMG Sport
. From there to UK showrooms it's gained both that new badge and a nine-speed automatic over the previous seven-speeder. It's got a manual mode but, frankly, so numerous are the ratios you soon give up and leave it to its own devices, up to and including decisive and theatrical blipped downshifts under braking in its sportier settings.
Others have had 4Matic Mercs for some time now, RHD markets denied the system due to the forward propshaft previously taking up the space for steering gear. That's now been resolved; should we be glad? The stock 31:69 front-to-rear torque split means it's generally unobtrusive, though our car did suffer from what appeared to be some degree of transmission wind from the front axle in slow-speed manoeuvring on full lock. Odd, given it's meant to be a variable system and you'd expect the diffs to be 'open' in this state. Annoying, given the 'skipping' of the front tyres is sufficiently disturbing to have passengers commenting. Mercedes is looking into this and promises to report back.
Revvy, eager, tuneful V6 is a highlight
Underway it felt entirely normal though and very much like a rear-driven C-Class. Unseasonably dry roads didn't offer much opportunity to see if it raises the confidence levels when things get slippery and traditional AMGs are out of their comfort zone. But this, the general waftiness, the piercing LED lights and suite of safety gizmos make it feel a very secure place to make progress, whatever the weather or time of day.
And make progress it does. That Mercedes V6 is more zingy and reactive than BMW equivalents, while facing a stiffer challenge from the new S4's 'inside out' single turbo equivalent. There's a crispness and lightness to the throttle response that makes it always feel willing, lag noticeably absent and the willingness to rev out refreshing in this day and age. Sounds good too, though it was admitted on the C450 launch this was speaker enhanced; if that's been carried over to the C43 it's one of the better applications of these controversial systems and from the outside it has a pleasing snarl to elevate it over the diesel masses.
Same but more so
From aspirational former C220d owners to downsizing/rationalising C63 drivers, the range of expectation that covers is basically addressed through the configurability. And a nagging suspicion that, for the assurances of AMG engineering input, it's more a simulation than the real thing. So you can stiffen the ride, sharpen the throttle response, make the engine noisier and add more weight to the steering. And get a sense that you're in an AMG. But when you try and really drive it like one the feeling is that perhaps the bushings and other components aren't quite up to the job. Proof, if nothing else, where the extra money goes on the real deal.
Not a cut-price C63, but very nice nontheless
Despite that it's a nice car, this C43. This kind of performance with real-world 30mpg-plus economy, friendlier BIK numbers and any number of other sensible facts and figures has plenty of appeal. It's more characterful than an S4 if, perhaps, heavier and less sporty than a 340i M Sport Touring. But overall a car that could happily tick an awful lot of boxes.
At the extremes though a few cracks start to appear. Far from cheapening the AMG brand or running the risk of irrelevance for the senior product it actually reinforces what makes those cars special. As a fast, discreet daily driver it's a great piece of kit. But it's good to know the properly inspirational stuff still packs a V8.
Engine: 2,996cc, V6 turbocharged
Transmission: 9G-Tronic Plus, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 367@5,500-6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 384@2,000-4,200rpm
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
Weight: 1,735kg (kerbweight)
MPG: 35.8 (NEDC combined)
Price: £45,660 (£54,130 as tested comprising of £1,000 for AMG Performance exhaust system, £545 for LED intelligent light system, £265 for privacy glass, £350 for air balance package, £2,995 for memory seat package, £1,695 for driving assistance package, £825 for Head-up display and £795 for Obsidian black metallic paint and red leather upholstery)