Drive Life

While AMG C-Class buyers might flock straight to the AMG C63, are they missing out on something? Sometimes smaller equals better. Could the AWD AMG C43 be better than its bigger, V8-powered sibling that Ken and John drove last year?

The Range

There’s just two AMG models in the C-Class Mercedes Benz range – the C43 (tested) with a 3-litre twin-turbo V6 at $120,900, and the C63 with the mighty 4-litre twin-turbo V8 at $172,900.

Other than dropping down to a 7-speed automatic on the C63 (the C43 is a 9-speed auto), for the extra $50K or so you get the bigger engine with more cylinders, and some other AMG-specific cosmetic and performance enhancing equipment.

Our review car had fitted the optional Performance Ergonomic Package for $4,990, which includes AMG performance front seats, AMG Performance exhaust system and an AMG performance steering wheel finished in black Nappa leather and DINAMICA microfibre. I thought that it was a little strange that the performance seats (at least) don’t come as standard equipment.

The C43 certainly isn’t wanting for any equipment. Other than seat cooling, I couldn’t think of a thing it does not have. Well, maybe the electrically adjustable headrests from the C63, but you have to draw the line somewhere.

There is an optional TV Tuner ($1,490), Air Balance system with ionisation ($490), and a stand-alone performance exhaust package for $1,900 – this is included in the Performance Ergonomic Package.

First Impressions

With our test car finished in Obsidian Black Metallic, this is one stunning looking coupe. I got an ongoing series of comments on the car during my week with it – all positive. It looks fast and it looks mean.

The lines from the rear of the car forward past the C pillar almost make it look like a fastback design, and certainly gives the impression of going fast while standing still. There is no mistaking this car on the road, and it looks fantastic. If there is a car that has a presence, this is it.

In saying that, the looks could also be considered a little understated. Other than an AMG badge on the boot, you only get a bi-turbo badge on each guard to show others what you are driving.

The Inside

I’m going to start this section listing out the standard equipment for the C43, just so you know how well it’s equipped. It seems to have it all.

Colour heads-up display, heated and powered front seats with 3 memory settings, AMG Night Package, adaptive cruise, panoramic tilt/slide glass sunroof with electric blind, Burmester surround sound system with 13 speakers with a 9-channel DSP amp and 590-watts, SATNAV, touchpad, 10gig music register, LINGUATRONIC voice activation system, internet access, full leather, Keyless-GO with hands-free access, automatic boot open/close, keyless start, auto wipers and lights, dual zone AC, paddle shifters, illuminated door sill covers, interior light package, electric park brake with auto-hold, auto dimming rearview mirror, electric steering wheel adjustment, 9 airbags including thorax and pelvic airbags, tyre pressure monitoring. There is a bundle of driver and safety aids mentioned under The Drive segment below.

I’m sure I’ve missed lots here – I seemed to keep finding new features as my time with the AMG went on.

There are certainly some highlights in the interior. One is the seats – superb. Our test car had the Performance Ergonomic Package which included performance seats, and it was worth it. Incredible support, and with a huge range of adjustments. It has an electrically adjustable cushion that can move forwards for taller drivers. Both the seat cushion bolsters and backrest side bolsters are electrically adjustable (by air bladder), as well as general seat movement of course.

This was great when the going got twisty and the car started to be driven as it was designed. The seats also have 4-way electrically adjustable lumbar support, but on the downside of this, the switch is your normal 4-way rocker but it’s down low by the floor. I think anyone with ‘chunkier’ hands than mine would struggle to get their fingers down there to adjust lumbar on the fly.

That’s the only ‘problem’ I found with the seats; they can hold you in like no other. The seats, dash and doors all have red stitched seams, and with the black, looks fantastic. As you can imagine, the whole interior reeks of quality.

My other highlight that I will always remember is the sound quality from the Burmester sound system. Never, until the C43, have I found a sound system that makes me feel like I am listening to live music. The clarity of the system needs to be heard to be believed. An incredible frequency range at both ends, it is the best system I have heard to date. At times I felt Bob Seger was sitting next to me singing live. Stunning.

Ergonomically, things fall easy to hand. The touchpad takes some getting used to, and isn’t ideal to use while driving. I found myself defaulting to the jog dial instead, which essentially does the same thing. The steering wheel controls are excellent, except that I couldn’t skip a track forward or back – you can adjust the volume, but not the track. A single click on the jog dial does this however.

Cruise control is on a stalk, but does work better than other stalk-mounted systems. I found it excellent that I could give the stalk a small flick up (or down) for 1km/h increments, or up further up past a ‘click’ to go up (or down) by 10km/h. Nice. The C43 AMG comes with adaptive cruise, and the distance to the car in front is adjusted by turning the dial on the end of the stalk. Simple but effective. The stalk is also used for the Speed Limiter system. One small problem here is that since the stalk does both jobs, you need to look for a light on the stalk which indicates it’s in Speed Limiter mode. If you want adaptive cruise mode, you tap the end of the stalk to do that.

The issue is that you can’t see the Speed Limiter light as it’s hidden by the steering wheel spoke. It’s a bit dangerous to move far enough to be able to see the light, so in the end I resorted to pulling the stalk towards me which would turn on whatever mode it was in, and if it was the wrong one, I tapped the stalk to change it over. A light on the dashboard seems a simple answer.

The panoramic roof is, well, panoramic. It lets a lot more natural light into the cabin, and since it’s all black in there, that’s welcome. I left the blind open most of the time but it was also nice to have it slid right back. There’s a little pop-up wind deflector which does a great job of stopping any buffeting.

You are certainly cocooned inside the interior. It’s all pretty snug, and don’t hope for too much rear legroom. Usable, but maybe not on a long trip. The quality of everything on the inside sets the standard, from the brushed aluminium panels on the door that hold the seat controls, to the alloy rocker switches on the centre console for the AC.

The boot isn’t huge, but borders on generous. You can flip the rear seats down for more space if needed.

The Drive

Before getting to what it drives like, I have to go through the list of driver and safety aids the C43 has as standard. It is very similar in specs to the Audi S4 that Drive Life tested recently, but even more so.

LED Intelligent Lighting, automatic seat belt feeders, auto-dimming rear mirror, Dynamics Select for four driving modes, paddle shifters, Active Parking Assist, hill start assist, LED DRLs and taillights, parking sensors front and rear, 360-degree camera system, AMG Ride Control, Active Blind Spot Assistance, Brake Assist, Collision Prevention Assist Plus, Steering Assist and Stop&Go Pilot, pedestrian recognition system, and active lane keeping assist.

Some of these are just a few words, but meaningful. For example, Stop&Go Pilot in association with Distronic (adaptive cruise control) and Steering Assist will ‘help’ drive the car automatically (steering/accelerator/brake) at speeds up to 65km/h. The S4 had this same feature. But there are some conditions that must be met, like good white lines on the road at the minimum. On top of that, you still need to keep your hands on the wheel – if you remove your hands from the wheel for more than around 30 seconds, you get a nasty red hands-on-wheel graphic on the driver’s info display.

LED Intelligent Lighting, which is auto high-beams with a twist. Instead of simply having an automatic high-beam system, the intelligent version will keep the lights on high when (for example) following someone, but will divert the high beams around the car in front. Yes, it’s quite weird to be driving behind someone with your lights on full, but it works.

Active Parking Assist is standard fare, and will automatically park your car in an angle or parallel park. It also does the braking for you, and will also do the work for you to get you out of a parking spot. I used this a number of times, and it worked perfectly.

The AMG comes with an electric park brake, and has a brake-hold system which works really well. Where others use a separate switch that must be turned on at the beginning of each journey (when you want to use brake-hold), the AMG simply waits for more brake pedal – you rock up to a red traffic light, and stop – then just push the brake pedal a bit harder, and brake hold comes on (you get a sign on the dash to let you know it’s on). Take your foot off the brake, and when ready accelerate – all the brakes release instantly. The bonus with this system is that the engine doesn’t start again while you are stopped, as it does in other brake-hold systems.

Speaking of stopping, the AMG has an auto-off feature for the engine of course, but it’s up there with the better systems. The engine is so quick to start, it’s one you can always leave on. Some systems you end up turning off as they just aren’t efficient enough.

More on brakes…yes, they are excellent. With the performance at hand, the brakes are well up to the job. I tried a number of panic stops, and it was all drama-free. Pedal feel too is superb. Panic stops at higher speeds need a bit more push on the pedal but they only inspire confidence.

I found myself using the Dynamic Select switch, more so than on other test cars we’ve had. Dynamic Select allows you to pick your driving modes; Eco, Comfort, Sport, Sport + and Individual. I left it in Comfort most of the time, but when conditions allowed it was a quick flick of the switch up to Sport, which made for a fun drive. The ride did firm up a bit and steering definitely got heavier, and better on a twisty road. Sport + firmed the suspension up more, but surprisingly the ride still wasn’t too bad – nowhere near as bad (hard) as I thought it would be.

Well, that was until the back stepped out on me on a wet, bumpy corner. It was back to Sport mode that time. Mind you, full-throttle acceleration in Sport + is far quicker than Comfort mode. Comfort mode is darn fine, but Sport + is loud, proud and quick. Up changes happen in the blink of an eye, complete with a little bark between gears. Sport + mode automatically opens up the exhaust flaps. Yes, it sounds incredible with the flaps open. You can open them anytime of course by hitting the centre console switch.

Naturally, individual mode allows you to set your own settings.

When you select a different mode, it isn’t just suspension, steering and engine performance that’s altered. The computers monitor engine management, transmission, suspension exhaust flaps, steering, eco function, climate control, driver assistance systems and glide mode. Glide mode disconnect cylinders when they aren’t need, in Eco or Comfort modes. While in Glide mode, you get a sailboat graphic on the driver’s information display and weirdly, this gives you a nice feeling.

The steering wheel is extremely chunky, and has a great feel to it – it’s a mix of Nappa leather and microfibre. Feedback is superb, and with the flat bottom you really feel like you are in a race car. Mind you, with Sport + selected, you might as well be. The AMG C43 is now my top pick of cars I want to get on the track.

Even in Comfort mode, handling is top class. The front wheels almost fall into a turn, and grip from the AWD and the 19” alloys (fitted with Dunlops, 225/40 front 255/35 rear) is above reproach. Even hard acceleration on a slippery, wet road will see little wheel spin. It just gets up and goes. The ride is generally very good, as mentioned, but at low speeds it can get a bit jiggly.

There is some tyre noise, but it’s almost not worth mentioning. The main noise worth mentioning is the exhaust. Even with the flaps closed, it’s a nice, tuned turbo V6 sound. But hit that button (or switch to Sport +) and you are rewarded with some glorious barking from the quad tailpipes. Hard to describe it, but so worth listening to. Tunnels + AMG = music. In Sport + you get the bark of exhaust between the up changes, but you get a nice blip/bark on the down change too. It’s a drool worthy sound, and one I am going to miss. Pretty sure having that exhaust flap button affected my fuel economy…

Speaking of fuel economy, Mercedes-Benz claims a combined rating of 8.2l/100Km. In over 500km of mixed driving, I got 10.2. Considering my ‘testing’ of the performance of the car and all-too-occasional testing of that exhaust noise,  I felt that was more than reasonable.

Rear ¾ visibility isn’t the best, but it rarely is in 2-door coupes. Luckily Blind Spot Monitoring is there to make sure you don’t change lanes and miss someone on your inside.

One other strength the C43 has is its turning circle…very tight, and fantastic around town.

The Competition

I wonder if buyers in this segment would be buying based on brand loyalty, or would they be swayed by other factors, like looks, price, performance?

Brand / ModelEnginePower, Kw/Torque, NmFuel L/100km0-100km/hPrice Highest to Lowest
BMW M4 RWD coupe3.0l 6 cylinder twin turbo317/5508.35.1$169,500
Jaguar F-Type RWD coupe3.0l 6 cylinder supercharged280/4608.64.9$149,900
Lexus RC350 RWD coupe3.5l 6 cylinder233/3789.46.3$126,000
Mercedes Benz AMG C43 AWD coupe3.0l 6 cylinder twin turbo270/5208.24.7$120,900
Audi S5 AWD coupe3.0l 6 cylinder supercharged260/5007.44.9$122,900

The Pros and Cons

ProsCons
  • Addictive performance
  • Standard equipment
  • Engine noise
  • Brilliant audio system
  • Interior quality
  • Seat comfort and adjustment
  • Handling for a big car
  • Grip, steering, brakes
  • Addictive performance
  • Cruise/Speed limiter stalk operation

What do we think of it?

Is the C63 worth an extra fifty thousand dollars? I think in New Zealand – no. In Germany, maybe. It would seem such a waste to own a C63. On the other hand, I expect the reality is most AMG C-Class buyers would just stump up for the C63 and be done with it.

Such a shame – this twin-turbo V6 is a gem – casual when you want it to be, and mean as hell when you need it to be. The list of safety features/driving aids is long; this is a car that doesn’t want for much.

Is the AMG C43 a car I would buy? Totally. It is so well balanced in all conditions, and yet believe it or not this performance sports coupe can easily do double duty as your daily driver. You can’t ask for more than that.

In the market for a high-performance coupe with fantastic handling, performance, grip and superb sounds, both from the exhaust and sound system? Add the AMG C43 to your list, or you may regret it.

The last (and only) car I gave a five-chevron rating to was the $20,000 Skoda Fabia. The AMG C43 is a worthy 5-chevron car as well.

Vehicle TypeFront engine, AWD coupe
Starting Price$120,900
Tested Price$125,890
Engine3.0-litre, twin turbo direct injection V6 petrol
Transmission9-speed automatic
0 – 100 kph, seconds4.7
Kerb Weight, Kg1,735
Length x Width x Height, mm 4686x1405x1810
Cargo Capacity, litres 400
Fuel Tank, litres 66
Fuel EfficiencyAdvertised Spec – Combined –  8.2L/100km

Real world test – Combined – 10.6/100km

ANCAP Safety Ratings 5 Star
Warranty 3-years unlimited

 

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