We put the baby AMG C-class through its paces and see if it’s a spicy meatball in AMG tradition or just a scoop of plain vanilla
- Punchy, potent engine
- Nimble handling
- Genuine daily driveability
- Exhaust note lacks emotive engagement like AMGs of yore
- Much of its power is hidden away in the upper reaches of the powerband
- Ponderous transmission is always hunting for the right gear at low city speeds
Ladies and gentlemen, feast your eyes on it.
This is the (takes deep breath) Mercedes-AMG C 43 4MATIC. As the entry-level AMG C-Class offering, the C43 has a lot to live up to, especially since enthusiasts wail and mourn the loss of 2 cylinders from the erstwhile biturbo six-cylinder C43. But then, if you think about it, the entire C-Class lineup is a showcase of 4-cylinder offerings, AMG or not.
If you’re thinking this is just a show pony with an AMG badge slapped on just for display, you’ve got another thing coming. Mercedes has kitted the C43 with rear-wheel steering as standard for added nimbleness, a rear-biased AMG Performance 4Matic permanent all-wheel drive system, and AMG Ride Control adaptive dampers to the equation. And yes, this engine does follow Affalterbach’s ‘One Man, One Engine’ philosophy, although this one is a bit more complicated than that of yesteryears.
The four cylinder at the heart of the car is the same as the one on the much celebrated A45s, boasting 405bhp with 500 nm of torque at 5000 rpm. On paper, the power figures are very healthy, which represent a slight bump upwards over the older six cylinder’s 385bhp headline number, but given that peak horsepower is achieved nearer to the limits of the rev band (6750 rpm). And this can be felt in city driving in comfort mode, where the muscle of the engine is noticeably stowed away higher up in the power band. A torque heavy AMG monster of yore this is certainly not; you’ll have to rev it out for maximum thrills (more on this in a minute).
What’s it like on the inside?
While the C43 reeks quality on the inside, it’s very familiar if you’ve sat in any other current-gen C-Class. That said, it’s immediately impressive, in particularly the dials on the AMG-themed leather-wrapped flat-bottom steering wheel that allow you to customise the ride, handling, and nature of the C to your liking. With AMG-specific graphics on the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and the 11.9-inch touchscreen system, it makes for a very plush place to be in, particularly with the carbon fiber-esque trim running through the dash and microfiber on the seats. A special mention to the Burmester sound system, which is fantastic as always.
But there’s a question more pressing that must be first addressed…
What’s it like to drive?
Fire up the C43 with the Emotion Start, and she comes to life with a subtle roar. Very refined, very subtle. Very unlike classic AMGs.
Push off and get her up to speed, and you’ll notice the C43 boasts velcro-like grip and levels of predictability, which makes flinging it about second nature in a matter of minutes. Don’t overthink it; just trust the 4MATIC system to step in if you ever get ahead of yourself. I don’t have the preternatural talent to reach the limits of adherence of this neutral-handling sports saloon, but I am savvy enough to note that the steering feel is quite numb, a disappointing aspect for a sedan with sporty aspirations.
Equally confounding is Mercedes’ transmission tuning, with the nine-speed auto fishing for the right gear at times at low city speeds, but this is a known characteristic of this gearbox, which calls for some Jedi-like feel of the force to make the most of it and drive around its quirks.
It displays none of these foibles when driven hard. The C43 comes into its element on the open road. Flick it into sports plus by spinning the delicious looking dials on the steering wheel, and you forget all the talk about 48-volt mild-hybrid system this, and F1-derived electric exhaust gas turbocharger that. Just as you wonder where those 400 horses have wandered off to in the city, since they’re quite conspicuous by their absence when you’re moving at a canter, it comes to the fore when you ask it to gallop. The C43 is happiest at full chat, with an open road and limitless horizons in the distance. A mere badge engineered job, this is not.
Yet, I do find myself wishing that the C43 had a bit more dramatic persona. It certainly doesn’t feel or sound like a 400 BHP car, especially in Comfort mode. The old, wild times saw some crazy turbo antics, with uncooked fuel tossed willy-nilly into the turbo, creating a cacophony of pops, bangs, and fiery exhaust theatrics that would amuse the child within. The C43’s electric exhaust gas turbocharger is more of an engineer’s wet dream, calculating and measured at all times, and muted to boot. Loud and proud, the C43 is not.
What it is, is Mercedes through and through; elegant, eye-catching, graceful, oozing luxe, and with more than enough muscle when you need to put the pedal to the metal and make a go of it. It feels like the more serious, grown-up big brother of the A45S, which has more license to play around a bit.
What do you make of it then?
The C43 is a more than capable daily driver, thanks to the adaptive dampers and ample ground clearance, and it certainly boasts more than enough power on tap.
However, I must say that no one buys an AMG with the head. It’s a heart decision through and through, and the C43 doesn’t tug at my heartstrings in the way the A45s or even the A35 does.
No, this isn’t another “hurr, AMGs should have a V8” or “durr, only milk comes in 2 liters” ramble. The question is not about the size of the engine, but about soul. Not just the lack of it (in this writer’s opinion) in the C43, but the soul of AMG. The days of stuffing firecrackers down the front of Mercedes’ seem to be behind us, and AMG is now seemingly moving towards becoming a brand of nimble nuance, and away from the pantomime performances it was so good at.
At ₹98 lakh ex-showroom (and some ₹1.2 crores on road in Mumbai), the C43 sits in something of a no-man’s land; not as good a sporty luxe offering as the E53 AMG (with a six-cylinder engine, no less) for a little more, and not as sporty as the A45s, the C43 finds itself in a difficult position. That’s without even mentioning the M340i shaped elephant in the room, which is significantly cheaper (if not as luxe), just as fast (and likely faster), and with a six-cylinder engine to boot.
The bottom-line: look elsewhere if you’re looking for outright thrills; the C43 is too sensible to give in to your antics and brazen buffoonery.