The Mercedes-AMG C43 does not exist, as you might think, in the long shadow of its brilliant bigger brother, the thundering C63. In fact, both are remarkably different performance cars for the same bodystyle, with neither approach being objectively the ‘best’.
Of course, while they look alike, both our long-term C43 test car, and the AMG C63 S we’ve snatched for this quick experiment, are very different. The C63 S, coming in at $155,615, is rear-drive, has a thumping 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 (that feels 6.0 litres), belts out 375kW/700Nm and is good for 0-100km/h in a claimed 4.0sec.
The C43, with the Performance Package as fitted to our long-termer (which gets you a louder exhaust and the seats and steering wheel out of the C63), is an almost unbelievable $48,725 cheaper. So for the price of a C63, with no options, you could buy a C43 and a VW Golf GTI Performance... and have a year’s worth of fuel money leftover for one of them.
At $106,890 the C43 sports a twin-turbo 3.0-litre V6, sending its 270kW and 520Nm through all-wheel drive, and claiming 0-100km/h in 4.7sec. At 1690kg it’s 40kg less than the C63.
Plonk someone in either car and the only clues they’ll have that they’re in a C63 are the two subtle bonnet ridges, some extra AMG interior badges and a redline of 7000rpm instead of 6500. But that’s it.
Of course, push the starter button and the jig is up if it wasn’t already, the C63 idling with a satisfying, fast-paced and recognisable V8 burble.
It feels only subtly different around town, the ride a little tighter (the C43’s vertical body movements can be quite exaggerated) and the brakes requiring a fraction less effort.
It’s when you go to use the power that the C63 reveals itself to be a very different car to the C43. First 90-degree corner, in the wet, half throttle and you’ll be triggering the C63’s electronics. In the wet it wants to oversteer... everywhere.
While the electronics very much tame the C63 when fully on, this is still a somewhat unhinged car. Even experienced drivers need to keep their wits about them in the wet, and yet how often do you see people driving these things who you’d be surprised to see at a track day?
By comparison the C43 is a doddle in damp conditions. Its permanent all-wheel drive lets you stomp the throttle as hard as you want in any situation. No wheelspin here – it just matter-of-factly puts its power to the ground. In a wet drag race, the C43 would smoke a C63, to 100 at least.
And up a damp, tight and twisty road, with equal drivers, the C43 would pull away as the C63 struggled to put its power down.
But we know who would be having more fun. Depending on how comfortable you are with a rear-drive car with far more power than it really needs, the C63 is a total laugh. Sport ESP mode allows a surprising amount of slip, that awesome V8 spiking revs with wheelspin and titillating the bits of your brain only a V8 can. (Well, mine anyway.)
Call us uncultured philistines, but it makes us wonder if the C43 would have been better with just rear-drive and a limited slip diff. We suspect so, but then it’s a not really the same car. It’s like saying a chicken burger would be better with a beef patty.
Of course you can’t help but wonder if a 315kW rear-drive V8 – a C63 ‘lite’ – would work well at $125K. There is quite a gap inviting plugging.
But fuss-free all-wheel drive system aside, the C43 entertains in different ways. With the optional exhaust, it is hilariously loud on upshifts and downshifts. It’s a good-sounding V6. Its handling is precise and satisfying, the rear still able to be ‘excited’ using the brakes on turn-in. And it’s still mighty fast.
In the dry, the C63 would smoke a C43 in every instance except maybe the first 10 metres, and it’s subjectively more fun. But both cars approach the idea of going fast in surprisingly different ways – the operative word being different, as both ways are effective, engaging and neither is ‘right’.