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Mercedes-AMG C43 long-term review

By Dylan Campbell, 08 Jul 2017 Reviews

Mercedes-AMG C43 long-term review feature

Is the new C43 a ‘proper’ AMG? Time to find out

Introduction: Lesser the Better?

It pays to keep an open mind, but not so open that your brain falls out.

And so it was with a gentle skepticism we learned of Mercedes-AMG’s new C43 – the all-wheel drive, 270kW twin-turbo V6 baby brother (AMG would tell you) of the mega V8 C63.

Yet not too many moons ago this upstart sibling was called a C450 AMG Sport. In a recent upgrade to its auto transmission, from seven to nine speeds, Mercedes also thought it’d upgrade the name. Hmm.

Of course, it’s not uncommon for car manufacturers to try to get as much value out of their performance brands as possible. Car Company A cooks up something with a bit of spice, attaches the badges of its go-fast division and then adjusts the price accordingly – only for punters to find it’s the motoring equivalent of a korma when they were hoping for a blistering vindaloo.

We’re not suggesting these are Mercedes’ shenanigans with its new line of 43-badged AMG products (there’s also an E43, SLC43, GLE43 and GLC43 – phew!). It’s just that, prior to driving the C43 we desperately hoped it had the go-fast ability as promised by the badges.

Because if it did, a ‘baby V6 C63’ – for $50K less – would be a mighty attractive offer and enough to make BMW and Audi squirm with the 340i and S4, particularly given the strength of the AMG brand in Oz.

So... is the C43 a proper AMG, or a tepid pretender with an identity crisis? We’ve got six months to find out.

A glance over the specs certainly gets one nodding. With 270kW and 520Nm from its 3.0-litre ‘biturbo’ V6, the C43’s outputs almost identically match those of last decade’s C55 AMG (back when a Benz badge actually related to engine capacity).

At $101,900 the sedan is the cheapest of the C43 quartet, the Estate $104,400, Coupe $105,615 and Cabrio $119,900. All come loaded to the hilt with standard equipment.

On paper, though, one thing especially jumps out and that’s the ‘4MATIC’ all-wheel drive. The C43 sedan comes with a permanent 33/67 front-to-rear split. No doubt helpful in hitting that 4.7sec claimed 0-100km/h time, but there’s something about this particular all-wheel drive system that, from the outset, and in an AMG sports sedan, feels a bit too sensible. If rear-drive was deemed suitable for the 375kW Merc C63, why not the 270kW C43?

Though its 0-100km/h time wouldn’t be as impressive, imagining the C43 with rear-drive and a limited slip diff almost doubles the amount of salivation. Of course, many customers will appreciate the security of all-wheel drive, and many might even be attracted by it, but it seems to us all-wheel drive in an AMG sedan should be some desperate last resort for when the rear bags simply can’t take any more, a la E63 S.

Yes, there’s a rear bias – on paper – but how does it translate to the real world? We will find out next month, where we start to get a proper taste of the C43. Please may it burn our mouths off.

MONTH ONE

Claimed combined consumption: 8.2L/100km
Starting kilometres: 1055km
Duration: 6 months

Liked: Plenty of AMG-ness going on
Disliked: Metal interior trims scalding in summer
Favourite moment: Opening the taps for the first time. Jesus, it’s loud.

Update 1: Still the Real Deal

The C43 is fast, loud, and deserves its AMG badge

This month we’ve been getting to know our new Mercedes-AMG C43 long-termer and there’s one question we’re very eager to answer: is this thing a ‘real’ AMG or should Mercedes have stuck to calling it a C450 AMG Sport?

For readers not familiar, not too long ago this car was called exactly that – a C450 AMG Sport, suggesting that from the get-go the company thought it might be just a little bit too soft for the exclusive three-character AMG nomenclature. But in a recent update – where the only change was the fitment of a new, nine-speed auto – Mercedes also upgraded the badges. Which made us suspicious.

2017 Mercedes AMG C43 engine

And now, having spent a few thousand kilometres in AMG’s new baby, we can confirm they got the name wrong – in calling it a C450 to begin with. Yep, we are relieved to say, the 270kW twin-turbo 3.0-litre V6 C43 deserves to sit below the C63 as an AMG product. Although anybody thinking this is a C63 Junior would be mistaken. Though obviously based on the same chassis and platform, from a performance perspective, these are two very different cars.

The C43 has fundamentally an entirely unique personality to the C63. Whereas its $155,615 V8 big brother has a burbly, menacing hot-rod exhaust note; and in trying to put 375kW through two rear wheels is just an unhinged kind of car; the C43 almost channels some A45 AMG in the way it goes about its business.

2017 Mercedes AMG C43 rear

With four-wheel drive the C43 is a much more secure-handling car than the C63 without any of the latter’s wheel-spinning histrionics. You plant it in the C43 and it just converts your command to forward momentum without fuss or blinking ESP lights.

We will get a Mercedes-AMG C63 and compare them at some point but the C43 also feels to have a much more conservative chassis tune. This is a car whose front tyres let go much sooner than the rears. And unlike the C63, in which you can neutralise understeer in obvious ways, it takes more technique to get the best out of the C43. (There’ll be a track update at some point in which we’ll drill down into the C43’s handling personality.)

2017 Mercedes AMG C43 roof

The C43’s ride is also very interesting. It’s sporty, cat’s eyes thumping into the cabin like the car is full of rose-joints, even in Comfort mode. But fundamentally the C43’s suspension errs on the softer side, almost too much so, to the point it’s wanting for some body control over big, long bumps. The result is a sometimes springy, bouncy ride at highway speeds where the body takes more than one movement to settle. Interestingly the ride is almost better in Sport Plus where the firmed-up dampers keep the C43’s body movements more in check.

But there are two things that hit home to us that the C43 is a deserving AMG and that’s its speed and noise. Our car has the optional $4990 Performance Package which gets you the ‘Dinamica’ microsuede steering wheel as seen in the C63; the C63’s snug Performance front seats and the Performance exhaust. This $5K, we suspect, really puts the AMG into the C43. It’s properly loud, with an aggressive and addictive crack on its swift upshifts and a V6 howl not unlike a Jaguar F-Type. The noise alone is causing the C43 to win hearts in the MOTOR office.

2017 Mercedes AMG C43 driving fast

And the speed. This car is FAST, surprisingly so. Merc claims 0-100km/h in 4.9 fuss-free all-wheel drive seconds, and we don’t doubt it. So it’s so far, so good with the C43. It might be more straight-laced than the C63 but there’s no denying they’re blood relatives. What a relief.

MONTH TWO

Fuel this month: 8.04L/100km
Average: 8.04L/100km
Distance this month: 1155km
Total: 2160km

Liked: Plenty of AMG-ness going on
Disliked: Metal interior trims scalding in summer
Favourite moment: Opening the taps for the first time. Jesus, it’s loud.

Update 2: Inside Story

We’re quite fond of the C43’s interior

Column inches are always bulging with driving impressions at MOTOR to the point that often we don’t get to talk interiors enough.

And it’s important: a car could drive like it was built in the factories of heaven but if being in it was like sitting on a pallet in an Iraqi prison, you probably wouldn’t be so keen for that blissful driving road to go on forever.

Much was made of the new W205 Mercedes C-Class interior when it launched and let’s be frank straight up, it’s a lovely place to sit. Three months in to our C43 long-termer, we genuinely look forward to jumping in for any drive no matter how long. A near perfect seating position is achievable, for this 173cm scribe at least, and the electrically-adjustable Performance seats – pinched from the C63, and part of a $4990 optional Performance Package – look great, are terrifically supportive and comfortable.

With these seats and the microsuede on the steering wheel you could be sitting in a C63. And if part of the reason you’re keen to lay down $106,890 (as-tested) is for a quality, luxo-feeling interior, you’ll be very happy with the C43.

Having now spent more than 4000km in 1IC-6RE, the relationship is truly deepening and we want things to go further. It’s charming other testers in the office. And we’re not only ‘getting’ the whole concept of a snorting, turbo V6 all-wheel drive C-Class with AMG badges, but warming to it.

But it’s not all been fairyfloss and kittens. We must take issue with Merc’s infotainment system, COMAND. We’ve gone through all its menus, tried to learn its shortcuts and have given ourselves time to get used to it. The verdict is in: it’s far more complicated to use than it needs to be.

It’s not quite right that a sense of relief washes over us whenever we get into the C43 and notice everything is already sorted. Radio is already on the right station? Thank god. Phone already connected? Phew. And we’ve never been more grateful for a good voice control system – the COMAND’s is top-notch – as entering addresses is a breeze and means we don’t have to manually enter it into the system. And subsequently commit homicide.

To get the best out of the COMAND system it feels like you’d need to sit down with a Mercedes person and have them spend a morning training you on its use, which says something about its intuitiveness. And even then, we don’t think it would be superior to the systems of its German rivals.

Next, the cruise control: excellent at maintaining speed up and down hills. Can’t turn the radar bit off? A little annoying. Fortunately you CAN turn off the feature where the car “drives” itself down the road. The semi-autonomous “Steer Control” will, with the cruise control on, steer the car down the freeway with no hands – until it starts chiming at you to put them back on.

mercedes-amg c43 driving

Great for removing lids off drink bottles when you’re doing the long-haul solo, but we’ve no clue what else people would use it for, particularly as it can get confused easily if the lane markings themselves go awry.

But, again, there’s an off switch for this. And the infotainment system? It lets the interior team down a bit, as everything else – material quality, fit and finish, roominess, aesthetics – is more or less fantastic.

The clunky COMAND is far from deal breaking and you can learn to get along with it. You’ll need to, as the C43’s interior is a place you’ll be wanting to spend time.

INNER WORKINGS

1. IN STEREO
The standard Burmester system certainly looks cool (the speaker covers) and we’d describe it as ‘not the best we’ve heard, but good’. We’re not audio reviewers but our sense is, to most ears it will be more than satisfactory.

2. SCREEN PLAY
Classy iPad-esque screen not touch responsive, and doesn’t fold away, but display does switch off.

3. HEADS-UP!
Heads-up display shows speed and navi info. There’s also an AMG mode with quasi-shift lights and gear position.

4. ON P-R-N-D
As it does for most models now, Merc shuns a centre console transmission lever for this simple, space-creating if somewhat emotionless selector stalk on the steering column.

5. NICE WHEEL
Dinamica (Merc’s version of Alcantara) covers the main touchy bits of the optional Performance wheel. It’s lovely, if at times a little slippery, and worth keeping in mind how it’s going to wear. We recently saw a GLA45 Edition One, a few years old now, and the Dinamica wheel was surprisingly worn. Perhaps AMG should take a tip from Audi, who flip the microsuede/leather arrangement which is almost nicer to hold and might wear better.

MONTH THREE

Fuel this month: 9.2L/100km
Average: 8.6L/100km
Distance this month: 1965km
Total: 4123km

Liked: Sitting in it, for any amount of time
Disliked: Weird rattle in sunroof over cat’s eyes – what’s with that?
Favourite moment: Seeing 850km distance-to-empty after a fill

Update 3: Grand Touring

Yes, you’d drive the C43 for driving’s sake

If you buy a sporty car, you want to know that, when the craving to go on a long drive down a very twisty road strikes, your chosen wheels will satisfy the urge.

Of course, the challenge is often buying a car that’s going to give us this fix, but one that we can drive on a daily basis while maintaining sanity.

With our Mercedes-AMG C43 long termer we’ve basically established that it’s a great companion for the daily grind. A nicely appointed interior with loads of genuinely helpful technologies, a decent ride, generous standard equipment and fantastic seats, all make it a joy to use on a daily basis.

But there are plenty of cars out there like this. The real skill lies in making these cars docile and cruisey when you want them to be, but then growing horns when the road turns twisty.

To test the C43’s ability to switch personalities, we took it across the Great Alpine Road, 312km connecting Wangaratta to Bairnsdale over the Victorian mountains. Mount Hotham, the ski field, is in the middle, at the road’s highest point – and indeed, this is Australia’s highest sealed road.

Checking the weather having not really crossed our mind like it might in a rear-drive car, we make our way from Melbourne 325km to Bright, a trip that isn’t the slightest bit onerous in the comfortable C43. Bright is a great town, a hub for hikers and mountain bikers in the warmer months with surprisingly good pubs, bars, burger joints and cafes. There’s decent accommodation, and a BP with Ultimate.

Leaving early the next morning as the sun rises, with blue-tinted mountains through the windscreen, the road becomes tight and twisty as you start going up in altitude. And it’s here I feel like I’ve made a mistake.

Perhaps it’s too early, perhaps I’m a long way from the driving ‘groove’, but the C43 is more frustrating than fun, owing mostly to second and third feeling more like cousins than siblings, odd in a car with a nine-speed auto. But it means second’s not there when you go to intuitively select it under brakes, so you can over-slow the car and get an engine revving too high; or end up lower in the revs in third than you’d like as you go to punch out of the corner.

The electronics also seem to cut the power slightly (and frustratingly) if you get on the gas early and aggressively – exactly what you thought you could do in an all-wheel drive car.

Fortunately the 270kW twin-turbo V6 C43 goes hard and sounds great with a hilarious crack on upshifts and crackles on the overrun. The brakes feel awesome, the steering is pointy and communicative and the seats nice and supportive.

2017 Mercedes-AMG C43: long-term review, update 2

After a coffee at Dinner Plain at the top of the mountains, it’s a fast drive to the small town of Omeo, followed by one of the best stretches of road in Australia as you snake along the Tambo River. And this is where all former memories of the C43 vanish: it is effing awesome, coming alive when the lowest gear you’ll ever want is third, and when traction is not important.

By god, the C43 is fast for what it is – and super competent. A conservative understeer-biased chassis tune invites you to stay on the brakes right into the corner, just to make sure the rear end is awake, and turns the drive from dull to thrilling. We get out at the end stunned at what the C43 can do – and immensely satisfied. There’s even a temptation to return to Melbourne back the way we came. Which – credit to the C43 – says it all, really.

MONTH FOUR

Fuel this month: 12.1L/100km
Average: 9.8L/100km
Distance this month: 2038km
Total: 6161km

Liked: Grunt, snug seats, noise, front end, awesome brakes
Disliked: Understeer bias; too-short second gear; 19.8L/100km if you’re up it
Favourite moment: Tambo River stretch of the Great Alpine Road

Update 4: Big Brother

Same bodystyle, yet two strikingly different performance cars

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.

Mercedes AMG C43 Mercedes AMG C63 engine
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.

Performance Car Podcast: Mercedes-AMG C63 S

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.

Mercedes AMG C63 rear

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.

Mercedes-AMG V8 sales booming

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.

Mercedes AMG C43 Mercedes AMG C63 front
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.

2017 Mercedes-AMG E43 Review

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’. 

Update 5: Conclusion 

A fond farewell to our C43....

THE C43 is deserving of a Mercedes-AMG badge, but in the same way an A45 is – rather than a C63.

While it has a boy-racer exhaust note, tightly-hugging sports seats and lashings of Dinamica microsuede, the C43 is the accountant who rides around on a Harley-Davidson on the weekend, complete with studded leather jacket and matte-black open-face helmet.

Check out the other long term reviews on the Mercedes-AMG C43 

Mercedes AMG C43 frontThis is our principal finding of the C43 after six months in the MOTOR stable: it’s very fast, and very loud, but beneath its shouty veneer, it’s actually quite sensible.

Back at Month One, we wondered why a 270kW C43 had all-wheel drive, where a 375kW C63 was deemed okay with merely rear-wheel drive. With a 33/67 front-rear torque split, we hoped the C43 would offer the wet weather security of all-wheel drive, but still with that satisfying rear-drive feeling when you wanted it.

It turns out its basic 4MATIC all-wheel drive system is more a safety than performance feature, one that would greatly benefit from a rear limited-slip differential.

Mercedes AMG C43 side profileIn fairness, the C43 wouldn’t have done 4.61sec to 100km/h at the strip last month – nor a 12-second quarter, 12.87sec at 174.03km/h – without the front axle chipping in. It’s effing quick on the open road, too.

Interestingly, you’d think the C43 would love the really tight, slower corners, where that all-wheel drive traction can come to the fore, but it doesn’t, the electronics trimming power frustratingly as you attempt to pick up the throttle early and aggressively.

 Mercedes-AMG Project One hypercar details

In the tight stuff, this might be a better car with the electronics all off. We don’t know. It’s in the third and fourth gear corners – where you’re not taking advantage of the all-wheel drive system whatsoever – that the C43 comes alive.

Mercedes AMG C43 engineIt is seriously fast, with an addictive V6 howl; hilariously anti-social cracks on upshifts; strong, feelsome and capable brakes; an eager front end and, though the static grip balance also feels 33/67 front-rear, you can shift it more towards 50/50 or even further, by carrying more and more brake to the apex.

Mercedes-AMG V8 sales booming

The C43 then becomes a very satisfying car to drive fast. In fact, it’s easy to get completely carried away having a decent punt in this car, only to find wooden brakes days later and evidence of your weekend ‘activities’ showing all over the shoulders of the front tyres.

This, also, is a car you could lose your licence in. The C43 is a very comfortable daily driver but amongst those slaving away at MOTOR HQ, the jury is out on the suspension tune.

Mercedes AMG C43 driving

While it’s far from rock hard – in fact, it’s quite supple – cat’s eyes bizarrely thud, harshly, into the interior, as do joins in the road.

The body can also feel oddly floaty over big bumps at 100km/h. “You could get seasick in this thing,” remarked a more wimpy member of MOTOR staff. (Me? Yeah, ride-wise, it’s no Bentley, but I could put up with it no problems.)

Some staffers also complain the C43 lacks refinement. Should you get one? If you don’t care for that rear-drive feeling, and actually quite like the idea of traction and security as well as power, you’ll like the C43.

We’ve loved living with it – its nice interior, near-perfect driving position, many helpful electronic aids and fantastic-feeling major controls.

Mercedes AMG C43 wheelNo gripes have been deal-breaking. Most MOTOR readers will consider the $4990 Performance Package, which gets you C63 seats, steering wheel and the louder exhaust, good value.

Without it, the car loses about 50 per cent of its personality. So, the C43 is not a twin-turbo V6 C63 – but neither is it some soft slow-poke with undeserving AMG badges. It’s its own thing, a new flavour on the AMG menu.

One we’d order again. 

Liked: the noise; don’t underestimate how fast it is
Disliked: all-wheel drive system, way too sensible

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