Mercedes-AMG C43 Coupé and Cabriolet review - How does the entry level AMG C-Class fare?
With over 360bhp, four-wheel drive and some sleek looks the new C43 is promising
What is it?
This is Mercedes’ entry level AMG C-Class. It is, to its bigger brother the C63, what Audi’s S5 is to the RS5. But because the C43 is part of the proper Affalterbach family, rather than just an AMG line, it has the power worthy of an AMG badge and four-wheel drive.
There’s also clear distinction between the way the C43 Coupé and Cabriolet look compared to the C63. The C43 doesn’t get the bulging, aggressive front arches that make the C63 look so menacing. It also has to make do with the sparkly grill from the lesser models and not the simpler horizontal bar. So, no one’s going to mistake a C43 for a C63 anytime soon.
Engine, transmission and 0-60 time
The C43 is powered by Mercedes’ V6 twin-turbo engine. Originally part of the BlueDIRECT family, AMG have breathed on it to give it 362bhp and 383lb ft of torque, the latter from as little as 2000rpm. Don’t be disillusioned by that low rpm figure though, the engine revs freely and quickly encouraging you to use the entire range. It does only rev to 6500rpm, but it’s a pleasure taking it right to the red line.
The throttle response is good too, and there’s very little lag even at low revs with the engine imbuing the C43 with a real sense of urgency. It will sprint to 62mph in 4.7sec (seventh tenths slower than a C63) and will easily run to its 155mph maximum, although it's unlikely to match its claimed 36.2mpg at that speed.
It's loud, too, with plenty of exhaust noise but it's not immediately recognisable as a V6. It's only when you get moving under load that you can hear some of the character percolate through. Ramp up the engine’s settings by selecting Sport or Sport+ and there’s plenty of pops and crackles from the exhaust. It’s more aggressive in the Coupé, where there can be a significant crack during certain gear changes; the Cabriolet is more sombre and relaxed.
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The nine-speed auto transmission is surprisingly quick. It changes up with alacrity and each gear engages crisply if you change at the correct moment, but ignore the prompts from the head-up display and wait right to the redline, and you’ll be left waiting for the next gear as the engine stumbles into a soft-limiter. It's only mildly frustrating compared to the C63. The ‘box can sometimes be reluctant to change down early, too, but be patient and the required gear will come to you as you need it.
The C43 is only available with four-wheel drive. Rather than going down the route of a complicated arrangement of clutch packs and computers that can send torque all round the car, Mercedes have kept it simple. There’s a centre diff that distributes the torque in a very promising rear biased manner with only 31% going to the front axle with the remaining 69% heading to the rear.
What’s it like to drive?
The C43 feels in no way a sub-C63, initially feeling sharper, more direct and firmer than its big brother. But, while this all sounds very promising, rather being a lighter more focused (but ultimately slower) C63 the driving experience is more akin to that of an Mercedes-AMG A45 where grip, pace and safety dominate the experience.
The steering lacks any contrived and excessive weight, feeling much daintier than a C63, which makes the whole car feel nimble and light. Paired with some firm suspension the C43 feels very agile on turn in but the steering doesn’t transmit any feedback through the wheel and the lack of body roll makes it incredibly difficult to judge the front tyre's grip level.
There’s a constant vagueness at the front, too, which increases mid corner. As you apply power the front goes light and the C43 begins to understeer, it's not catastrophic amounts and the four-wheel drive system does well to contain it, but it's still unexpected of an AMG product.
Sadly the C43 isn't a playful AMG. Applying more throttle to counteract the understeer has little effect, and trail braking makes very little difference either. If it wasn't for the four-wheel drive system limiting the understeer, you’d be easily forgiven for thinking the C43 was just front-wheel drive.
There is incredible traction out of every corner though, and as the C43 rockets away from the apex that agility and sprightliness is emphasized even more.
The body control is supremely tight in either Sport or Sport+ modes, to the point where the C43 could feel marginally over-damped. In Comfort mode the chassis relaxes, but the differences – as with each setting for all the different parts of the car – are subtle and the ride always remains fairly firm but controlled.
The AMG seats don’t help the C43 feel much more comfortable; they’re not the plush, deeply cushioned items you’d expect from a Mercedes. However, they offer very good support so the lack of out-right comfort can be forgiven.
The rest of the interior is typically Mercedes; quality materials, put together well but a touch too extravagant to be considered tasteful by some.
The Cabriolet variant offers much of the same experience as the Coupé, as the structure remains remarkably rigid. It must be said that the C43 copes much better without a roof than the bigger engined C63. There is perceptible movement from the steering column over rough roads from the more expensive powerful model, and there's shuffling noises from the roof when it’s closed too.
The C43 Cabriolet doesn’t feel as immediate nor as aggressive as the Coupé. It’s not that it feels significantly heavier though, but that the entire car has been calibrated to be more relaxed.
The C43 is certainly a quick car and will maintain a great pace down a back road. Drop some adverse weather conditions into the mix and you’d easily keep up with a C63. The smaller AMG also offers great quality, but the vague front end and lack of adjustability, sadly, stops it being much fun.
Price and rivals
If you’ve got £47,000 to spend and you desperately want a four-seat coupe that has over 350bhp you’ve got a few options.
The new Audi S5 is just short of the magic 350bhp figure mustering up only 349bhp, but we can forgive it just 1bhp. We’ve not driven it yet, but it looks sharp and you can expect the interior to be the best in class.
You could save a lot of money and opt for a Ford Mustang. Not only does it outshine the C43 in terms of power, it has 410bhp to the Merc’s 362bhp, but it’s £11,955 cheaper. However, the C43 is wieldier and feels of a much higher quality.
The C43’s biggest problem is from BMW. Not a 4 Series as you might imagine, the 440i M Sport is way down on power, but the M2. They both have six cylinder turbocharged engines separated by just 3bhp (the M2 has 365bhp) and cost approximately the same. The C43 is bigger and does have 4WD. However, it does cost a bit more and isn’t even in the same league when it comes to fun as the M2.