► CAR's verdict on C43 saloon
► Second-fastest C-class
► Sprint to 62mph in 4.7sec
The C43 is one of many Mercedes cars currently offered with the same bi-turbo 3.0-litre V6 powertrain, from the SLC roadster to the E-Class estate, and it’s one of literally dozens of C-Class saloons.
On paper, it’s very similar to the C43 coupe and estate but none of that means you can guess or calculate what it’s really like. There’s only one way to find out: drive it.
The raw ingredients
This generation of C-Class is the first in the UK to be available with 4matic all-wheel drive. It’s an option on the 200, 220d and 250d, and it’s the only system available on this car, the C43 AMG.
The aim of the rear-biased system is to give better traction and stability than the regular C-Class rear-wheel-drive set-up could provide in extreme conditions or during hard driving. It comes with 9G-tronic nine-speed gearbox; an automatic with paddles for manual changes.
The gearshift is tweaked along with the steering weight and damper settings as you scroll through the driving modes using a switch to the left of the info controller, which sits where a gearlever would go in a manual; the auto gear selector is, in traditional Mercedes style, a stalk on the steering column.
The C43’s 3.0-litre twin-turbo petrol V6 makes 362bhp at a lively 5500rpm and a useful 384lb ft of torque from 2000rpm. It comes with 18in wheels, or optional 19s. There’s a twin-tailpipe exhaust system, tinted glass and LED lights.
The polished interior
The C43 strikes a good compromise between sportiness and saloon-car normality. The seats, for instance, are supportive but not racetrack-hard, and fully adjustable. It’s swankier than the Audi S4, although there’s nothing particularly plush.
Equally there’s nothing too stripped back or done purely for effect - at least not where it matters. The pedals are bare metal and the seatbelts are red, but there’s as much infotainment as anyone could handle.
Sit in the back and you have as much room and comfort as in any other C-Class, and a better soundtrack from the engine. The standard audio is good, and the optional upgrade is even better.
What’s AMG’s contribution?
The line between Mercedes cars (comfy, refined) and AMG cars (power upgrades, and chassis upgrades to handle the extra power) is no longer as clear as it once was. The badge is handed out far more liberally these days, but it still means a lot.
Although the 43 engine is regarded as a second-tier AMG unit when compared to the 109bhp-more-powerful V8 that’s used in the C63 (and many other Mercs), it’s a serious bit of kit. It’s not just about big figures; there’s also a feel and an attitude that ties this car into AMG’s serious road and track heritage.
So yes, there are some slightly showy-offy AMG logos on the brake calipers and door sills, and there are bits of bodykit that may be more cosmetic than anything else, but step from a non-AMG C-Class into this and you know you’re in a different, more special place.
Flick up through the driving modes – from Eco through Comfort to Sport, Sport+ and the DIY-customisable Individual set-up – and you experience an increasingly bracing driving experience. The steering gets heavier, the ride stiffens, the transmission works harder to help you keep on charging hard, and the noise level increases, gratuitously but wonderfully (or you can reduce the noise a bit at the push of a button if you’d rather keep it low key).
You’d need to be an extremely committed driver (or possibly a psychopath) to think that this didn’t add up to more than enough for road use. Which isn’t to say that there’s no place for the 63, but this works a treat. A bit of a blunt instrument, perhaps, but one that combines usable power, strong brakes and trustworthy handling.
Does it work as everyday transport?
The potency of the C43’s hard-charging performance is all the more impressive when you ease off, dial down, chill out and discover that the same car does a pretty good impersonation of a normal saloon.
It’s comfortable, reasonably roomy front and rear, with a decent boot and a full complement of safety and entertainment kit.
When used gently, the engine disappears into the background and provides smooth, reasonably economical motive force, the auto transmission clicking near seamlessly through the nine ratios. The ride quality in these circumstances isn’t as good as you’d expect from a non-AMG C-Class.
That’s at least in part down to the low-profile tyres on the big alloys – there’s only so much they can do over speed bumps and potholes. It’s worth switching between Comfort and Sport in search of the settings that are best suited to any given road surface; Comfort isn’t always the most comfortable.
Passengers might ultimately prefer the calm and comfort of a non-AMG model, but on shorter journeys they’ll have little to complain about so long as you can resist the temptation provided by having 362bhp under your right foot.
The C43 gets better the more you drive it. At first, it can feel heavy and slightly awkward, but once you’ve got a feel for the modes and the level of brake and accelerator pressure required in different circumstances, it’s a blast.
Switching between modes makes an appreciable difference to the whole experience, with everything from the steering wheel’s weight to the sound coming into the cabin contributing to the thrill when you up the pace.
That said, its handling is never laser-sharp or completely intuitive; it’s no Porsche. But the whole thing is wonderfully accomplished and friendly, as well as being quick.
Put your foot down and there’s a brilliant surge of acceleration. Do something sloppy, and the generally unintrusive safety aids will prompt you back into line.
Does the all-wheel drive help or hinder? At low speeds you will sometimes sense a little more mechanical grumbling than seems entirely necessary, but once you’re up to speed you forget all about it. If it’s ever helping out, it’s done so subtly that you don’t notice.
The Audi S4 offers similar excitement and practicality in a lower-key package, and rear-drive purists have a choice of excellent BMWs. This is a fine car. Not cheap, but very well-conceived and executed.
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