A lack of character from the C 43 is surprising given its A 45 S-derived powertrain, but the driving dynamics are more akin to a quick C-Class rather than an exhilarating AMG product. What the C 43 does well is retain most of the brilliant qualities of the C-Class, majoring on refinement, equipment levels and a quality interior.
The current C-Class nails the brief of a premium compact executive saloon that focuses on a smooth ride and cutting-edge technology thanks to a greater influence from the S-Class limo than ever before. Now AMG has shifted that focus to a sportier experience with the new Mercedes-AMG C 43.
Much has been discussed about AMG’s downsizing of its engines – perhaps most notably the C 63 now features a four-cylinder plug-in hybrid rather than a V8. The new C 43 hasn’t been able to escape downsizing either, going from a V6 to a four-cylinder.
The goal of this is to improve efficiency figures and on that front the new-generation C 43 does marginally better than its predecessor’s 209g/km, emitting 202g/km. More important is how the new car drives and, with the AMG moniker, not to mention the lofty £71,255 price tag, the C 43 really needs to deliver on that front.
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Look at the numbers and you feel a little underwhelmed. Yes, the C 43’s 402bhp is 40bhp more than before, but torque has dropped by 20Nm to 500Nm. The saloon also weighs 101kg more than the old version, so despite that extra power, the C 43 is only 0.1 seconds quicker from 0-62mph than before.
The turbocharged four-cylinder engine is the same M139 unit taken from the latest A 45 S. In Mercedes’ hottest hatch it feels like a peach, and it’s clever too, with 48-volt mild-hybrid assistance adding 14bhp of boost at low speeds to help negate any lag. Power goes through a nine-speed automatic transmission to all four wheels, rather than the eight-speed unit in the A 45 S.
Pulling away in the C 43 you don’t really notice any input of electrification. In Comfort mode the powertrain is quiet and sets the standard-fit adaptive dampers to their softest setting, making it ride just as smoothly as a regular C-Class. Aside from the AMG sports seats and smatterings of AMG badges around the cabin, you may even think you’re behind the wheel of a C 220 if you’re pottering about.
Turn the steering wheel-mounted driving mode dial to Sport or Sport+ and the powertrain returns more rapid gearshifts, plus sharper throttle response and steering. What is immediately more noticeable is the engine noise – it’s an entirely different note from the old V6 and a bit muted compared to the A 45 S, even with some of the sound being piped through the speakers.
There may not be a huge improvement in straight-line performance over the previous C 43, but the electric motor always has the turbocharger ready in waiting so there’s a real eagerness no matter what gear you’re in. The surge of power diminishes slightly in the higher reaches of the rev range though.
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Sitting on Mercedes’ MRA platform, the latest C-Class is bigger than the old model and really does feel like a miniature S-Class these days. For a sportier driving experience, the C 43 sends up to 69 per cent of power to the rear wheels – which also benefit from a rear-wheel steering system for some extra cornering agility.
That supposed agility to come to the fore when you’re tackling some corners. The C 43 does its best work when you’re making use of the grip levels rather than pushing it out of shape. That’s because the quick steering doesn’t communicate the road surface too much; it seems set up for comfort-oriented cruising rather than spirited driving.
There’s no getting away from the 1,840kg kerbweight – although this seems feather-light compared with the 2,165kg of the C 63. While body roll is well contained in the bends, you do notice the relative heft on the tyres. However, the brakes will stand up to tremendous punishment because they’re upgraded to ventilated six-piston calipers at the front, with 370mm brake discs and despite the stopping power the pedal feel isn’t too grabby either.
Mercedes claims the C 43 will do 31.7mpg on a combined cycle and while our test drive explored more of the dynamic abilities of the sporty saloon, we couldn’t get economy above the teens. So more 30mpg looks like quite a challenge to us.
As a fully fledged AMG, the C 43 has excellent equipment levels. The exterior might not have the beefed-up wheelarches of the C 63, but it does get a bespoke grille, sporty bumpers, rear diffuser, a quad exhaust system and standard-fit 19-inch wheels.
The entry-level £67,255 Premium comes with all of the above and a 360-degree camera, MBUX augmented reality (some that takes a while to get used to), adaptive headlights, wireless smartphone charging and a host of AMG-specific interior design tweaks such as red stitching on the upholstery and red seat belts. The Premium Plus costs an extra £4,000 but adds 20-inch wheels, a panoramic sunroof, an uprated sounds system, head-up display and four-zone climate control.
We expect the upcoming C 63 to cost from around £90,000, which is a significant increase over the C 43, but comes with an ever greater gap in performance thanks to its 671bhp powertrain. We can’t help but feel AMG should have closed this gap by giving the C 43 more of a driver-focused appeal to also help distance it from the C 300 – which most of the time it feels very similar to. For an extra £930 we’d recommend the C 43 Estate, which has all the same driving dynamics as the saloon but much more practicality.
|Model:||Mercedes-AMG C 43|
|Engine:||Turbocharged 2.0-litre, four-cylinder|
|Transmission:||Nine-speed automatic, four-wheel drive|