It’s funny what you miss when it’s gone. The first Mercedes-AMG C43 was a little left-field to really make a lasting impact when it was on sale, but it’s looked upon fondly by quite a few in the car enthusiast community.
Now, though, it’s back for the W206 generation of C-Class saloon and estate – and there’s only a quartet of cylinders…
It’s a four-cylinder now?
Yes, which may cause some grumbling for some. The old C43 was a hoot, thanks in part to its choral straight-six that was so loud that you’d think someone had decatted it straight out of Affalterbach. Now, though, the C43 has become another victim of Mercedes-AMG’s downsizing, lopping two cylinders off its technical specification sheet.
However, that four-cylinder is quite an engine in itself, given it’s the utterly bonkers mini nuclear reactor that also powers the A45 hyper hatch – a car we very much like. And, yes, while charisma isn’t as high up in its list of talents as the defunct six-cylinder’s, it still manages to do a stellar job of injecting some real thrill into the C-Class.
Sounds like AMG is skimping out on us….
Far from it, even if this isn’t the full fat 63 car. The C43 benefits from its own bespoke bodykit and wheel designs and four fat tailpipes sticking out of its backside on the outside, as well as AMG’s suite of driving technologies and tweakable modes as any other AMG does. Rear-wheel steering is standard now, the 4Matic all-wheel drive hardware is rear-biased at a fixed rate of 31 to 69 per cent, and there is now a 48v system on board which feeds the e-turbo and the belt-driven starter-generator.
Inside, the new and hot-ish C-class offers more space, comfort, refinement and technology than the previous generation; the sports seats are spot-on and the driving position suits all frames and postures. Even the standard UK trim (Premium) is good, offering Merc’s Digital Light matrix LED headlights, keyless go, electric memory seats, augmented-reality navigation, wireless charging and 360-degree parking aids out of the box.
So… how does the AMG C43 drive?
The Hulk-like nature of that angry four-cylinder makes its presence known quickly – the C43 is a damn quick car, and not even that much slower than the previous-generation, V8-powered AMG C63. Acceleration feels relentless if, perhaps, not quite as rabid as in the A45. The extra weight (over the A45) and body shape help to restrain that anger, turning the unstable nuke into under the bonnet into something more akin to a laser-guided missile.
AMG engineers have also clearly made an effort to transform this potent four-cylinder into a properly sporty-sounding engine (albeit with a smidge of digital enhancement), with deep burbling grumbles and attuned higher notes as the revs build.
And, yes, while all that additional performance engineering adds weight (to the point that the weight-savings by downsizing have been all but negated), but the new C43 feels a little more neutral and thus a little less nose-heavy. It’s a car that you can be heavy-handed with and it’ll be forgiving in response, allowing you to confidently throw it into corners and it’ll spit you out the other end in relatively reasonable shape. It’s a behavioural characteristic not dissimilar to a VW Golf R – neutral but confidence inspiring, allowing you to cover more ground faster and faster.
The downsides? Well, the AMG-tuned suspension is super firm for a start, meaning generous feedback of anything but freshly-laid tarmac will be translated entirely up your backside. Then there’s the nine-speed auto that, frankly, at times barely knows whether it’s coming or going – particularly when crawling at low speeds or pulling up to a traffic light. It doesn’t particularly translate into a calming experience if you just want to get home after a long day, for example.
Verdict: Mercedes-AMG C43
Right from the moment you prod the starter button, you’re well aware the C43 is up for a laugh on your morning commute or more than capable of going cross country in record time – like it’s encouraging you to live a little. It’s fun, and gives the C-Class a bit of an edge without losing sight of the car’s base characteristics as a small exec saloon.
It’s not perfect – the dual-clutch gearbox is immensely clunky at low speeds and the suspension almost feels brittle – but it’s easy to get sucked into, and then enjoy, the performance on offer.