What is it?
Let’s wander back in time. Not far, just to, say, 1998. In the US, Bill Clinton says he didn’t have sexual relations with Monika Lewinsky. Over here, Tony Blair has just delivered peace to Northern Ireland and is, apparently, the new messiah. To celebrate all that’s good in the world, you’ve just splashed out on the recently introduced Mercedes C 43 AMG, with a stonking 306bhp. That’s plenty, you think.
Fast forward 20 years and things have changed. It turns out Bill told a porky, half the world is now at war, and unless you have a C 63 with up to 503bhp, you’re nobody. Or are you? You see, the Mercedes-AMG C 43 is back, but is ‘just’ 362bhp now enough to tickle your fancy?
That number comes from a 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6, plugged into a conventional nine-speed automatic rather than the C 63’s seven-speed MCT unit. It has 4Matic all-wheel drive as standard – there’s no rear-wheel drive option – but it’s biased to send 69% of the torque rearwards.
Although the C 43 might be considered an AMG-lite by some, Affalterbach hasn’t merely added power and said: ‘That’ll do.’ There are steering knuckles from the C 63 and more negative camber dialled into the front and rear geometry to allow the tyres more cornering bite. The menacing, wider track and flared arches of the C 63 are, sadly, off the menu, though.
What’s it like?
It’s not slow: 0-62mph is cracked in 4.7sec and the twin turbos boost up smartly, making the throttle responsive. They add guts low down, so it feels almost as rapid accelerating from 2000rpm in the gears, as it does running through them. Be diligent on the upshifts, mind, for a couple of reasons. It’s pretty keen to rev, and the illusory redline tricks you into looking like a fool: it says 6500rpm but, bizarrely, you career in to the limiter at just 6000rpm.
The 9G-tronic ’box is smooth when shifting automatically, but go all out with the settings – Dynamic Select switched to Sport +; gearbox in manual mode – and it punches up the gears with a flick of the paddle. It’s more obtrusive going down the gears, refusing to downshift if the revs will breach 4000rpm once the change is executed.
Sport + mode does other things, of course. It weights the steering, but not overtly, so it still builds resistance progressively and gives you a good sense of what the front end is up to. And it pops open the valves in the switchable exhaust.
Now, noise is subjective so you may think differently, but for us, it doesn’t sound that great. Sure, you get contrived barks on upshifts and crackles on the way down, but the main theme is an amplified V6 buzz, rather than orchestral, multi-cylinder symphony. If anything, this is the C 43’s biggest flaw, compared with the joyful noise of its bigger-capacity C 63 brother.
Normally, you get into a car like this and soften the suspension so it can cope with our woeful roads, but not this one. Comfort mode, you see, is soft, but in the manner of a bouncy castle. Every movement off a bump or crest takes a while to settle, especially at the rear, and because there’s always another undulation to hit, effectively you’re in a state of constant oscillation.
Stick it in its firmest setting and all that secondary motion vanishes, transforming the drive. There’s enough absorbency left to keep things stable as you hit an imperfection, but with more viscosity in the dampers, the aftermath is kept to one bounce only. Lateral roll, as you fling the C 43 hard into corners, is minimal, too.
Despite its rearward bias, the four-wheel drive doesn’t offer any of the C 63’s playfulness. Roll off the throttle on the way in to bends, or hoof it out, and you can sense some movement at the rear but, ultimately, it wants to push on at the front. To compensate, it delivers tremendous traction, firing you off an apex whatever the weather.
And for many, that will be fine, so long as it can keep you comfortable covering big distances. It can, with little wind noise and bearable tyre drone on motorways, but again Sport +, surprisingly, delivers the best ride. You need to put up with some heavier jolts but, overall, it’s better controlled so you’re not constantly wobbled this way and that.
Inside it’s well equipped and just as fancy to sit in as the rest of the C-Class range. We’re still not convinced that the underlying quality is up to Mercedes’ legendary billing, but the fine mix of materials means that it’s dressed to impress. It’s practical, too, with space for two adults in the rear and a sensibly sized boot.
Should I buy one?
Go for the full-fat C 63 if you can afford it, because it’s an absolute riot. If you can’t, and still want to have a playful rear-wheel-drive car, then how about downsizing to a BMW M2?
Not bothered about silly sideways stuff? Then at £15,500 less than the C 63, the C 43 Coupé is a comfortable, all-weather, cross-country beast. And any doubts that 367bhp isn’t enough turn out to be poppycock. It’s plenty quick enough. One final question remains: is it as polished as a BMW 440i? No, not quite. But it’s not far off.
Mercedes-AMG C 43 4Matic Coupé
Location Hertfordshire; On sale Now; Price £46,875; Engine 6 cyls, 2996cc, twin-turbo, petrol; Power 362bhp at 5500-6000rpm; Torque 384lb ft at 2000-4200rpm; Gearbox 9-spd automatic; Kerb weight 1735kg; 0-62mph 4.7sec; Top speed 155mph; Economy 35.3mpg (combined); CO2 rating/tax band 183g/km, 33%; Rivals BMW 440i, Audi S5
What is it?