2017 Mercedes-Benz C43 AMG — Just enough AMG


By Dan Scanlan –

AMG — a legendary trio of letters that says the model of Mercedes-Benz it’s attached to was massaged to be a finely-tuned German muscle car. Founded in 1967 in Affalterbach by Hans-Werner Aufrecht and Erghard Melcher, it was a stand-alone tuning and racing company until it fully folded into M-B in 2006, and now goes by the name of Mercedes-AMG.

On one hand, Mercedes-AMG makes amazing race cars for GT championships, and even Formula One. On the other hand, their teams heavily massage standard Benzes, or develop cars like the GT with the signature of the engine builder added to each potent powerplant.

But now, Mercedes-AMG has laid its hands on the compact executive-class C43. Launched in 2014 in Detroit , it was the first to use M-B’s new Modular Rear Architecture platform. Our test car gets heavily breathed on by Affalterbach, the result a Dr. Jekyll with some wild Hyde in it.

• Mercedes modeled — The C-Class comes in sedan, coupe and convertible. The redesign gave them a more prominent and upright grill with big Benz star and upswept headlights with DRL light bar bisecting LED headlights from amber turn signal “eyebrows.” AMG has added subtle mods, a bit more aggression without being macho.

Concentric chrome-plated pins now flank the grill’s center star, a striking look. Under the slim carved bumper, very real side brake ducts flanking a low center air intake, all over a big glossy black air splitter. There’s more AMG styling inside the flared fenders with 10-spoke light-alloy wheels in gloss black with a brushed alloy finish that show off big disc brakes with silver AMG-badged front calipers.

Lower profile P225/40R 19-inch Continental tires up front are matched with staggered wider P255/35Rs in back, give the coupe a well-planted look, with a slightly-flared lower sill under carved flanks. The roofline is curved and low over gloss black window frames, carbon fiber side mirrors hosting repeater turn signals.

From the rear, there’s a fastback look to the window as it tapers into the deck, a thin carbon fiber spoiler following the curve between shapely rear fender shoulders. Large LED taillights wrap around curved corners, with vents on the bumpers’ side edges. Our test car’s “Night Package” adds a gloss black lower diffuser with twin ebony-finished tailpipes, as well as that gloss black front splitter. And in case you don’t know what this car is, there’s “BITURBO – 4MATIC” badges on the front fenders, and “AMG” and “C43” on the trunk lid. It’s all very sleek and beautiful in our test car’s Cardinal Red Metallic paint, which drew onlookers when I called in at a Saturday night cruise-in.

• AMG atmosphere — The latest C-Class interior also drew looks, with its array of AMG modifications.

There’s backlit “AMG” lettering on the alloy door scuff plate, and highly sculpted bucket seats with leather-like MB-Tex and suede-like microfiber inserts, accented in red stitching. Black leather and suede accent the flat-bottomed AMG multifunction sport steering wheel, also with red stitching.

The grippy, fat rim has ergonomic cutouts at 10 and 2 for thumbs, while long alloy shift paddles behind it were easy to reach. And those red seat belts — sort of like putting on red suspenders.

The sweeping MB-TEX dashboard is edged in more stitching, inset gauges under a gentle cowl bulge – 180-mph speedometer and 8,000-rpm tach with 6,500-rpm redline. They flank a multi-function 4.5-inch display for stereo, navigation, and an AMG menu item — digital speedometer, gear, G-force, lap-timer, turbo boost and engine gauges. A head-up display shows tach, speed and gear position. Underfoot, alloy and rubber pedals. Then the dash center sweeps cleanly down from an iPad-like free-standing screen that hosts navigation, audio, climate control, phone and car setting displays like drivetrain/suspension and owner’s manual.

Three alloy-ringed air vents are above a strip of climate controls with a center “menu” button to switch between a/c operation and the navigation map. Gloss black buttons flanking an analog clock offer basic control of stereo and phone. It’s all encased in natural grain ash wood that looked a bit plastic. A pop-up door hides twin cup holders.

The elegant COMAND controller at the center console’s mid-point has a twirl/tap main knob for accessing main menu points on the screen, plus a glossy top to finger-spell words for addresses, or slide from one menu item or radio station to the next. It works fine, perhaps taking one too many motions. Voice command handles most menu functions cleanly.

COMAND is flanked by buttons to engage manual shifts via paddles; switch suspension from “Comfort” to “Sport” or “Sport+;” or activate fuel-saving engine cut-off at stops. The volume thumbwheel engages a solid Burmester sound system with stunning aluminum speaker enclosures on the doors. The button behind it activates an exhaust valve that makes the quad pipes snarl. There’s a stability control deactivation button. Accent lighting is ice blue on door controls and console outline.

The bucket seats have 10-way power adjustment with heat and three memory positions each, nicely bolstered and very grippy in turns, with great support. They slowly motor forward when tipped to access a rear seat with leg room is so tight only a child need apply. The trunk is accessed easily by tapping a foot under the bumper, then it’s deep and wide, split folding rear seat backs for added room.

All in all, a great location for a trip for two and stuff.

• AMGrowl — When I say AMG, most think powerful hand-built engines with tire-shredding speed and handling. But this newest C-Class gets Affalterbach-based development for its engine, but it’s not built there. So no engine builder’s plate, just a red aluminum insert atop 362 hp AMG-enhanced 3-liter V-6, its twin turbochargers visible under the air intakes on each side of the tightly-packed engine bay. It’s hooked to a new AMG-enhanced 9-speed automatic transmission that has a “Manual” mode so the driver paddle-shift, and the transmission stays in the selected gear.

 With peak torque of 384 lb-ft, the car launches smoothly in second gear in “Comfort,” and easily gets to any speed needed with precise, buffered shifts. There’s strong mid-range torque for passing – anywhere – and 60-mph came up in 5 seconds, and 100 mph in 12.2. But engage “Sport+,” and the C43 AMG grabs all four claws into pavement and leaps – 60-mph in 4.5 seconds and 100 mph in 11.5 with super-quick up-shifts. The G-meter says we pulled .7 Gs at full launch. Tap the exhaust valve button and there’s an exotic snarling scream, each up-shift punctuated by an explosive rifle shot-like bark from quad pipes. Backing off adds a crackling, popping overrun.

Set the drivetrain in “Eco,” activating engine shut-off at stoplights, and the C43 AMG delivers 20 mpg on premium, and decouples the transmission from engine when you slow down. It was fine for downtown rush-hour driving.

The C43 AMG has a steel unibody with aluminum hood, trunk lid and front fenders. Under that skin, independent multi-link suspension with coil spring, tubular torsion bars and double-tube shock absorbers with adaptive variable damping – comfort, sport and sport-plus. The all-wheel drive has a rear biased torque distribution of 31 percent front/69 percent rear, making it very sure-footed. The speed-sensitive sport steering effort varies with “Comfort.” “Sport” or “Sport+” settings.

The “Comfort” setting left us with a nice ride that absorbed everything from potholes to cobblestones. Over repetitive bumps, the C43 would float just a bit, but rebound was nicely handled. But it was all too buffered, from steering to throttle response, for me.

“Sport” gave a slightly firmer edge that smoothed out repetitive bumps, further buffering on full compression. The firmer suspension and all-wheel-drive with a touch of rear bias meant the C43 just hugged curves and went around them in a neutral fashion turn after turn. Sport+ offered much quicker and tighter bump control, not too nice on rougher road or streets with raised crosswalks, but great for nicely paved sweeping roadways.

Its quicker and more aggressive shift pattern meant razor-sharp downshifts for power coming out of curves, and tighter steering to help. That’s why my favorite was “Individual” mode, letting me set steering and drivetrain to Sport+ and suspension to “Sport,” with the option to open that exhaust valve.

The result – the C43 AMG stitched turn to turn, the shifts putting the rpm where needed to pull out of a curve. Tap the paddle and downshifts were executed concisely with a throttle blip. Bumps didn’t bother as we swept through turns, very flat. There was no drama on skidpad, only a touch of understeer. We regularly pulled .93 Gs in turns. Factor in cross-drilled and vented 14.2-inch front discs, and 12.6-inch rear solid discs, and we had great pedal feel and initial bite on our 3,000-mile-old test coupe. There was solid stopping power with no nose dive and no fade after some very high-speed stops, pulling 1.1 Gs at full pedal push.

Truly, the C43 AMG was a very comfortable and usable point-and-shoot coupe, unflustered by curves with bumps and quite willing to play hard, then settle down for a drive to dinner.

• Benz bucks — A base C300 Coupe starts at $42,650, while our red C43 AMG coupe started at $55,500 with lots of what’s above standard, including the high-performance summer tires. That said, the COMAND navigation system with 8.5-inch screen, voice command, power-folding side mirrors, hands-free trunk opener and power closer was $2,650; red paint was an extra $1,080, while the ash wood interior trim added $325.

The carbon fiber spoiler and side mirrors was $1,750; the AMG exhaust with snarl valve was $1,250; $850 for the split-spoke alloy wheels; $500 added the leather and suede AMG steering wheel; $990 head-up display; $925 for parking sensors and surround-view camera; and $200 for gloss black accents. Final price with destination – $66,945.

There are some premium sports coupes out there, like the Audi A5, $45,000 Lexus RC350 all-wheel-drive, $53,850 Infiniti Q60 3.0t Red Sport 400 and $80,000 BMW 640i xDrive. Their powerplants all differ – the Audi’s turbocharged 2-liter four with 220-hp; a 306-hp/3.5-liter V-6 in the Lexus; 315-hp/3-liter inline six in the BMW; and the Infiniti’s 400-hp 3-liter twin-turbo inline 6. The Audi hits 60 mph in just under 8 seconds; the BMW closer to 7, the Lexus 5.5 seconds and the Infiniti with 4.6 seconds in our last test. They all handle very well, since all have all-wheel-drive, the new Infiniti as well as the Audi and BMW with slight edges. The BMW has a bit more room. As for looks, the latest iteration of the Infiniti is sensual in its curves, while the Audi is gentler and pretty, the Lexus very edgy and cool, and the BMW classic and balanced.

• Bottom line — Want this AMG Coupe with more muscle – get the C63 AMG with twin-turbo V-8 and 469 hp and easily smoke tires. But for an all-round fun and quick coupe that can easily motor to work, then transform via a button tap into a ground-devouring machine, the C43 has just enough AMG in it. But think of it more as a super grand touring machine and less a Vette beater.

2017 Mercedes-Benz C43 AMG
Vehicle type – 4-passenger mid-size sports coupe
Base price – $37,065 ($66,945 as tested)
Engine type – DOHC, 24-valve turbocharged/intercooled aluminum V-6
Displacement – 3 liter
Horsepower (net) – 362 @ 5,500-6,000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) – 384 @ 2,000-,4,200 rpm
Transmission – 9-speed automatic w/manual shift mode
Wheelbase – 111.8 inches
Overall length – 184.9 inches
Overall width – 71.3 inches
Height – 55.3 inches
Front headroom – 38.8 inches
Front legroom – 42 inches
Rear headroom – 35.6 inches
Rear legroom – 32 inches
Cargo capacity – 10.5 cu. ft.
Curb weight – 3,935 lbs.
Fuel capacity – 17.4 gallons
Mileage rating – 20-mpg city/28-mpg highway

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