This car used to be called the C450 AMG, but a recent rebranding exercise at Mercedes-Benz has brought it under the proper AMG banner. The point is to open up the hard-core AMG brand to cars that aren't just simply more affordable but also friendlier to drive. So what do you get for nearly half the price of a full-bore C 63 S AMG and more importantly, does this package make more sense in the Indian environment? That's what we're looking to find out.
This is most certainly not a car to buy if you're interested in being seen. We've called the C 63 design subtle and the C 43 is even more so. The face is straight off the standard C-Class, and only the real enthusiasts amongst you will notice that the air dams in the bumper are more flared - not as much as the 63, but more so than the standard car. The bigger giveaway is the small AMG badge nestling in the diamond-style grille that's also on the CLA but different from the twin-slat design on the C 63 S. What you won't see upfront are the trademark flared fenders or AMG-style gills. At the side, you'll notice the sporty 18-inch wheels embracing big and purposeful brakes, but the eye also catches the small 'biturbo' badging on the fender, hinting at the firepower under the hood. The rear is finished with small boot-lip spoiler and the signature AMG quad muffler tips. And of course, there's the AMG badge on the bootlid.
Classy C-Class cabin is a wonderful place to be in. The C 43 gets some differentiators like red for the stitching and belts
It's a similar story on the inside - the lovey C-Class cabin gets a few details like subtle red stitching on the black upholstery, attention-grabbing red seat belts, aluminium inserts and racy pedals - all adding a dash of sportiness to the design. The racy seats in the C 63 are replaced with more comfy and accommodating seats, again more supportive than the standard car but not quite as aggressive as the full AMG. Notice the pattern appearing?
Well, that pattern extends squarely to the performance department as well. The C 43 AMG runs a 3-litre twin-turbo V6 that makes 367PS and 520Nm. That's two cylinders, 143PS and 180Nm down on the C 63, but two cylinders, 183PS and 220Nm more than the standard C200. And straight away, I can tell you that this engine is my favourite part of the C 43 AMG. Many write about how turbos blunt throttle response, but not once did I think, "Oh, I wish the engine's responded faster to my right foot." In fact, in the Sport +, the raciest of all the modes I had to make a conscious effort to smoothen out my throttle inputs. Then there's the beautiful power delivery. Performance is strong from as low as 2,000rpm, and it just builds and builds till the needle slams into the 6,500rpm redline. I guarantee that you will repeatedly run into the rev limiter the first time you drive this car hard in manual mode. Power gets so addictively strong at the redline, and accompanied by that sweet 6-cylinder roar, you simply can't help it! If only there were 500 or 1,000rpm more to play with, what an epic motor this would be. Wishful thinking, but still engine performance is nothing short of stunning. We recorded repeated 5.0s 0-100kmph runs, and top speed is limited to an easily achievable 250kmph. While I mentioned that the exhaust sound is enjoyable at the redline, at start-up and lower revs it lacks the bigger AMG's volume and also doesn't pop or burble quite so dramatically. That may disappoint some but it makes the car calmer and more comfortable to live with at low speeds.
There are five driving modes as well as individual control over engine and suspension settings
Like the GLE 450 AMG Coupe that shares this motor, the C 43 uses a 9-speed automatic transmission. AMG says they've increased speed and responsiveness, but the transmission doesn't work quite the same magic as the engine. Shift speeds are quick enough, but I found that the gearbox lacks the on-edge reactiveness and responses that the engine deserves. It's fast, but not dual-clutch fast. In the enormous GLE 450, this didn't matter because it's not the type of car you push too hard, but the lighter, more agile C 43 encourages flat-out driving and that's where you start to notice the gearbox.
One of the biggest differences between the C 43 and C 63 is that while the full AMG is rear-wheel drive only, the C 43 brings the assurance of all-wheel drive. The system splits with a sporty rear bias and can send up to 69 per cent power to the rear wheels. The result is a car with supreme confidence that stays glued to the road no matter what and also does a good job of resisting understeer. The 245-section Continental ContiSportContact tyres have remarkable levels of grip and greatly improve the experience. All this makes the C 43 a lot friendlier and more encouraging to push hard than the C 63, which can get quite lairy if you don't know what you're doing.
AMG has quickened the steering for this application, and it's quite direct but isn't exactly dripping with feel. We also found that the suspension, while quite firm at most speeds, starts to feel soft when you really hustle the car through a mountain road. All told, it's a highly entertaining car to drive quickly but more of a hot rod than a precise driving tool.
This begs the question is the C 43 easier to live with than the C 63? Well yes, ground clearance is more forgiving and with the suspension in Comfort mode, I think the ride quality might be a smidge nicer. However, you still have to exercise a lot of caution while driving over speed breakers and broken roads, or you're going to hear the sickening crunch of metal meeting tarmac. On smooth roads, ride quality is quite good but sudden bumps, even if they aren't very large, will cause a thud through the suspension.
Middle ground is a space appreciated by a lot of folks. Not everyone wants extreme performance, but many aspire for more than the ordinary. The C 43 AMG straddles this space well, especially in an age where a C 63 AMG costs over Rs 1.7 crore on-road in Mumbai (Maharashtra takes about 25 per cent of your luxury car's value, but we're not quite sure where it's being spent, but it certainly isn't on the roads). Similarly, the C 43's enticing ex-showroom price of Rs 73.6 lakh shoots to Rs 98 lakh on-road in Mumbai. Nevertheless, at this price, you get a sports sedan that is far more luxurious and refined than a CLA 45 AMG but also costs a lot less than a full-on super saloon. It's not the ultimate driving machine, but on the right road it's a proper laugh, and aside from the Audi S5 Sportback, there isn't much else at this price point.
Images by Anis Shaikh