Mercedes-AMG is a big deal in Australia. Its market penetration is higher here than pretty much anywhere else in the world, this side of Monaco. If you live in an inner-urban suburb of any major capital city, you've already seen the evidence with your own eyes.
You may also have noticed that the Affalterbach-based tuning house has been broadening its line-up of late, expanding beyond the ultra-loud (or obnoxious, depending on your stance) 63- and 45-series flagships.
This tactic to lure in a less affluent, or less ostentatious, luxury buyer with a performance bent has culminated in the C43, E43, GLC43... You get the drift.
Here we have the Mercedes-AMG C43 in soft-top convertible guise, a sort of hotted up, wind-in-the-hair glamazon that complements the animalistic C63 derivative.
At a market list price (before on-roads ) of $120,611, the C43 is a staggering $61,000 cheaper than its angrier sibling, and competes head-on with the BMW 440i folding hardtop ($117,610) and Audi S5 soft-top ($119,111). It's also a pretty reasonable $20,000 pricier than the less powerful Mercedes-Benz C300 convertible (180kW/370Nm), sans AMG fettling.
Of course, the C43 AMG coupe that's equally beautiful and 103kg lighter 'only' costs $106K, though BMW's gap between hard- and soft-tops is even wider. Cheeky blighters, both.
Of course, you don't get something for nothing. The C63's 375kW/700Nm 4.0-litre force-fed V8 is gone, now replaced by a twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 with a 'mere' 270kW of power at 5500rpm and 520Nm of torque from 2000rpm, resulting in the 0–100km/h time blowing out by seven-tenths to a hardly sluggish 4.8sec. How ever will one live with such an indignity?
For context, the AMG C43 is still six-tenths faster than the 240kW/450Nm inline-six Bimmer 440i with its heavy folding metal roof and rear-wheel drive, and three-tenths quicker than the quattro AWD Audi S5 V6 with 260kW and 500Nm. These German brands sure do compete very directly on paper, and it's the Benz that takes the biscuits in this department.
Absolute performance purists may also note that a base Porsche Boxster with its mid-rear turbocharged four-pot can be had around the $120K mark, though we're really talking about a typically different buyer set. That car is an uncompromising corner-carver, whereas the Benz is really about plush luxury and sex appeal... with some pace.
There are more mechanical differences between the 43 and 63 too. Whereas the C63 has a power-oversteer-yielding rear-wheel-drive (RWD) setup and a seven-speed MCT double-clutch gearbox, the more stately but scarcely less sexy C43 has grippier permanent all-wheel drive (AWD), and a nine-speed 9G-Tronic auto ’box with slick metallic paddles and an irritating column-mounted shift stalk.
All very civil, right? Well, we say that... and make no mistake, the generally smooth drivetrain is perfectly content noodling around town quietly and unobtrusively, whereas the 9AT – once a little jerky and unsettled in some applications – seems to do a pretty solid job of not making a fuss, with fuel economy sitting close to the meagre 8.5L/100km claim.
The daily driving credentials are improved further by the AMG Ride Control adaptive damping system that pairs with the car's other comfort modes (which reduce steering resistance and damp the throttle sensitivity) to make the C43 a far plusher experience than many more finely honed performance ragtops, even on 19-inch wheels.
The fact that AMG ditches the C300's run-flat tyres helps, though there's still no spare wheel. Just sealant and a pump.
But put the car into its sport mode – or keep it in its softest chassis/drivetrain settings and just hit the $1900 shortcut button on our tester that makes the exhaust crackle and bark more (AMG knows its customers) – and that V6 suddenly transforms into a snarling, crisp-sounding beast, downright furious under heavy throttle.
That AWD (31:69 rear-biased with permanent torque distribution) system also gives you ample grip off the line and through corners, though naturally the C63 with its RWD setup and electronic rear diff lock is more lively (same goes for the BMW, for that matter). That's even including the C43's three-stage ESP parameters.
Indeed, the C43 feels pretty 'neutral', safe and predictable, with ample grip. Body rigidity is excellent, assured by the fact the C63 version requires even more body stiffness. There's no notable scuttle shake over corrugations or old-school wobbliness.
The steering system is never overly resistant, a hallmark of most AMGs going back to the old C63 '507'. What it does lack is a little feel and feedback. The driving experience is rapid and assured, but never unhinged. Though, that's sort of the point. And it's hardly anodyne.
In this sense it's certainly more Audi than BMW.
The multi-layer acoustic soft-top with glass was black on our tester, but you can order it in brown, dark blue or dark red – the latter of which would work very nicely with our car's palette. The electric-operated cover opens/closes in 20 seconds at up to 50km/h without intruding into the 350-litre boot, and in testing did 20,000 unbroken cycles. Should be reliable, then...
It also has a classy dark headliner when you're driving, roofed.
Top up and the intrusion of wind noise is indeed minimal, and the weight/packaging saving over a metal roof are obvious. There's also Mercedes' AIRSCARF that blows hot hair onto your neck from the seats, so you can cruise topless even on a crisp winter night, plus an electric draught stopper that noticeably reduces wind intrusion.
There's a rollover protection system using two cartridges that are fully retracted behind the rear seats. If a rollover is imminent, these cartridges are pyrotechnically fired, whereupon they shoot out to provide a survival space together with the A-pillar.
The cabin is typical Benz, with signature touches such as metallic electric seat adjusters on the doors, gorgeous metal speakers, circular vents, the COMAND infotainment rotary dial, and a floating 8.4-inch TFT tablet display. The black ash open-pore wood fascia surround is a better option than scratch-prone glossy plastic.
AMG touches include the thick, flat-bottom wheel, chequered gauges, red piping and stitching and metal pedals. Meanwhile, the seats are shapely buckets trimmed in good quality heat-resistant leather. It's all quite classical, not as high-tech and clinical as the Audi or as driver-oriented as the Bimmer, but charming and full of class.
Those rear seats are tight for adults, but shorter folk or kids will have a great time back there. There's also through-loading from the boot.
Some years ago, Mercedes-Benz made the tactical decision to load its cars here with as much equipment as possible to counter arguments that it price-gouged. That continues today, with the C43 bristling.
Standard equipment includes metallic paintwork, 19s, AMG body kit and cabin trim, leather seats with electric adjustment, memory and heating, LED Intelligent Light System, driving modes, DAB+, head-up display, Burmester surround sound system, COMAND Online navigation, AIRSCARF and Keyless Go.
There's also a 360-degree camera, blind-spot warning an active merge assist, adaptive cruise control that stops to zero, AEB with pedestrian detection, cross-traffic assist and airbags for rear seat occupants.
It's safe, classy, pretty quiet, and aurally satisfying if you put the car in sport mode and plant your foot. The C43 convertible ticks the requisite boxes here.
From an ownership perspective, you get a three-year warranty. Servicing intervals are annual (or 25,000km) and are presently listed at $510, $1035 and $1035 for each of the first three visits.
Clearly, Mercedes-Benz was smart in noticing the obvious gulf in the market for second-tier AMG products that bridge the gap between the full-on '63' flagships and the more humble offerings down the chain. The C43 convertible then, does exactly what it ought to.
It's beautiful, sonorous, fast, dynamically predictable and assured, and a noticeably easier car to live with than the angry C63. Cracking job.
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