Mercedes-AMG may have a reputation for pumping out fire-breathing Germanic hot rods, but not every potential buyer craves such ostentation. This is where models from its ‘tier two’ family come to the fore.
We’ve got the newly upgraded Mercedes-AMG C43, tested in its most practical wagon derivative, priced at $110,400 before on-road costs. It's a performance wagon that's designed to be simple to live with, comparatively speaking.
The obvious rival in price and power is the Audi S4 Avant ($102,240), considering the current – soon to be replaced – BMW 340i doesn’t come in the wagon body style. But there’s also the hugely popular Mercedes-AMG GLC43 performance SUV to consider.
This C-Class-wide range of updates doesn’t change the exterior appearance all that much, but Mercedes claims to have swapped out 6500 parts from across the family component set, about half the sum total.
These include tweaks to the engines, interior layout and active safety technologies, though it all falls into the realm of ‘significant midlife rework’ as opposed to a wholesale generational change.
Design-wise, there’s a new-look radiator grille inlay finished in matte silver, and a new front apron with flics and aero-enhancing air curtains. There are also lighter, more aerodynamic alloy wheels. Aussie cars also get the Night Package, and come standard with multi-beam adaptive LED headlights.
The familiar twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre V6’s peak power output has been massaged to 287kW at 6100rpm (was 270kW at 6000rpm), while peak torque remains a beefy 520Nm available between 2500 and 5000rpm.
To do this, the Affalterbach tuning division has fitted slightly bigger turbos running higher 1.1bar max charge pressures. It already outpointed the S4’s 260kW/500Nm V6, now just more so. It's no handmade AMG V8, but the red 'V' on the engine cover adds some visual impact.
As before, this is mated to a nine-speed AMG Speedshift TCT (torque converter transmission) automatic gearbox with a few tricks up its sleeve and a permanent AWD system with a 69 per cent rear axle bias.
All this is to say it’s quite different from the big daddy Mercedes-AMG C63 S wagon that, besides costing an additional $52K, is RWD and has a 375kW force-fed V8 mated to a multi-clutch auto (with single input shaft).
V6 engines aren’t always renowned for their audible excitement, but AMG doesn't do 'subtle'. Sure, it's far more understated than the C63, but so is a fluoro orange onesie…
In Comfort mode, the C43's idle sounds a trifle flat, but in Sport+ mode it takes on a deeper burble at idle and becomes more boisterous under throttle, with some pops and crackles on overrun as you work towards the 6500rpm redline.
The AMG performance exhaust system that’s fitted here as part of the optional Performance Ergonomic package (more later) lets you cruise around in the car’s softest, cushiest suspension mode with the exhaust sounding its most anti-social. Cool hack.
It'll dash from 0–100km/h in 4.8 seconds, compared to 4.1sec for the C63 S. The launches are helped by having all four wheels driving the car, and the decisive TCT ’box that shifts almost as aggressively and quickly as a dual-clutch unit.
Tapping once again into the Sport/Sport+ modes, the transmission can handle multiple rapid downshifts, while the manual mode controlled by metallic paddles on the wheel will bounce the engine off the rev limiter before upshifting without your input.
It's pretty good on juice too, using a claimed 9.6L/100km of premium petrol on the official test cycle. We averaged low 10s. Some of the C200's 48V electric tech would help this, and make it even smoother in urban use, but we digress…
The 31:69 AWD system doesn't shuffle engine torque with endless variability end-to-end or across the axles, but its configuration gives you balance akin to a RWD car with additional traction up front. You've got to really overcook it to push-understeer. The three-stage ESP lets you have a little more tail-happy fun in the sportiest setting, but it generally handles like it’s on rails.
It's good, clean and largely neutral fun, standing in stark contrast to its more loutish big brother. What would bolster the engagement levels is a bit more feel and feedback through the steering wheel. The fitted system has a speed-dependent variable ratio.
The C43 has multi-link suspension at each end, with gas-filled shocks and adaptive adjustable damping that is controlled by the driver mode system. The standard-fit wheels are 19-inch alloys running on 225/40 rubber up front and 255/35s at the rear. Behind the wheels sit 360mm front brake discs with four-piston aluminium callipers, and 320mm rears with one-piston callipers.
The ride quality goes from really, really stiff and firm, to just stiff and firm. This isn’t a car with a breadth of different ride modes. I didn’t mind it, because while you feel every bump in the road, you’re not slamming into bump stops or experiencing ‘brittleness’. However, there were people on our team who found it too firm to be properly liveable. Keep that in mind.
Cabin changes are notable, though the MBUX infotainment with conversational voice control, as found on the cheaper new A-Class and even the Sprinter van, has not been rolled out for this update. It’ll be on the next-generation C-Class instead.
The floating 10.0-inch rectangular tablet screen is crisper and has a simpler user interface. It’s still controlled by the COMAND system’s rotary dial, but the user experience is better than before, with horizontally scrolling menus that take just a jiffy to get your head around.
There’s also a new-look steering wheel with touch-sensitive pads to navigate menus, and active cruise-control buttons replacing the old stalk on the column. To distinguish itself from the regular C-Class, it’s covered by Nappa leather and suede, and flat-bottomed.
Behind this is a high-res new digital instrument display with Classic, Sport and Supersport display styles, and the ability to show all manner of information, albeit without some of the map intricacy and changeability (processing power) of Audi’s Virtual Cockpit.
The Mercedes-AMG version of this array has its own menu, showing you g-forces, lap timers, boost pressure, driving mode status, oil temperature and so on. It’s suitably techy. It’s augmented by a colourised and highly detailed head-up display on par with BMW’s newest unit. There’s also smartphone integration and a Qi wireless charging pad.
Other features include a panoramic sunroof and 360-degree cameras.
AMG touches include splashes of leather, microfibre suede material called Dinamica and aluminium. The lower part of the fascia is unchanged. It all looks schmick, though some of the plastic quality and textures used in certain places are feeling a little dated.
Our car had the $1000 optional Energising Comfort Control system that changes your tunes (based on bpm), temperature, in-car perfume scent and lighting based on mode. Look, it’s a novelty, but it’s also kind of welcoming.
The aforementioned Performance Ergonomic package also adds the super-supportive AMG performance bucket seats that look a million bucks.
Mercedes’s full-fat driver’s assistance pack means the car can read surrounding street signs, can change lanes itself if you tap the indicator, has AEB that ‘sees’ bikes and pedestrians, and can steer itself between clear lane markings. If it didn’t legally have to prompt you to put your hands on the wheel every 10 seconds, it’d be partially driverless.
The back seats are about par for this class, meaning any adults under 180cm will be comfortable, and it's worth noting rear occupants get their own ambient light signatures and vents. The boot space is a pokey 480L, though the back seats fold flat. There's a standard pull-out cargo blind with protector, and an electric tailgate.
It's not the last word in wagon practicality, because space takes a back seat to style. If you like the C43 but crave more space, then your AMG salesperson will gladly take you for a spin in the GLC43 SUV, we suspect.
From an ownership perspective, Mercedes matches its German rivals with a three-year warranty only. Service intervals are annual/25,000km, and you can either pay as you go ($2580 for three years, at current rates) or buy a pre-paid bundled package that covers a certain period of time for a discount.
So, thoughts. There's no doubt the C43 AMG delivers all the glamour you could ask for, and is a technological show stopper. It also goes like the clappers, and hangs on through corners like any good AWD should. At the same time, it lacks the mongrel edge of the C63, and the ride errs towards being a little firm for some tastes.
Character is hard to quantify, but the general vibe around the office is that we'd love the C43 to show just a little more of it.