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And on the seventh day, the gods of motoring created the perfect 12km stretch of winding, undulating, immaculately coiffed ribbon of tarmac. And everything started to make sense.
I’d spent six days trying to make sense of the 2019 Mercedes-AMG C43 Coupe. Six days in the worst of Sydney’s stop-start traffic while the C43 did its level best to cocoon me from the outside world.
Navigating traffic is never fun, but some cars, including plenty wearing the three-pointed star, do it better than others. The C43 isn’t one of them, sitting somewhere in the middle of the comfort spectrum. It’s not exactly cossetting, but neither is it overly harsh like some of its AMG-fettled brethren.
Yes, the cabin is typically Mercedes, in that it’s a welcoming and comforting environment to spend your time on the road. Loaded with goodies, too, to make you feel like you’re getting $112K’s worth. But without the sonorous rumble of the V8 found in its C63 sibling, the C43 felt just a little underdone, a little not AMG enough.
Unsurprising, then, to find out the C43 started life as a regular Mercedes-Benz, the C450, back in 2015. Fettled generously by AMG, the C450 was the most powerful Merc in the C-Class range, bar the monstrous AMG C63.
But, looking to fill the gap between the manic Affalterbach autobahn crusher and the regular C-Class, AMG soon adopted the C450 as its own. Enter the C43, now sprouting an AMG badge and proudly wearing the cachet that comes with that acronym.
First launched locally in 2016, the C43 has undergone a mild transformation for 2019, in line with the wider C-Class range. And there’s a C43 for everyone, it seems. The four-car range starts with the Sedan at $108,600 plus on-road costs and hits the top rung of the ladder with the Convertible, yours for $125,700.
In between, a wagon (or Estate in the world of Mercedes) for $111,100, and the car we have on test here, the Coupe, which asks for $112,600 plus on-roads. For the sake of perspective only, the C63 Coupe is over $50K more, needing $165,900 of your hard-earned to warrant a spot in your garage.
Visually, there’s not much to distinguish the C43 from its manic C63 brother, the most obvious the grille. Whereas the C63 sports the brand’s now signature Panamericana grille, the C43’s front end is distinguished by its horizontally divided twin-louvre grille.
As part of the wider C-Class range’s midlife update, said to comprise some 6500 new parts according to M-B, the C43 scores a newly designed and aggressive-looking front bumper, while the 19-inch alloys are also new, and lighter.
The rear bumper and diffuser have also received a minor touch-up, but the bulk of the C43’s enhancements can be found inside and under the skin.
It’s more powerful than the old C43 for starters, now putting out 287kW at 6100rpm, 17kW more than the old model. Torque remains unchanged, 520Nm available between 2500–5000rpm. With AMG’s nine-speed torque converter auto sending drive to all four wheels, the C43 can complete the dash to triple figures in 4.7 seconds.
Those improvements are thanks largely to slightly bigger turbos running at a higher maximum pressure (1.1bar according to Merc). The engine bay looks cool, too, with a big red ‘V’, festooned with the AMG logo, on the engine cover. Nice.
Inside, the C43 has enough AMG-ness to justify its place in the greater line-up. A 10.25-inch touchscreen anchors Merc’s COMAND infotainment system, the C43 missing out on the newer MBUX interface. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, as is integrated satellite navigation.
A 12.3-inch digital driver display is customisable and can be configured to display in Classic, Sport and Supersport modes. That last brings an array of features unlikely to ever be used in any meaningful way – a g-force monitor, lap timer, turbo boost pressure, et cetera – but they’re fun to have around.
The Classic display harks back to analogue Mercs, and while the gauges and instruments are fully digital, they’re a nice visual reminder of what motoring used to be like. If that’s not enough information for you, there’s also a full-colour head-up display.
A full suite of driver aids and active safety kit pump up the C43’s safety credentials – blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping assist, autonomous emergency braking, a 360-degree camera, and adaptive cruise control. No ANCAP score, though, as all AMG models remain untested. It's worth noting, though, that regular C-Class variants do wear a five-star rating.
Our test car came with just one option, the $5400 Performance Ergonomic Package (bringing the as-tested price to a neat $118,000), which adds some interior styling cues – an AMG performance flat-bottomed steering wheel finished in Nappa leather and Dinamica microfibre, AMG Performance front seats, and black leather AMG interior trim with contrast red stitching – as well as the AMG performance exhaust system.
It’s that last inclusion that adds some pantomime (it’s not theatre in the same way as the glorious V8 in the C63 provides) to the C43’s character. Leave it switched on – via a button on the centre console – for some satisfying bubbles and pops on over-run.
It needs that added bit of panto’, too, because without it, in Comfort mode, the C43 remains a touch benign, the V6 turbo emitting a low drone rather than a satisfying growl. Underwhelming.
That feeling runs thematically during daily driving duties, the C43 a perfectly capable, if slightly underwhelming chariot. That’s only compounded by the C43’s adaptive suspension that remains on the firm side of comfort, even in its softest setting. Is it unbearable? Definitely not, but it’s worth mentioning.
Of course, the trade-off comes when you really need the suspension to firm up for some spirited driving, then the C43 – whether in the mid-range Sport or more aggressive Sport+ settings – comes alive.
It’s an exchange of comfort currency most are willing to make, we’d wager. It’s an exchange of currency I didn’t make until the seventh day of my time with the C43. I should have done it sooner, because after plodding around the mean streets of Sydney for a week, I was becoming disillusioned with the C43.
But all that was swept away when I found my motoring Zen in the shape of that 12km of perfect tarmac, devoid of traffic on a beautifully cloudless day.
With everything set to maximum performance (Sport+), the C43 came alive in the same way a leopard does when hunting its prey. Unshackled from the restraints of traffic congestion, of any traffic, the C43 simply surged ahead with a joy and an abandon that, if you could bottle it, you’d inject directly into your veins every morning.
This is no bucking bronco, though, making you feel like you’re always on the edge of adhesion. No, this is an entirely predictable and linear beast, doing exactly what you ask of it.
Acceleration, whether from standstill or on the move, is effortless (that’ll be the 520Nm at a tantalisingly usable 2500rpm) while the steering, with added weight thanks to Sport+, feels razor-sharp and pinpoint accurate.
Under wheel, the adaptive dampers at their most brittle setting, it suddenly comes into its own, keeping the C43 flat and planted through corners and slicing over what few lumps there are on this near-idyllic stretch of tarmac with barely a ripple.
And thanks to its permanent AWD platform (with a fixed rear-wheel bias of 61 per cent), the C43 is a punchable platform for linking corners together without ever feeling like you’re on the ragged edge. There’s simply an inherent confidence when you let it off its leash.
As for the slightly droning nature of the V6 at traffic speeds? That becomes but a fading memory as the bi-modal exhaust clears its lungs and bellows gloriously, a raspy baritone punctuated by intoxicating thunderous explosions on upshifts and fuel-guzzling burbles on over-run.
It’s magnificent, a song to the siren of motoring goodness increasingly rare in an age where internal combustion is slowly being hunted into extinction.
Lest anyone think that a 12km stretch of road isn’t enough to make any kind of meaningful assessment, be assured. With nothing but desk-jockeying awaiting me and with the last chance to enjoy the C43, I took on that stretch of road six times, three in each direction. I saw just one other car all that time. Nirvana.
Mercedes-AMG covers the C43 with its standard three-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, while servicing is required every 25,000km or 12 months, whichever occurs first. The first three years’ servicing can be prepaid ($2250) or, if you prefer, will set you back a total of $2750 if you pay as you go.
When driven sedately, Merc claims a combined fuel consumption figure of 9.5L/100km. The good news is for six days it hovered around that mark (9.9L). But the price for some fun is high, it seems, the spirited seventh day of driving nirvana blowing that out to 19.1L/100km. But really, who cares when you can have this much fun?
With my cheeks still in post-coital bloom, the drive back to civilisation and handing back the keys gave me a new appreciation of the C43. Having spent the best part of a week questioning its worthiness as an AMG-badged Benz, I had, in one short afternoon, not only discovered what made the C43 an AMG, but what lies at its core.
Sure, it might not have the same unhinged (in a good way) character as the C63, but that’s no criticism of the C43.
It’s still blisteringly fast when it needs to be, but also an understated grand tourer or suburban cruiser when it wants to be. It’s a subtle performance coupe, in the way the C63 isn’t. And that’s no bad thing.