The C43 badge is back, but rather than being attached to a brawny rear- driver with V8 power – how we’ve come to expect our AMG C-classes to be – this new version has a V6 engine and four-wheel drive. Don’t panic, though. This isn’t a downsized replacement for the full-fat, 469bhp twin-turbo V8 C63, but an additional AMG model that will sit beneath it in the range and cost £15,500 less.
The 3-litre twin-turbo V6 in the C43 started life as part of Mercedes’ ‘BlueDirect’family of engines, and here it’s been breathed on to deliver 362bhp and 3831b ft – the same state of tune as in the SLC43.
It sends drive through Mercedes’ 9G-tronac automatic gearbox to the four-wheel drive system, which itself eschews a complex multi-clutch, variable-tarque-distributing centre differential in favour of a simple diff that splits torque 31:69 front-to-rear. From the moment you start the engine the C43’s exhaust noise completely dominates – there’s not a hint of induction noise or anything from the turbos. Initially the sound isn’t obviously that of a V6 either, but under load, in certain situations, you can hear some of the character percolate through.
Flick the AMG Dynamic Select toggle on the transmission tunnel to engage Sport or Sport Plus mode and there are plenty of exhaust pops and crackles to keep you entertained, too, as well as keener gearshifts, weightier steering and firmer suspension. There’s real verve to the engine’s performance. It revs quickly to its 6500rpm limiter and throttle response is remarkably good. With maximum torque from as low as 2000rpm, there’s significant acceleration whenever you need it, and 0-62mph takes just 4.7sec.
The nine-speed gearbox is very swift when changing gear, and there’s a satisfying punch to the shifts when driving quickly in manual mode that’s rather uncharacteristic for a torque- converter auto. It can seem reluctant to change down sometimes, but if you’re patient you do get your desired gear just in time.
You can feel how taut and lithe the C43 is as soon as you pull away: the ride is firm and the chassis responds instantly to your inputs.
In the sportier modes it can feel marginally over-damped, but the result is an abundance of body control and supreme confidence for the driver about how the car will react. In Comfort the chassis relaxes slightly, but the ride always remains relatively stiff. The AMG seats are firm and don’t help the situation but, just like the rest of the interior, there’s a premium feel to them.
The C43 darts into corners sharply, with quick steering that emphasises the agile chassis but is a little fight.
As you start to squeeze on the power mid-corner, the steering loses the small amount of feel It had as the car’s nose begins to push on. It isn’t catastrophic understeer, just a feeling that the front is carving a slightly larger curve than you intended. More throttle doesn’t make it worse as the four-wheel-drive system keeps you vaguely on track, but lifting off the throttle mid-turn or trail-braking deeper into a corner has very little effect, so you have frustratingly few options to try and quell the understeer.
On paper, the rear-biased torque split sounds promising, but In reality there’s very little sensation of significantly more torque being sent to the rear than the front. In fact, mid-corner you’d be forgiven for thinking the C43 was front-wheel drive. On the exit of a corner, though, traction is remarkable and the C43 is fired down the road.
There’s a real immediacy to the C43, then. The steering has a nice rate of response, the engine responds well and there’s almost no slack in the chassis. But although there’s a lot to like, it never transforms the C43 into a very involving or enjoyable drive. This is an AMG from the same school of thinking as the A45, where grip and pace outweigh fun. Sadly this means it isn’t the cut-price C63 we were hoping for.
Engine: V6, 2996cc, twin-turbo
Power: 362bhp @ 5500-6000rpm
Torque: 383lb ft @ 2000-4200rpm
0-62 mph: 4.7sec (est)
Top speed: 155mph(limited)
Weight: 1735kg (212bhp/ton)
Basic price: £46,280