by Sebastian Cenizo
If you want the elegance of the Mercedes badge but can't justify the price and excess of a V8 rear-wheel-drive C63, the Mercedes-AMG C43 is a small luxury sedan with perhaps the best balance between power and style. Starting at $55,950, it's something of a bargain for a bona fide AMG sedan, but with 385 horsepower and 384 lb-ft of torque, there's no doubt that this car is more of a mid-range vehicle than an all-out M3-beater. The 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 is offered exclusively with a nine-speed shiftable automatic gearbox, sending thrust to all four wheels - but with a touch of rear bias. Despite coming towards the end of its life, this generation of C-Class is still beautiful inside and out, though some may find fault with the C43's un-Merc-like bone-shaking suspension.
A few newly standard features set the 2020 model year apart from 2019's offering, with a premium Burmester sound system now included in the base price. A 64-color ambient lighting system is also standard now, along with illuminated AMG door sill plates, while a supercar-mimicking steering-mounted drive-mode selector is now available with the AMG Dinamica Performance steering wheel. No other obvious changes have been made, with the C-Class range being refreshed only slightly over the past two years.
The C43 features the typical AMG design flourishes, with an AMG-specific front grille and larger lower air intakes. LED lighting features on both ends of the car, with Biturbo AMG badges on the wings. The rear features the usual faux diffuser and quad-exit exhaust setup, while a subtle trunk lid spoiler adds a little flair and sporting style to the rear. 18-inch five-spoke wheels come standard, with various 19-inch designs available.
The C43 is a fun car to drive, thanks in part to its compact dimensions. It measures just 185 inches long with a wheelbase between the hubs of 111.8 inches. Its relatively narrow width of 79.3 inches (including mirrors) makes it easy to place on the road, while its height of 56.3 inches gives it a handsomely staunch appearance. Curb weight is slightly high here, with 3,825 pounds being measured at the scales - you can blame the all-wheel-drive system for this. Thanks to a lower ride height over normal C-Class Benzes, its ground clearance is just 3.5 inches.
The 2020 Mercedes-AMG C43 is limited to two no-cost color options for the exterior paint, with Black and Polar White as your choices. Spend a little more, and you open up access to nine more shades. $720 buys you metallic hues like Obsidian Black, Iridium Silver, Mojave Silver, Lunar Blue, Brilliant Blue, and Selenite Grey. $1,515 is what you'll pay for Diamond White metallic, with $1,080 buying Cardinal Red metallic. The most expensive option is the matte Selenite Grey Magno, for $2,020. We'd stick with Brilliant Blue, which manages to look both classy and sporty at the same time.
The Mercedes-AMG C43 is what is considered a mild performance sedan, lacking the fear-mongering power of a C63, but still being exciting enough to enjoy every day. It's also less intimidating in the corners, thanks to 4Matic all-wheel-drive. The car uses a 3.0-liter bi-turbo V6 capable of 385 hp and 384 lb-ft of torque, which makes for a swift 0-60 mph time of 4.5 seconds, on its way to a limited top speed of 130 mph (155 mph with performance tires). The all-wheel-drive system is entertaining to use, and favors the rear wheels most, allowing a bit of sideways action before the front wheels come into play to right the car. The nine-speed automatic gearbox that is the only transmission option is just as impressive, providing smooth and speedy shifts even when left to its own devices. If you favor more control, you can set it to manual mode and shift via the steering-mounted paddles, which helps add drama with slightly more ferocious gear changes. On downshifts, the sports exhaust will bellow out cracks and pops, which can be further amplified if you spec the optional AMG Performance exhaust system.
The C43 is a sophisticated and athletic sedan that can tread the line between civility and aggression well. Leave it in comfort mode, and it's still a brisk accelerator, taking off from a dig with smoothness and grace. In Sport and Sport+, the gearshifts become more rapid, adding drama to the occasion. Even in its most laid back setting, you'll never have any trouble leaving a set of lights cleanly and quickly, and on the freeway, the gearbox can be left to its own devices, shifting up and down smoothly just when you need it and to just the right gear, thus enabling trouble-free overtakes. Interestingly, the Mercedes-Benz C300 utilizes the same gearbox but thanks to different tuning, its downshifts can be a little slow. Changing to Sport mode in that car also seems to over-dramatize the shifts, making it seem a little too racy for its intended purpose. In the C43, it all comes together beautifully, with an easy-to-use and carefree way about it that indicates this car is more than just an AMG badge and a stronger engine - it's a proper sports sedan.
In AMG's efforts to make a proper mid-level performance sedan, they've tightened up the suspension for sharper handling. This makes it an impressively agile four-door that is brilliant for stringing complex bends together. It dances to the inputs of your fingertips, with light steering that is both precise and easy to judge. Thanks to the rear-bias of the all-wheel-drive system, you can bury the throttle mid-corner and get a bit of rotation out of the car, making it easy to slide a bit, before the front wheels are supplied with power to pull the car straight again. It's an addictive and easy to manage process that can be replicated time and time again. The C43 is a joy to drive, and not so overpowered like its C63 big brother that you fear for your life every time you breathe on the throttle. Where the C43 is a massively fun machine in the corners, the sporty suspension, despite its adjustable dampers, is not typical of Mercedes' outstanding engineering prowess when you want to relax. Even in comfort mode, the suspension is jarring, and if you spec the optional AMG Performance seats, your back will likely never forgive you. Where the C43 shines on the track and on twisty roads, it fails miserably over even slightly pockmarked tarmac, completely detracting from its overall appeal as a multi-talented performance sedan. To be fair, if it were too compliant, we'd berate the C43 for being a badge-engineered sales tactic, but with such a wealth of expertise and better-tuned suspension setups elsewhere in the AMG range, it's still disappointing that this car fails to accurately blend comfort and handling.
Those intimidated by the C63's fuel consumption figures of 18/27/21 mpg on the city/highway/combined cycles won't find things much better in the C43, which, despite having a liter of displacement less, only manages 19/27/22 mpg on the same cycles. Equipped with a 17.4-gallon gas tank, you can expect an average range of around 382.8 miles between fill-ups. Audi's S4 - which also uses a turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 - has slightly better figures, managing 20/27/23 mpg in EPA testing.
Despite the fact that it's getting on in years, the C-Class as a whole boasts one of the best-looking interiors around, with outstanding fit and finish and superior build quality. Stepping into the C43 still feels modern and classy. However, there has been some cost-cutting in the form of synthetic leather upholstery as standard, which is not uncommon. Heated front seats are standard with ventilated chairs optional. Mercedes' brilliant new MBUX infotainment system doesn't feature yet, but will certainly appear with the next generation. For now, the slightly cumbersome COMAND system is fitted, but at least it's pretty. In terms of comfort and space, the C43 lacks slightly in both areas, with rear legroom subpar and the optional Performance seats not especially accommodating for larger body types.
The Mercedes-AMG C43 has seating for five, but tall adults will prefer if that is kept to four at most, as rear legroom is a little tight. The standard front seats are well-padded and offer decent range of adjustment through the 14-way power motors, but if you value back support, avoid the optional Performance seats. These race-style chairs offer little and are too aggressively bolstered for any but the slim, which impacts both leg comfort and shoulder space. On the plus side, getting in and out is aided by large door openings. Visibility all round is also good, and there's little to complain about in the headroom department, even with the optional panoramic sunroof installed.
As standard, the C43 boasts red seatbelts and red stitching overlain on synthetic leather and faux suede black seats. Perforated black leather with the same stitching can be had for $1,620, or you can spend the same amount on solid black, Saddle Brown, Cranberry Red or Silk Beige leather. The most expensive upholstery option costs $3,100 and finishes the interior in Platinum White with contrasting black Nappa leather in a Diamond-quilted finish. This also swaps the seatbelts to a more traditional black. Trim pieces are finished in your choice of Natural Grain Grey Oak wood, Dark Brown Linden wood, Walnut wood, or Black Ash wood and aluminum. None of these options costs extra, but a combination of carbon-fiber and aluminum will set you back $975. The pedals add a tinge of sportiness too and are finished in brushed aluminum.
The C43 features a reasonable 12.6 cubic feet of trunk volume, which is sufficient for just four carry-on suitcases. To be fair, the Audi S4 is not much better, managing around 13 cubes. The C43's rear seats do at least fold independently in a 40/20/40 split, with the rear armrest also collapsing to double as a pass-through for longer items. An electronic trunk closer is standard for increased convenience, too.
The cabin fares a little better, with large door pockets that have recesses for water bottles. You also get a pair of cupholders for both front and rear occupants, a decent glovebox and under-armrest storage. The center console also has a flip-up lid beneath which you can keep a large smartphone and/or some keys and loose change.
The C43 has a wide array of standard and optional features, including a regular sunroof and available panoramic sunroof. Heated front seats are standard, with ventilation as an option. All C43's also feature adjustable dampers, a 64-color ambient lighting system, a rearview camera, keyless entry and ignition with remote start, rain-sensing wipers, a drowsy driver warning, and Pre Safe collision preparation. Other driver aids include forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring with rear-cross traffic alert, and seatbelt pretensioners. Dual-zone climate control and MB Emergency Call are also standard. Options include adaptive cruise control with semi-autonomous driving, a head-up display, a 12.3-inch driver info display, and an AMG Performance exhaust. Lane keep assist, active evasive steering assist, and front and rear cross-traffic alert with brake assist are also available. Other options include adaptive LED headlights and auto high beams, rear-collision preparation, parking assist, a surround-view camera, and a digital lap-timer and performance monitor.
This generation of C-Class still features the outdated COMAND infotainment interface with finicky touchpad operation, but the next will feature the brilliant MBUX system. For now, you make do with a 10.25-inch display, Apple and Android connectivity, HD Radio, and SiriusXM satellite radio. The system is bolstered by a now-standard 13-speaker Burmester sound system, as well as a pair of USB ports and optional wireless charging with NFC connectivity. Bluetooth is included, but you'll want to fork out a little extra for Wi-Fi and navigation, although this won't hide the fact that the current COMAND system requires more of your direct vision when driving than we'd like.
The Mercedes C-Class range as a whole shares various parts and powertrains, and has received an overall quality and reliability rating from J.D. Power of 82 out of 100. The 2019 model year C43 has been subject to one recall for a faulty handbrake system with intermittent disengagement issues, but thus far, the 2020 version has been trouble-free. Although Mercedes does not offer any complimentary scheduled maintenance, their warranty coverage is average for the class, with four years or 50,000 miles of limited and powertrain coverage.
The C43 AMG has not yet been specifically rated by the NHTSA, but the regular Merc C-Class only scored four stars out of a possible five in crash testing. By contrast, the IIHS awarded the 2020 C-Class with its Top Safety Pick award for vehicles fitted with the optional adaptive LED headlamps. Their overall evaluation of all C-Class models was the best possible, with a rating of Good across the board.
The C43 comes standard with a bevy of safety features and driver aids, including a rearview camera, forward-collision warning with autonomous emergency braking, a drowsy driver warning, seatbelt pretensioners, MB Emergency Call, and collision preparation. Options include an adaptive cruise control system with a semi-autonomous driving mode, a head-up display, active evasive steering assist for crash prevention and mitigation, lane keep assist, adaptive LED headlights with auto high beams, park assist, front and rear cross-traffic alert with brake assist, and a surround-view camera. Also available is Pre Safe Plus, which can lock the brakes and further prepare the vehicle for an imminent rear-end collision. Eight airbags are standard, with front, side, and rollover protection.
The AMG C43 is a different kettle of fish entirely to the bonkers C63. Where the C63 requires skill and good timing to make the most of its abilities, the 4Matic C43 allows for inexperienced drivers to just get out and have fun. That's not to say that those with skills behind the wheel will be bored - the C43 is still an engaging and entertaining car that can be coaxed into getting its tail out too. Keep it simple with the options and avoid the optional race seats, and the C43 is a decent car. However, the suspension can still be too much for some, and the COMAND infotainment system's novelty has worn off these days, making it an overly-complicated and frustrating system. For a vehicle that is meant to be dual-purpose - allowing for both high-speed fun and four-door everyday practicality - the C43 is not ideal. The lack of compliance from the suspension means that this car is just too focused for its own good, and if you wanted a stiff and race-inspired vehicle rather than a feisty sedan, you'd be looking at a proper sports car. We'd give this one a miss.
Pricing for the 2020 C43 starts at $55,950, before the $995 destination charge and other fees and taxes. With one trim in the model range, you can spec more options to enhance the car's ability. Fully-loaded with specs like multi-spoke 19-inch wheels, carbon interior trims and quilted Nappa leather, a panoramic sunroof, navigation, a head-up display, a performance exhaust, a lap-timer, as well as carbon-fiber exterior trims and more, we managed to spec the online configurator heavily enough to get the price beyond $80,000.
The 2020 Mercedes-AMG C43 is only available in one trim level, powered by a 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 producing 385 hp and almost as much torque, with 384 lb-ft. A nine-speed automatic gearbox and 4Matic all-wheel-drive are the only drivetrain options. Standard features include synthetic leather upholstery, sunroof, dual-zone climate control, smartphone connectivity and satellite radio, a 64-color interior ambient lighting system, and a 13-speaker Burmester sound system. You also get 18-inch wheels, heated front seats, LED headlights and taillights, an electronic trunk closer, and remote start. Standard driver aids include blind-spot monitoring, a rearview camera, and a drowsy driver warning. Options include 19-inch wheels, genuine leather or Nappa upholstery, adaptive cruise control, a sport steering wheel with a drive-mode selector, adaptive headlights with high beam assist, a head-up display, ventilated front seats, navigation, Wi-Fi and wireless charging. Also available is an AMG Performance exhaust system, a panoramic sunroof, a power rear sunshade and a surround-view camera.
|AMG C43 Sedan||
3.0-liter Twin-Turbo V6 Gas
A useful option to bolster the aging infotainment system's abilities is the multimedia package. This includes voice control and navigation with three years of TomTom's Live Traffic service. The package adds $1,250 to the car's cost. The Driver Assistance package is also worth considering at $1,700. This suite of aids includes active steering assist with evasion capabilities, lane keep assist, an active blind-spot assist system, route-based speed adaptation on the adaptive cruise control system, and full collision preparation protocols, including for rear impacts. Individual options include a panoramic sunroof at a thousand bucks, a head-up display for $1,100, and wireless charging for $250.
Since the Mercedes-AMG C43 is plagued by excessively firm suspension tuning, even with standard adjustable dampers, we'd avoid the bigger 19-inch wheels and stick with the standard 18s. We'd also steer well clear of the confines of the optional AMG Performance seats. Instead, we'd spend $1,700 on the Driver Assistance package, another $1,250 for navigation, and $450 on ventilated front seats. This would make the C43 as comfortable as possible, while the navigation system improves the infotainment system. Thus, the C43's two main flaws would be addressed as best as possible, making it a reasonable choice and keeping the price below $60,000.
As we've outlined earlier in the review, it's relatively easy to spec an $80,000 C43. Instead of doing that, we'd spend at least $68,100 on a C63. Although the available convenience features, driver aids, and luxury options are similar between the two, the C63 is endowed with a magnificent 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 with 469 hp and 479 lb-ft of torque. Where the C43 distributes its power among all four corners, the C63 defiantly sends all thrust to the back. Despite the inevitable scrabble for traction from a standing start, the increased power means it gets from 0-60 mph in under four seconds and on to a top speed of 155 mph. You can also get an S variant with even more power and a top speed of 180 mph, and even this model starts below 80 grand. Yes, it'll get more expensive when you add the inevitable options that your heart desires, but with a stonking V8 under the hood and the ability to perform ludicrous smoky drifts, it's sure as hell worth it. Just save some money for tires.
If you favor all-wheel-drive and a turbocharged 3.0-liter V6, you may want to consider the original purveyor of fast Quattro sedans: Audi. Their S4 is a less potent option, producing 349 hp and 369 lb-ft, but it costs considerably less too, starting at just $50,200. Despite this, it's one-tenth quicker to 60 mph. With a recent refresh, it looks brilliant and far less sedate than the 2019 model while still retaining its sense of class. Despite its cost difference, some features that aren't even optional on the C43 are thrown in as standard, including tri-zone climate control and massaging front seats with heating. It also has a slightly larger trunk, a much more intuitive infotainment system, and a more liveable suspension setup. We'd rather have the S4 - it's much easier to live with.