by Cobus F. Potgieter
The C-Class compact luxury sedan has been on sale in the USA since 2015, with regular updates keeping it fresh; but as the "baby" AMG in the range, the new 2021 Mercedes-AMG C43 Sedan straddles the middle ground between the four-cylinder non-AMG models and the full-fat V8 C63 models. Power from the twin-turbo, direct-injection 3.0-liter V6 engine was increased from 362 to 385 horsepower for the 2019 model, dispensed via a quick-thinking nine-speed AMG Speedshift TCT transmission, accompanied by a healthy 384 lb-ft of torque. Does it make a good case for itself as a $56,500 sport sedan against its class compatriots, the facelifted Audi S4 and new G20 BMW M340i xDrive, as well its smaller but newer sibling, the CLA? It gives away its advanced years in its dated infotainment system and choppy ride, but is there still enough reason to recommend it, despite these shortcomings? There just might be, especially if you want to make use of the opportunity to own what is probably the last ever six-cylinder C-Class.
In short, nothing is new for US buyers this year, except that the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster that used to be optional is now standard for the 2021 model. The last model update before this one was for the 2019 model year, when more meaningful changes were affected, the most notable being that power output was increased to 385 hp. A customizable steering wheel-mounted drive-mode selector also became available on the 2020 C43 but is sadly not standard, even on the latest model.
See trim levels and configurations:
|AMG C43 4MATIC Sedan||
3.0L Twin-Turbo V6 Gas
From the outside, nothing has changed for the latest model year and the C43 cuts a distinctive figure for a 4-door sedan with its AMG-specific twin-blade grille, all-LED lighting, and quad exhaust pipes - round instead of trapezoidal to denote the C43's mid-level status in the lineup. Standard alloys measure 18 inches; they are upgradable to a choice of four different 19-inch designs at an added charge of between $850 and $1350. A glass sliding/tilting sunroof is standard.
In terms of its exterior dimensions, the Mercedes-AMG C43 Sedan is a slightly smaller vehicle than the latest 3 Series and Audi S4 sedans, but there's really not much in it. It measures 185 inches long, 79.5 inches wide including the side mirrors, and 56.3 inches tall. Curb weight of the C43 4Matic is 3,825 pounds and it rides on a 111.8-inch wheelbase. The German sedans in this segment have been growing constantly and the W206 is expected to gain another two inches in length on the W205, making the C-Class and 3 Series the same size as the E-Class and 5 Series models of 20 years ago.
The US-spec Mercedes-AMG C43 is available in eight colors, with Black and Polar White being the standard colors. The metallic hues cost $720 extra and include Obsidian Black, Iridium Silver, Mojave Silver, Lunar Blue, Brilliant Blue, and Selenite Grey. We think the Selenite Grey looks rather fetching in an understated, Q-car kind of way, but we lament the fact that last year's Cardinal Red is no longer offered for the more extroverted buyer. In fact, all red hues have been deleted from the C43 color palette for the 2021 model year. Brilliant Blue metallic is rather striking though, if you're that way inclined.
On paper, you might be surprised to find that the C43 still uses the M276 V6 engine that Mercedes developed from the Chrysler Pentastar V6 in the 2000s, whereas almost every other six-cylinder Mercedes vehicle has now switched to the new M256 inline-six. In reality, you'll be pleasantly surprised at the instant response, abundant torque, and characterful exhaust note. Old it might be, but the twin-turbo, direct-injection V6 does a sterling job, so perhaps you can teach an old dog new tricks, even if fuel economy somewhat lags behind the class leaders. The AMG C43 is not a sports car, but it does a convincing impression of one. The original base engine might have been designed right here in the USA, but Mercedes substantially re-engineered it and it's a honey.
The 4Matic all-wheel-drive system in the C43 sport sedan is tuned to provide a default 69 percent rear bias, ensuring a sure-footed demeanor that feels rear-wheel drive in its handling characteristics, but with the added security and traction of all-wheel drive. Mind you, all-wheel drive is par for the course in this market segment, and the typical C43 rivals, such as the BMW M340i xDrive, Audi S4, and Cadillac CT5-V AWD are similarly equipped. Thanks to the nine-speed Speedshift TCT transmission and AWD, the C43 is certainly rapid enough for all but the most hardcore AMG fans and will dispatch the 0-60 mph sprint in 4.5 seconds. Top speed is limited to 130 mph or 155 mph with optionally available wheels/tires. All of the 384 lb-ft of torque is already on tap from 2,500 rpm.
The only engine option available on the Mercedes-AMG C43 Sedan is the twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 gas engine with 385 hp and 384 lb-ft of torque. The nine-speed transmission is AMG's latest evolution of the torque-converter auto and is set up for maximum response and the swift kickdown the enthusiast driver wants, with the ability to skip several gears when going for a gap in traffic or rapidly overtaking a big semi on a single-lane road. It also holds onto the gears longer in Sport and Sport+ modes. There is a gear ratio for every occasion and the powerful engine never feels out of its depth, whether in maximum-attack mode or effortlessly flattening inclines on a highway cruise in the tall ninth gear.
If you want a six-cylinder C-class, this may also be your last chance to ever own one, as the rumor mill suggests that the upcoming W206 will be available with four-cylinder engines only, hybridized or otherwise, even on the top AMG versions with over 560 hp. That would spell the end of both six- and eight-cylinder power in the C-Class, probably forever, since the next big step will be going all-in on EVs.
Thanks to AMG Ride Control with three-stage adaptive damping, the Mercedes-AMG C43 Sedan certainly lives up to its AMG branding with iron-fisted body control, even at eye-watering speeds. There is a distinct rear bias to the torque split, but the unshakable AWD stability is always waiting in the wings, the ECU shuttling power to the front wheels to balance handling and grip.
AMG Dynamic Select allows you to choose between several modes, from Slippery and Comfort to Sport and Sport+, adapting the steering, damping, transmission, and other parameters to fit the circumstances. You can even set up your favorite mode manually. AMG Ride Control adjusts the damping in milliseconds too, depending on the road conditions and the mode you have selected.
In our opinion, the sporty ambitions were taken a touch too far for what is still a premium luxury sedan and even in its softest Comfort setting, the ride is too jittery and never settles down properly. We feel Mercedes has squandered an opportunity to provide a Comfort mode that is actually comfortable. Besides, AMG drivers also take their vehicles on broken tarmac sometimes.
Where the Mercedes-AMG C43 Sedan could do better is gas mileage. Not that it's bad, but one expects more from a compact luxury sedan and its rivals have set the bar higher. Its EPA-rated fuel economy is 18/27/21 mpg city/highway/combined, virtually on par with its US Cadillac CT5-V AWD rival's 18/26/21, but worse than the other Germans, the Audi S4 delivering 20/28/23 and the BMW M340i xDrive an even better 22/31/25. So, if you like to leave a gallon of reserve in the tank and not run it dry, you're unlikely to get much more than 340 miles on a 17.4-gallon tank in combined driving conditions.
The W205 C-Class interior was always smartly designed and looks more avant-garde than the more conservative approach of some rivals, such as Audi. Mercedes has now perfected the C-Class interior and this is helped to no end by the standard 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, 10.25-inch center screen, and 64-color ambient lighting. It is a special place to spend time. The knurled control switches of the climate control system are especially pleasant to the touch. The AMG cars are particularly nicely trimmed, but the jury is still out on the user-friendliness of the steering wheel's "Touch Control Buttons". Some love them and some hate them. We say you get used to them in time and then they work well. Notable standard features include heated front seats, a power glass sunroof, and a 40/20/40-split folding rear seat.
The Mercedes-AMG C43 is basically a four-seater vehicle. It can accommodate five adults at a pinch but not in great comfort or with enough space to spread out, especially if the rear-seat passengers are of above-average height. Remember, this is a compact 4-door sport sedan, not a Camry. SUV drivers might not like the low-set seats, but it's easy enough to get in and out. Space for odds and ends is reasonable but not exceptional. The specs may say five-seater, but stick to four people and everyone will be comfortable, especially the two ensconced in the supportive front sport seats that also hold onto you well during enthusiastic cornering.
Standard upholstery is black MB-Tex/Dinamica with red stitching. Replacing the imitation leather with the real thing costs $1,620 extra and the choices are black, black with red stitching, Saddle Brown, and Cranberry Red. The designo Platinum White Pearl/Black Nappa leather upgrade costs $3,100, but adds soft Nappa leather to the seats, armrests, and doors with a diamond-stitch pattern. Standard trim elements are in Natural Grain Black Ash wood and aluminum, but you can opt for Dark Brown Linden wood, Natural Grain Grey Oak wood, or Natural Grain Walnut wood, all at no extra cost, or AMG Carbon Fiber trim for $975.
Standard features on the 2021 model year AMG C43 include SmartKey keyless start and go, dual-zone automatic climate control, 40/20/40-split folding rear seats with a through-loading center section, a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and 10.25-inch center display, power-folding rearview mirrors, 64-color ambient lighting, a powered tilting and sliding glass sunroof, and a backup camera - reasonable specs for this class. The AMG Dynamic Select system offers five drive modes (of which one is customizable) and standard driver-assistance features include three-stage ESP, crosswind assist, attention assist, tire-pressure monitoring, blind-spot assist (with exit-warning assist), and rain-sensing wipers. Additional driver-assistance features cost extra and a host of them comes bundled in the $1,700 Driver Assistance Package - an extra well worth having.
The COMAND infotainment system with its central rotary controller wheel and integrated touchpad has served Mercedes well for years and the latest iteration fitted to the AMG C43 includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It works through a 10.25-inch center display. Audio features include the 13-speaker Burmester Surround Sound System with FrontBass System and Bluetooth audio streaming, as well as dual USB audio ports. An HD Radio receiver is standard, as is SiriusXM Radio with a six-month all-access trial thrown in. Of course, COMAND has now been succeeded by the impressively feature-rich new MBUX touchscreen system in newer Mercedes models and sadly, this is not, and will never be, available on the outgoing W205 C-Class.
There has been one recall for the 2021 AMG C43 Sedan and it is for the eCall system failing, causing emergency responders to be dispatched to the incorrect location. The ESP-related recall of recent memory only affects the 2019 model year. 2020 was a spotty year, with two recalls, one for front seatbelts that failed to retract fully and the other again for an inaccurate vehicle location for emergency services. J.D. Power has awarded the C-Class range an overall score of 80 out of 100 and with a specific score of 81 for quality and reliability. For the sake of comparison, The Cadillac CT5's quality and reliability score is a lot better at 89, but the BMW 3 Series is worse, with a score of 76. The Audi S4's 2019 score was 82, the last time it was rated. The basic Mercedes warranty covers the C43 for four years or 50,000 miles, but this can be extended to up to 100,000 miles at extra cost.
The IIHS has not performed a review of the Mercedes-AMG C43 Sedan in particular, but the review of the W205 C-Class as a whole applies to the C43 as well, and the safety specs read well. It was awarded a Top Safety Pick + rating in both 2019 and 2020. All six areas of Crashworthiness were rated as "Good" - the IIHS's highest rating. The vehicle's 2021 NHTSA rating is four stars for the frontal impact and four for the rollover test - good, but no longer up with the best in class.
The AMG C43 comes as standard with a comprehensive suite of safety features and these include driver-assistance features such as ESP, crosswind assist, a rearview camera, attention assist, blind-spot assist (including exit-warning assist), tire-pressure monitoring, active brake assist, Mercedes' Pre-Safe system, and rain-sensing wipers. Eight airbags are standard including full-length curtain airbags and knee airbags for both the driver and front passenger. Additional driver-assistance features cost extra and form part of the optional $1,700 Driver Assistance Package. These include Distronic adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, Pre-Safe Plus, blind-spot assist, congestion emergency braking, a surround-view camera system, and speed limit assist, among others.
Should you look past the AMG C43's shortcomings - that have mainly to do with its advanced age - and consider buying it? As this review of the Mercedes-AMG C43 Sedan shows, the Cadillac CT5-V is roomier and more reliable and an M340i xDrive offers the latest infotainment and a better ride/handling mix. But as possibly the last six-cylinder Mercedes C-Class ever, wrapped in a stylish body and possessed by a sizzling drivetrain, you'll buy it more for what it represents and because it's the last of a breed than for being the best in class - which it isn't. The COMAND system is old, it no touchscreen, and the touchpad is fiddly. Gas mileage falls behind the class best and the ride is irritatingly stiff-legged.
There are better cars offering more up-to-date tech, comfort, and space at the same or less money in this class, so the new Mercedes-AMG C43 Sedan is an option only for the Mercedes faithful buying with the heart more than with the head. Perhaps the biggest threats to the C43 are vehicles from within its own ranks, as the CLA45 beats it in every single measurable metric except size - and the new W206 goes on sale internationally in 2021.
The price of the 2021 Mercedes-AMG C43 sport sedan starts at an MSRP of $56,500 and this excludes Mercedes' $1,050 destination charge or any other fees such as taxes, licensing, and registration. You might be able to negotiate a good deal on the current W205 C-Class, especially because a new model is due soon. Just be careful when choosing all those extras, as you can quickly inflate your C43's price to beyond $73,000 if you tick all the boxes. It is especially easy to get lost among the cosmetic packages that add little value.
There aren't multiple Mercedes AMG C43 Sedan models available, just this one in a singular mechanical specification. We are reviewing it as a standalone model here, but there are coupe and cabriolet AMG C43 models available as well with this drivetrain. The C43 Sedan serves as the "entry-level" and most affordable AMG model in the C-Class roster and bridges the gap between the normal four-cylinder C-Class models and the flagship AMG C63 models. As such, it is the only W205 C-Class model with a six-cylinder engine, in this case, a twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 with 385 hp and 384 lb-ft. The transmission is Mercedes' nine-speed automatic transmitting drive to all four wheels via a rear-biased 4Matic AWD system.
Standard equipment is fairly generous, with many AMG-specific features standard, such as AMG Ride Control suspension, three-stage ESP, and AMG Dynamic Select with several driving modes, including a customizable one. A 12.3-inch virtual dial cluster is standard, as is a 10.25-inch central display with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, controlled by a rotary controller on the console.
It is easy to inflate the price of the 2021 Mercedes-AMG C43 Sedan to way beyond the $56,500 list price. The Exterior Lighting Package is reasonable at $900 and adds intelligent LED lights and adaptive high-beam assist. The AMG Night Package costs $750 and is cosmetic only, adding several black accents to the exterior. Other exterior cosmetic upgrades include carbon-fiber mirror housings and even an illuminated Mercedes star on the grille.
Arguably more useful is the $1,250 Multimedia Package that adds navigation with free map updates for three years and a touchpad controller, among other upgrades. Another sensible package would be the $1,100 Parking Assistance Package, adding parking assist, rear cross-traffic alert, and surround-view system. The $1,700 Driver Assistance Package adds a host of driver-assistance features, such as radar cruise control, congestion emergency braking, blind-spot and lane-change assist, and many others.
Some of the standalone extras available include carbon-style mirror housings ($250), ventilated front seats ($450), an AMG Performance steering wheel wrapped in Nappa/Dinamica ($500), an AMG head-up display ($1,100), and a panorama roof ($1,000).
As we mentioned earlier, there isn't a range of Mercedes AMG C43 Sedan models to choose from, only this standalone derivative, so it comes down to the cosmetic and functional upgrades you opt for and how much these will cost you. To build the ideal AMG C43, we'd forego most of the cosmetic packages, because we think it looks great in standard guise. However, the Multimedia Package is well worth it for the navigation and three-year free map updates and the Lighting Package is a useful safety upgrade. Other than those, we would definitely opt for the Driver Assistance Package at $1,700, which bundles several useful safety features. Optioned like this, your C43 should cost around $60,350. A heavily specced C43 can cost north of $73,000, which is around $5,000 more than a standard C63 V8.
The question has to be asked whether the "AMG-Lite" C43 is worth the money when compared to the full-fat C63. The C63 is, of course, quite a bit more expensive - by $11,100 - but if you are already spending circa-$60,000 on a performance C-Class, shouldn't it at least be the delectable twin-turbo V8 with the soundtrack and performance the C43 cannot possibly hope to match? To be fair, you get a lot extra for the additional money, not least a limited-slip differential, an AMG Race mode, and of course the additional 84 hp and 95 lb-ft courtesy of that 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8. This drops the sprint to 60 mph into the sub-four-second territory and adds a great deal in terms of that visceral sport-sedan feel and accompanying soundtrack. You'll hardly be able to use the extra performance on the road, but you'll listen to that V8 exhaust sound all day long and - on the combined cycle - the larger but more modern engine hardly uses any more gas.
The strongest competition at virtually the same price as the C43 arguably comes from Bavaria in the shape of the BMW M340i xDrive, which, in its latest G20 guise, is a formidable rival that can do little wrong. Except perhaps for the style and extravagance of the interior design, the BMW has the Mercedes beat on every level, with more modern interior tech (although iDrive can be confusing until you've got the hang of it), a little more interior space, a slightly bigger trunk, better gas mileage, slightly better safety specs, and better ride quality. You'll get all this for a list price that is only $200 more than the Mercedes. Or, for $54,700, the RWD M340i, which is even more exciting and the quintessence of the BMW driving experience: rear-wheel drive and an inline-six. The BMW duo's power output of 382 hp all but matches that of the Mercedes, but the M340i sprints to 60 mph a touch faster at 4.4 seconds. The M340i xDrive is even swifter at only 4.1 seconds.
The facelifted Audi S4 is the high-value sport sedan amongst the competitors, with an MSRP starting at $49,900. Yet, for less money and despite "only" 349 hp and 369 lb-ft, it puts its power down better than the Mercedes and noses ahead by a tenth of a second by the time both cars reach 60 mph. In terms of performance, there's nothing in it. Maybe it has something to do with the Audi's excellent ZF eight-speed automatic transmission. It offers similarly excellent AWD handling but its ride is suppler and more refined. The interior styling might not be as adventurous as the C43's, but the infotainment is properly latest-generation stuff with Audi's available Virtual Cockpit digital gauge cluster and standard touchscreen 10.1-inch central display. It's a dead heat between the S4 and M340i as better sport sedans, with the Mercedes finishing last in this company, albeit not by much. Age ultimately proves its greatest adversary as the rivals have simply moved past it.
The most popular competitors of 2021 Mercedes-AMG C43 Sedan: