Test Drives

2019 Mercedes-AMG C 43 Coupe review: C sharp



It may not be the most powerful Mercedes around, but the C 43 Coupe is arguably the best one for keen drivers 

SINGAPORE — I’ve driven plenty of cars with loud exhausts, but never a “powerful” one. Yet, there it is on the Mercedes-AMG C 43 Coupe, a setting that lets you choose between “powerful” and “balanced” for the exhaust. Trust me, you won’t bother with “balanced.”

That’s just one of the new things I’ve noticed about the C 43 4Matic Coupe, which along with the rest of the C-Class, is new to our shores after Stuttgart gave it a facelift last year.

Now, Mercedes sells more two-door cars than anyone else on the island by far, so C-Class Coupes have become a common sight. That doesn’t stop the C 43 from turning heads, however, and it’s fascinating how people tend to look longingly at it. 

Maybe that’s why the facelift brought only minor styling updates. Apparently there are new lamps and bumpers (see if you can tell). At least the C 43 Coupe gets one immediately noticeable change.


The diamond-studded grille is no more, and in its place is one with twin-louvres flanking the three-pointed star emblem. Although it’s nicely understated, the C 43 still marks itself out as an AMG model with subtle touches such as black wing mirror caps, a “Biturbo 4Matic” badge on the front fenders and brake calipers painted grey.

Inside is where you’ll be able to spot that it’s a new car right away. As before, the C 43 Coupe is a four-seater with a surprisingly decent boot, so the practical aspects of the car remain unchanged, but the instruments are now fully digital, like the kind we first saw on the current E-Class. That also means a new steering wheel with touchpads for your thumbs that let you operate a surprisingly high number of features — the sound system, for one thing, plus all the trip computer stuff.

Virtual instruments means different skins, and you get to choose between classic analogue-style instruments or a racy display with revs, speed and gear position as the main info but other stuff that a trackday fiend would pay attention to, like tyre pressures (and tyre temp), max G-forces, even transmission oil temperature.

I usually dislike digital gauges but it’s been pulled off tastefully here, and besides, it goes well with the general sportiness of the C 43. Contrast stitching, sculpted front seats, yellow seat belts all seem to belong. Why? Because AMG.

But here’s where things get a bit contentious. Snobs will argue that only a C 63 or C 63 S (see above) is a “real” AMG, because of its widened body and an engine handcrafted by a single person. The C 43 has neither of those, with the ability to sneak around as a C 180 with a bit of bodykitting, and an engine modified but not assembled by AMG itself.

Yet, if the C 63 and other full AMG cars are all about serving up put-in-the-gut thrills, this car is about sheer driving pleasure.

The V8-powered, 510hp C 63 S is absolutely explosive, like driving a Michael Bay film, but the C 43 is more about delivering sheer joy behind the wheel. The acceleration is urgent, eager and exciting rather than ballistic, and you still feel able to put your right foot to the floor now and then without feeling like someone is able to nab you by the collar. You can’t do that with any of the V8 AMGs; to drive those cars is to have no fear of the law.

Just as important, the C 43 dances through a good road in a way that feels as if the tyres, suspension, brakes, steering and engine are all part of a well-rehearsed show that’s guaranteed to delight.

The ingredients don’t sound particularly exotic — no hand-built this or carbon that — but all of the above have been tweaked by AMG engineers, and the result could not feel more different than your average Mercedes coupe. 

The suspension geometry makes the C 43 turn into bends with that welcome blend of zippy sharpness and reassuring bite, and while the springs are firm the dampers work well to smooth out the shimmies. Even if you hit a bump while going hard at it, the Mercedes simply shrugs off the interruption and keeps its focus. 

The facelift brings slightly bigger turbochargers to the car’s 3.0-litre V6, and with them 23 extra horsepower (for 390 in total). Extra muscle is always welcome in a car with a chassis as good as this, but 100km/h in 4.7 seconds is no longer something to put in a headline.

Yet, the C 43’s engine has a beautiful character and sonorous voice that make you wonder if petrol really is such a bad thing after all. It’s so smooth and revvy, and it makes such lovely music that it’s basically love at first redline.

Then there’s the “powerful” exhaust, which emphasises the bass notes of the engine’s rumble, while adding the requisite pops, bangs and crackles that help to make spirited driving so much fun.

Only the gearbox (also off-the-shelf but fiddled with by AMG) feels like it’s taken a step backwards, with jerkier shifts than I remember in the pre-facelift car.

A couple of caveats are worth bringing up. We tested the car on 18-inch tyres but customers get 19-inch wheels. Whether those will louse up the ride quality beyond the gain in steering sharpness, most buyers are unlikely to complain.

The active exhaust that we find so amusing is optional, too, and costs S$5,700. Well worth the money, if you ask us, because the era of electric cars is around the corner, and if you’re going to give petrol power a last shout, you might as well make it as loud as possible.

And it’s precisely people who love engines and giving them a hard workout who should be looking at this car. Apparently, many buyers tend to buy a C 43 before moving up the ladder to a C 63 S, but the move makes just as much sense in the other direction. The C 63 S is the more thrilling car, but the C 43 feels like the better one to drive, with the chassis and engine working more in harmony. Even the BMW M4 feels wayward and overpowered next to this.

In fact, on a road made greasy by rain, I’d fancy my chances much more in this than in many more powerful cars. The 4Matic all-wheel drive system gives it great traction and makes the available horsepower more accessible in the wet than the rear-drive alternatives do. So much so that you wonder if the new “Slippery” drive mode, which moderates the engine’s power, is neccessary. As a plus, the 4Matic system is tuned to send 69 percent of the engine’s power to the rear by default, so it doesn’t end up making the car feel understeery.

Things like that make it feel like everyone who worked on this car loves driving, and wanted to share that joy with like-minded people. That the C 43 Coupe is comfortable enough to be driven every day pretty much goes without saying, too. Ultimately there are powerful reasons to buy a C 43, and I don’t just mean the exhaust.

 

Mercedes-AMG C 43 4Matic Coupe

Engine  2,997cc, V6, bi-turbo
Power 390hp at 6100rpm
Torque 520Nm at 2500-5000rpm
Gearbox 9-speed automatic
0-100km/h 250km/h (limited)
Top Speed 4.7 seconds 
Fuel Efficiency 9.4L/100km 
VES / CO2 C2 / 214g/km
Agent Cycle & Carriage 
Price S$350,888 with COE 
Available Now

 

 

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Leow Ju-Len
Leow Ju-Len is a lot older than he behaves. He's been writing about cars for 23 years. Someday he might do it coherently. Ju-Len believes in world peace and V8s, but not necessarily in that order.