Might this be the 2.0-litre AMG C-Class to have?
By Matt Bird / Thursday, 16 November 2023 / Loading comments
Alright, you got us – this is not a 680hp AMG C63, perhaps the most anticipated Mercedes Benz C-Class that ever there’s been, for reasons good and bad. We’ll get to that as soon as possible. For now, it’s a UK drive of its C43 understudy, the AMG that uses broadly the same 2.0-litre electrified turbo (with a bit less peak power) but doesn’t offer any plug-in wallop. Does weigh rather a lot less, though. In a brave new AMG world where more money doesn’t buy any additional cylinders or cubic capacity, the C43’s case – on paper, at least – looks more persuasive than ever. Do you really need a 680hp C-Class if the 400hp one is up to snuff?
It’s hardly like this is a lesser sibling in terms of tech, remember. The ‘43 gets standard four-wheel steer – which is pretty much unheard of at sub-GT3 level now the Megane has gone – adaptive dampers, and there’s bespoke hardware in the form of steering knuckles and suspension joints. The 4Matic all-wheel drive employs a 31:69 split. This is all on top of probably the world’s most complex four-cylinder turbo engine, producing 408hp and 369lb ft.
The conditions for the drive could hardly have been more appropriate. Cold and dank British roads are tailor-made for four-wheel drive performance cars. The C43 is hugely confidence-inspiring from the off, the steering rear axle and modified front end meaning great enthusiasm for getting into a bend, with just the right amount of resistance from the steering for the agility not to seem spooky. No doubt less engine up front is contributing to the eagerness, too. It’s pointy and direct in a fashion that might not be associated with AMG C-Classes, but is certainly enjoyable. The brakes, as is becoming AMG tradition, have great power and a really nice pedal feel, upgraded here with 370mm front discs and six-piston calipers. It’s not long before you’re egging the C43 on almost like a hot hatch, with huge faith in mega brakes and a locked-on front end. Again, it’s not quite cricket, but it is good fun.
Understeer isn’t really a concern at road speed (is it really in anything?) and balance seems good (it’s a large Merc saloon, after all, and not unreasonably heavy), so in most corners you’re picking up the throttle sooner than expected. Despite the numbers, 4Matic still doesn’t feel as rear-led as something like – you’ve guessed it – BMW’s xDrive, though there are some really satisfying moments with the C43 driving out from its back axle and the steering wheel straight. The internet says a 2.0-litre AMG C-Class is the devil’s work, but it isn’t half nice to drive – and capable of things the old V6 surely wouldn’t have been.
The engine itself is intriguing. The electric turbo makes for super sharp responses and its refinement is hard to fault when not mucking about. The nine-speed MCT remains a decent match as well, in both auto and manual modes, unless changing up at max revs. Which, it should be said, the newfound keenness does encourage, so it’s a shame the powertrain can’t quite play along to the same level.
By most standards, this is an energetic and punchy four-cylinder, which in itself seems to madly undersell the achievement of 200hp per litre with an electric turbo – but it’s hard to avoid comparison with the more potent version of the M139 in the A-Class-based cars – which is just more exciting. Both because there’s the extra power to move less weight, though also a proper zeal for revs that the ‘43 doesn’t quite possess. The emphasis on torque means this C can sometimes feel not as fast as the numbers state, though it’s hardly the only car that suffers from that condition. It’s just not a criticism ever levelled at the whizz-bang 45s. Its maker would likely that these are different propositions with different use cases and customers and stop being daft. Closely stacked ratios mean it’s never off the boil. And there must be a gap to the ‘63…
One step down from that AMG flagship, the C43 does without as many drive modes – and that’s great. Perhaps more drive time would throw up instances where a Race mode might be necessary, but it’s hard to imagine a scenario where Sport or Comfort won’t suit. Sport+ isn’t the ride ruiner that might be expected, although it does introduce some nasty engine sound, so is best avoided – or have an Individual setting that mutes the powertrain a tad. Sport is where the C43 feels at its best, taut and accurate and subtly satisfying in a way the sub-’63 should be. The 4Matic C-Classes have never been fast and furious AMG saloons, and that streak continues here, albeit with a bit for the keen driver to appreciate. Comfort really does what it says on the tin, too, introducing some proper pliancy even on the Premium Plus-spec 20s.
To some, an agreeable AMG will sound like an oxymoron, because the Affalterbach cars should be loud and lairy. This C43 won’t appeal to those folk. On the other hand, it’s easy to see how this could fulfill a number of roles really well as a family saloon or wagon. It looks smart, is both more subtle and stylish than the smaller CLA, and there’s no arguing with the wow factor of the interior, either (which performed faultlessly and felt solid enough). Combine that with a drive that can be both rewarding and relaxing in fair measure, and there’s plenty to recommend it.
Granted, it would have been great to have a six-cylinder version that drove this well – or else a little more charisma from the four-cylinder – but you can’t have everything. The decision was made that this car would be 2.0-litre; given that constraint, it’s a very impressive (albeit expensive) effort. Fact is, a brief test drive was encouraging enough to suggest another longer one would be worthwhile, hopefully with a BMW and an Audi in tow before sports saloons have to give up their combustion engines as well. The 2.0-litre C43 might still take some getting used to from a historical perspective. But there’s not very much wrong with it in the present.
SPECIFICATION | MERCEDES-AMG C43 4MATIC PREMIUM PLUS
Engine: 1,991cc four-cylinder, turbocharged with 48V assistance, 48V mild hybrid
Transmission: 9-speed auto, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 408@6,750rpm
Torque (lb ft): 369@5,000rpm
0-62mph: 4.6 secs
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
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