2023 Mercedes-AMG C 43 first drive review: A proper AMG?
The new Mercedes-AMG C 43 has been launched in India and there are significant changes from before. One is obvious, the older coupe body style has been replaced by a more conventional sedan body style. The second? It’s gone from a V6 to a four-cylinder engine. Along with this, the C 43 is based on the new C-Class platform and consequently gets the new styling and interior updates. The C 43 also costs a fair bit — at Rs 98 lakh, it is more than the M340i. Questions is, is the C 43 AMG worth the money? And more importantly, does it qualify as a proper AMG?
2023 Mercedes-AMG C 43 styling and interior
I’m not going to dive in to the details of what’s new for this generation of the C-Class on the outside and in — I’m sure you know all of that. There are, however, changes to the regular C-Class for this AMG upgrade. Of course, there’s the face with the Panamericana grille. Aggro bumpers, side skirts and a diffuser adds to the flair, as do the lightweight 19-inch alloys and quad pipes. On the inside, you get black and red stitching with carbonfibre trim on the dash. The steering wheel is AMG-specific, as are the graphics in the cluster and Track Pace app on the infotainment screen. Phew. Not too exhaustive.
2023 Mercedes-AMG C 43 engine and electric turbo
Okay, we need to unpack this engine, and bear with me if I get it a little technical. Because that really is at the very heart of this whole conversation of the C 43 being a ‘real’ AMG or not. This 2-litre, four-cylinder motor is one that we’re familiar with, the A 45 S has it under the hood. There is one critical difference though — the engine is transversely mounted in the hatch, while it is longitudinally mounted in the C 43. Which explains the ‘L’ suffix on the engine codename.
Like the big daddy V8s, this engine follows the One Man, One Engine philosophy. Where some dude in a sterile engine shop in Affalterbach painstakingly assembles the engine by hand, and puts his signature on the top. Pretty cool, but that makes no difference if the engine doesn’t go like stink. Which is where the electric exhaust gas turbo comes in. It confused me too, the first time — doesn’t an electric motor inside annul the definition of a turbo? Not really, I found out. What this particular turbo has is a teeny-tiny electric motor some 40mm wide sitting in the middle of the exhaust turbine and intake turbine. Powered by the 48V electrical system, it spins wildly when the car is at low revs and not generating enough exhaust pressure, negating lag. It can also keep boost in the turbo when off the throttle, so when you get back on, responses are instant. Fun fact: it is the first production engine in the world to get this tech. Another fun fact: This is legitimately an F1-derived technology. The MGU-H in an F1 powertrain is exactly this — a tiny motor generator in the heart of the turbo. The only difference is that the F1 motor can feed power back in to the battery, while the road car’s unit cannot. Yet.
There’s more to this engine than just a trick turbo, the cooling system is heavily optimised for performance. The turbo is cooled on the same circuit as the engine. The cylinder head and the crank case can be cooled to different degrees — a cool head allows for better ignition, while a warm crank case reduces losses due to friction. It also gets two-stage petrol injection - one stage oil directly inside the combustion chamber, another is in the intake manifold for better ignition. And another F1-inspired tech, the cylinders and pistons are coated in ‘Nanoslide technology’ — whatever that means — which is the same coating that the F1 engines get to reduce internal friction. Oh, and it gets the usual horsepower boost from the mild hybrid system. Four cylinders it may have, but there’s plenty in here to impress your mates at the bar. Or in a drag race.
2023 Mercedes C 43 performance
Dial it straight to Sport+. The revs at idle rise, the flaps in the exhaust open, and a low burble gets pumped through the speakers. Click the button at the base of the steering to turn ESP settings to the more playful ESP Sport, and another to put the gearbox in to manual. Stamp the brake, then the accelerator. Sorted.
You’re launched at the horizon with a ferocity you wouldn’t expect of something with just four cylinders. This engine does make 402bhp and 500Nm. Do the math — that’s 201bhp per litre. More than the Ferrari SF90 Stradale’s pedestrian 192bhp per litre. There’s a fact to fling at someone who says size matters. It’s always about what you do with it. AWD means your TC light isn’t fluttering at launch and all that power hits the road. The turbo spools up rapidly and then you’ve got this wave of torque pushing you to the horizon. This thing is fast!
It isn’t scare-you-witless quick, but quick enough to remind you this ain’t no regular C-Class. 0-100kmph comes up in a claimed 4.6 seconds. The engine, well, it feels like a high strung, high performance motor — revving out hard and bring speed with it. All that talk about the fancy turbo does help with responses. It is not EV-level of instant, but a big turbocharger like this would usually have massive lag and that’s not there. You can feel it when getting off and back on to the throttle through corners as well. The usual hesitation before boost comes back on is gone. The 9-speed MCT bangs in upshift, downshift, and upshift again with no hesitation. You can slot it in to full manual mode but then you’re completely on your own, it’ll bang against the limiter until you tug the right paddle. I found myself leaving it to do its thing was perfectly adequate. But… it sounds flat. Sure, it would be impossible to replicate the emotion of a V6 or a V8, but I wished it snarled more. In Sport+, the flaps open and you get a wooffle on upshifts, and a few pops on downshifts. But I want it to sound angry and menacing. It just doesn’t.
2023 Mercedes-AMG C 43 handling
A fast approaching left hander is enough to put that thought out of my head and focus on the corner ahead. I chuck it in and the front end darted left, with the weight settling to the right. The C 43 has rear-wheel steer and it felt darty. Roll was negligible and it held a line with supreme confidence. In Sport+ mode, the dampers were properly firmed up and the body control was taut. Mid corner bumps did unsettle it so I dialled the suspension settings back down to Sport, where it felt far more comfortable. The steering weighed up well — this was a variable ratio steering geometry that changed its weight and reactiveness to how fast you were going — but I found it easy to read for the most part. Getting back on the gas was drama-free — the AWD system putting down power more cleanly than a nun’s criminal record. With ESP off, you can boot it and get the outside rear wheel to over-rotate ever so slightly with the tail squirming out, but anything more requires serious amounts of commitment, which I was in no mood for on the public road. Wider, more sweeping corners revealed plenty of lateral grip and composure, and you could really push the car on the public road before you encountered its limits. The base C-Class was already such a step up in dynamics from the old car, going toe to toe with the 3 Series and the C 43 simply builds on that.
2023 Mercedes-AMG C 43 Price and verdict
Does this feel like an AMG? To answer that, I’m going to put it in the context of its closest rival — the M340i. The BMW feels like a useable everyday car that has been dialled up a few notches. The C 43 feels like an AMG that has been toned down a few notches. It’s got all the characteristics of a proper performance car. The engine has proper punch, the dynamics are sound, the interiors feel more AMG than luxury and that grille is unmistakeable. It also comes with the pitfalls of one — the ride is so stiff that you’d have to be committed to use it daily. And you’re always going to be thinking about an aftermarket exhaust. For Rs 98 lakh, it is a lot of money. A lot of that down to the fact that it is a CBU. But who said a motorsport-tech-laden AMG would come cheap?