First Drive: 2017 Mercedes-AMG C43

First Drive: 2017 Mercedes-AMG C43
 

Mercedes-AMG 63 models have somewhat of a cult following among enthusiasts, thanks to the raucous V8 engine notes that continue to scare small children and shake critters and leaves off trees.

But high-performance models such as the AMG C63 and AMG GLE63 have moved up the price ladder and become out of reach for many, leaving a gaping hole in pricing where these models once resided.

To fill this gap, the firm has introduced the AMG 43 range, all powered by a 3.0-litre V6 biturbo pushing out 270kW and 520Nm, which is the same output that the old C55 AMG with its 5.4-litre V8 engine mustered.

The AMG 43 models essentially sit above the regular models and just below the full-fat AMG V8 derivatives. Think of them as AMG-lites, which means they take the fight directly to Audi’s S models and BMW’s M Performance cars, which are a rung below their RS and M models. Much like Audi’s recipe, Merc has peppered the AMG 43 models with all-wheel drive traction (69% of the power going to the rear axle), which ensures easily accessible and useable everyday performance.

What is available in the range? C-Class variants include sedan, coupe and cabriolet. There is also the SLC AMG 43, then the GLC and GLE SUV variants in conventional and coupe body styles. All models also come standard with a nine-speed automatic gearbox and sports exhaust.

When I drove both the AMG C43 coupe and convertible in Italy in 2016, it was undoubtedly the coupe that impressed the most. So when given the chance to sample the entire range on home soil, I was keen to revisit the model and make a more conclusive assessment of where the cars fit in.

As you will have seen with Audi and its S models, these variants have managed to fill the gap between regular A and Q models and the top-tier RS variants. These are not simply run-of-the-mill models with a bigger engine but are properly fettled by their respective performance divisions. The same goes for the AMG 43 variants, which are built at the same plant as the rest of the AMG models in Affalterbach, Germany. From the suspension to the interior, they share a great deal of the same elements with their more powerful variants.

We recently drove the AMG C43 range at the Zwartkops Raceway to get a feel of how dynamic the models are. The first thing to grab you is the engine note. In typical AMG style, the exhaust rasps, crackles and backfires depending on throttle input and gear change, making it one of the most characterful V6 engines around.

Performance is more than adequate, but unlike the big rear-wheel drive AMG V8s, this one is less intimidating while grip and traction are prodigious.

Granted, the rear-wheel drive enthusiasts will feel underwhelmed by the AMG 43, but then this is not targeted at that market.

In fact, I think there are more buyers out there who are fascinated and keen on owning an AMG model and the aural theatrics it represents, but not particularly the brutal performance. It is along those lines, then, that the AMG 43 will appeal.

We also managed to spend time at the helm of the AMG GLC43 and GLE43 and it was the former that impressed with its nimbler body and more resolute overall performance. Sadly, the GLE43 is now feeling its age as the cabin architecture is still from the previous generation cars and it was the least impressive of the 43 range.

Starting at R858 400 for the AMG C43 sedan and R1 297 200 for the AMG GLE43 coupe, some of the models are on the rather expensive side.

However, the sedan presents fairly good value as it is not priced that far off something like the AMG CLA45, which weighs in at a ludicrous R880 314.

From that perspective, the C43 makes a strong case for itself and it would be a worthy alternative to the BMW 340i if rear-wheel drive dynamics do not rank highly on your buying preference.

It might not have the guttural V8 roar of the C63, but for some, the lower price will more than make up for it. – Lerato Matebese