Fast AMG C-Classes are usually defined by loud, obnoxious, and oversized engines shoehorned into otherwise elegant little luxury sedans.
But times are changing. V8s have fallen out of favour, and V6s look to follow them into the history books in the not-too-distant future, particularly for automakers based out of Europe facing ever-tightening emissions regulations.
A lot of premium dollars are now finding their way toward hybrids and electric vehicles, too, with an increasing consciousness of fuel costs and environmental impact.
All of these factors are why the new Mercedes-AMG C 43 has just four cylinders and tricky 48-volt hybrid tech. Can it possibly capture the unique kind of brash magic which AMG has become so well known for?
We travelled to Europe for a first-drive review to find out.
Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with? 8/10
First things first, we don’t know how much the new C 43 will cost in Australia, because it’s still a way off from launching in our market.
The local Mercedes division tells us not to expect the C 43 until the first half of 2023, and when it does arrive to expect a corresponding price-hike, the same as the rest of the new-generation W206 C-Class range.
For reference, the new C200 and C300 which launched earlier this year are up some $12,000 and $15,100 from their predecessors, although they do add significantly more standard equipment which would have once lived in option packs. The current C 43 sedan costs from $113,576, before on-road costs.
The big screens are dazzling. (image credit: Tom White)
We specify the sedan because it’s the only C 43 body style which has been confirmed for Australia. Sadly, the hot new wagon version is off the cards for SUV-hungry Australia, and coupe or cabriolet versions of the W206 are yet to be revealed.
Australian C 43s are expected to wear 19- or 20-inch wheels. (image credit: Tom White)
Features are immediately impressive, with the new C 43 sporting 18- to 20-inch alloy wheels (expect 19- or 20-inch wheels to be standard in Australia), LED headlights, an AMG bodykit, adaptive dampers, rear-axle steering, sports exhaust and brake package, 'Artico' synthetic leather interior trim with electrically adjustable sports seats, red interior highlight trims, a huge 'MBUX' portrait-oriented multimedia screen, a digital dash, phone mirroring tech, built-in augmented reality navigation, keyless entry and push-start ignition, and multi-zone climate control.
Stay tuned closer to the C 43’s first-half-of-2023 launch window for final pricing and specs, but for now colour us impressed.
Is there anything interesting about its design? 9/10
The C-Class has fallen closer in line with its larger E-Class and S-Class siblings in the last two iterations, and AMG is usually known for throwing the script out the window a bit and going wild with the bodykit, wheels, and spoilers, turning otherwise dainty sedans into muscular brutes.
This new C 43 though is quite subtle in its AMG makeover. It’s still lower and angrier, sporting the signature AMG grille and big wheels, but is otherwise quite pared back, with a slightly more aggressive bumper treatment, blacked-out highlights in all the right spots, and a little carbon spoiler jutting out the bootlid.
The C-Class has fallen closer in line with its larger E-Class and S-Class siblings. (image credit: Tom White)
It may not be the aggro spots sedan some expect, maintaining the softer lines of the standard W206. I'm a fan of this measured approach, and the wide stance and angry ridges atop the bonnet, present on even the base C200 of this generation do help to seal the deal.
Inside is tech galore, as you may have come to expect from Mercedes. The big screens are dazzling, and there’s more than a healthy serving of chrome running along the dash and into the vent fittings.
The new-age steering wheel has experienced an AMG makeover (although we’re not sure how ‘standard’ the suede trim in our overseas test car will be), managing to look sporty and science-fiction at the same time.
Inside is tech galore. (image credit: Tom White)
Most areas in here feel as premium as you would hope, with plenty of soft leather surfaces for elbows and the like, although there are still some notable plastic trims on the lower section of the dash, and our test car might have gone a little too hard on the carbon-look material which made up the majority of the centre console.
Still, if it’s a customisable digital space you’re after, the C 43 will impress, with sleek high-resolution software which can be configured in an almost overwhelming number of ways.
How practical is the space inside? 8/10
This generation of C-Class has expanded in pretty much every dimension, almost looking and feeling like an E-Class of a few years ago.
This means a big space for adults in the front, with lots of practicality fittings. I found space great for myself in the front seat, with a nice low seating position, sufficient headroom and space for my arms, although it is notable how much the transmission tunnel intrudes into your leg space along where your knee might sit.
There are a set of two bottle holders in the door integrated into a large bin fitting, two more in the centre console, and a somewhat cramped little bay with a sliding cover.
This houses two USB-C ports and a wireless phone charger, but not much room for anything else. The centre console box also flips open to reveal a small space
The back seat is clearly where much of the extra space of this new C-Class has disappeared to, with gratuitous legroom for myself behind my own (182cm) driving position, a reasonably low-profile transmission tunnel in the rear, and nice comfortable seats.
Rear seat passengers score dual adjustable air vents. (image credit: Tom White)
Headroom is okay considering this car’s slinky roofline, and the quality trims continue into the rear door cards for resting your elbow on.
Rear passengers are treated to a similar dual bottle-holder set-up as is present in the front seat, dual adjustable air vents, dual USB-C ports, and pockets on the backs of the front seats.
Boot space is maintained at 455 litres, the same as the regular C-Class range. While not the largest in the category, this is sufficient space, and the boot opening is wider than ever thanks to the new split tail-light design.
The bootlid is even motorised, which seems like overkill to me. Stay tuned for a local review so we can put it to the test with the CarsGuide luggage set.
What are the key stats for the engine and transmission? 9/10
This little 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine looks to be the centre of some controversy as AMG is forced to downsize and electrify away from the big brash engines of its past.
Don’t write it off too quickly, though, producing 300kW and 500Nm, this engine (dubbed the M139L) isn’t missing much. In fact, it produces more power and only slightly less torque than the 3.0-litre six-cylinder twin-turbo it replaces. The car is even capable of sprinting from 0-100km/h 0.1 of a second faster, at just 4.6 seconds.
It achieves this through clever use of its 48-volt mild-hybrid system. Like other cars which have this tech, there’s a belt-driven generator which contributes 10kW under certain situations, but the real innovation for the C 43 is its electrified turbocharger.
The turbocharged four-cylinder engine produces 300kW/500Nm. (image credit: Tom White)
This technology, said to be derived from Mercedes’ F1 program, integrates an electric motor on the turbo’s internal shaft to directly apply speed to the compressor before there is sufficient exhaust gas pressure.
It essentially functions as an anti-lag feature, allowing boost pressure to be maintained even from a dead start or when the driver lets off the accelerator to corner. The result? Better responsiveness. At least in theory.
The C 43 sends drive to all four wheels (in a 31/69 front/rear split) and has a nine-speed automatic transmission. This is a planetary set-up rather than a dual-clutch system used by some rivals, but the AMG ‘Speedshift’ version swaps the torque converter for a wet clutch, giving it theoretically faster shift times, but a different character when the clutch engages. More on this later.
How much fuel does it consume? 8/10
The smaller engine and turbocharged trickery helps the new C 43 trim up to 0.7L/100km from fuel consumption compared to the V6 it replaces, as well as up to 18g/km of CO2 emissions. This makes for as little as 8.7L/100km of fuel consumption and 196g/km of CO2. I was surprised to see it not fall a little further.
As we were testing the C 43 almost exclusively in mountainous conditions, it was hard to pull a fair fuel number from our short test. Expect a more detailed evaluation when we are able to locally review the car.
The C 43 has a 57-litre fuel tank, slightly down on the 66-litre fuel tank from the car it replaces.
What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating? 9/10
We don’t know what final specification the C 43 will land on when it arrives in Australia, but we are told to expect at least a similar level of equipment to the current top-spec C 300 grade.
The W206 C-Class also features an impressive array of 10 airbags, dual ISOFIX and three top-tether child-seat mounting points across the rear row, and was recently awarded a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating to the latest 2022 standards (although this may not necessarily extend to the AMG variants).
Warranty & Safety Rating
5 years / unlimited km
ANCAP Safety Rating
What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered? 8/10
Five years of roadside assist is also usually included, although we don’t yet know if the C 43 will follow the same 12 month/25,000km service intervals of its C300 and C200 siblings.
Service pricing is also yet to be revealed, but expect it to be most affordable when pre-purchased as part of a service plan.
What's it like to drive? 9/10
The C 43 is fascinating. It is not what I expected at all. I had expected either the numbers to add up on paper but feel a bit hollow from behind the wheel, or for this sedan to adopt the bratty characteristics of the A 45 hatchback.
Neither turned out to be the case. The C 43 was surprising from the get-go. I was impressed with the sporty driving position, nicely weighted and accurate steering, and particularly the engine note.
Kick the C 43 into a lower gear and ride the RPM range up to the 5000 point and this engine has a rich note. AMG is the first to admit that it is plumbed into the cabin via the speakers - a necessity for today’s well-insulated interiors, but it is a genuinely strong tone.
It’s nothing quite like the brash fire-spitting engines of the brand’s past, but it’s also not the yappy snap-crackle-pop of the A45.
Instead, the C 43’s engine sound is closer to a straight-six, or at least a distant facsimile of one. It’s cool though, while some die-hards might not be sold, I like how AMG has given the hot C-Class a mature flavour of its own even with a four-cylinder turbo.
Acceleration is strong and responsive, too, with the turbo magic clearly working along in the background. The clever feature of holding the speed of the compressor when you let off to corner was especially evident on the French countryside switchbacks I was able to sample the car on.
Flicking through the drive modes, and each does imbue the car with different personalities. 'Comfort' blunts the performance and response a little, as well as dialling back the engine note, while 'Sport Plus' is a bit much.
The C 43’s engine sound is closer to a straight-six. (image credit: Tom White)
In that setting I found it a bit annoying that the transmission would linger in high gears for far too long. The happy middle ground for me carving up a country road was the standard 'Sport' mode, where the transmission behaved itself better, the sound was great, and the steering was tight.
The ‘Speedshift’ transmission does seem to have a few irks outside of sport plus. At low speed it can introduce a jerkiness I would usually associate with a dual-clutch automatic, which makes sense because it uses an electrically-actuated clutch plate instead of a standard torque converter.
Even when you’re up and running, though, the transmission can occasionally be caught off-guard with rapid changes in speed, occasionally sending a little shunt through the driveline.
It takes ideal conditions for it to come into its own, and takes away from the otherwise tidy refinement of this sedan.
Another surprise came in the form of the four-wheel steering and all-wheel drive system. Both are subtle in their execution, and work away in the background without introducing intrusive characteristics to the experience behind the wheel.
The four-wheel steer isn’t one of those systems which makes the steering feel unnatural, nor does it take away from the cornering experience. Its mild angle simply means when you need just a little extra help in a hairpin, it will make up the difference.
The same goes for the all-wheel drive system. The balance is great. I still felt as though the C 43 is a rear-biased car, with all the fun dynamism that can bring.
The C 43 was surprising from the get-go. (image credit: Tom White)
The front axle doesn't interrupt you by introducing understeer or the like, with the car gripping very nicely into even tight bends.
In terms of the ride things seemed impressive to me. It’s difficult to tell how it will feel in Australian conditions on Europe’s nicely curated roads, but the adaptive dampers keep everything nicely controlled regardless.
The occasional particularly sharp bump was communicated to the cabin, proving there are limits here (no surprise on our test car’s 20-inch wheels), but stay tuned for a closer look at this when the C 43 eventually arrives in Australia.
Like any good AMG bucket seat, the ones in the C 43 clasp you nicely for support in the corners, although I will say the padding, particularly at the back, is a bit firm.
Where does all this leave the new C 43? This is an impressive sedan, with clever tech doing its part to make up for a lack of brute force.
It takes on a different character for AMG, this is a car which is much less a European muscle car and more a gentle, agile machine which tries to outsmart whatever you throw at it.
The new C 43 is more refined, cleverly electrified, and very tech heavy, offering a distinctly modern solution to the problem of ever-tightening emissions regulations.
It’s unexpected in so many good ways, and while it certainly is more of an agile scalpel than the howling Deutsch muscle cars of AMG’s past, I feel like it still earns the Affalterbach badge, just in a different way. I can’t wait to see what fans will make of it when it lands in Australia.
Note: CarsGuide attended this event as a guest of the manufacturer, with travel and meals provided.
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