2023 Mercedes-AMG C43 First Drive: Change is a Good Thing
Mercedes-AMG is still in the early stages of its inevitable transition to full electrification. There are still plenty of cylinders left in the AMG lineup, but they’re dropping like flies. As this progression continues, it will be up to the brand to maintain its performance pedigree without relying on the big, brutal engines we’ve come to love over the years.
Fear not, though, because even with shrinking powertrains, Mercedes’ fast-speed department has no intention of slowing down. Case in point: the 2022 Mercedes-AMG C43, which ditches the previous generation’s twin-turbo V6 in favor of four-cylinder propulsion. And after that, the whole-grain C63 will also get a new 2.0-liter hybrid powertrain that could produce up to 670 horsepower when it hits the market later this year. I’ll reserve judgment on the latter until then, but when it comes to the AMG-lite C sedan, I’m happy to report there’s still plenty to like.
Since the Mercedes-AMG C43 doesn’t have US pricing or fuel economy estimates, we can’t provide a rating yet. A vehicle’s verdict is relative only to its own segment and not to the new vehicle market as a whole. Read more about how Motor1.com rates cars here.
|Quick Stats:||2022 Mercedes-AMG C43 Sedan|
|Engine:||2.0-liter turbocharged I4 with starter-generator|
|Production:||402 horsepower / 369 lb-ft|
|Reader Type:||Nine-speed automatic|
The heart of the problem
The C43’s new 2.0-litre turbocharged mild-hybrid four-cylinder is the same mill as the CLA 45, an AMG-specific engine built in Affalterbach by a single technician (unlike the last-generation V6). Engineers rotated the engine 90 degrees for longitudinal mounting and added a new electric exhaust turbocharger. This fascinating technology debuted in Lewis Hamilton’s F1 car and, with some very heavy modifications, is now ready for road AMGs.
The turbocharger has its own electric motor placed between the turbine and the compressor wheel on the intake side. This is different from the EQ Boost system, in that it replaces the compressor with a larger electric motor. The electric motor powers the turbocharger drive shaft before the exhaust gases reach it, reducing lag time. With the combined power of the exhaust and electric motor, this turbo can reach up to 175,000 rpm producing nearly 50 PSI.
And with the sophisticated new F1 turbocharger, the engine produces more power than in the CLA 45: 402 hp compared to 382. In theory, Mercedes could have transferred the entire unit to the C43 with the same conventional turbo, but it doesn’t. This power-assisted unit has much more to offer in future applications. Suddenly the crazy 650+ horsepower rumors we’ve heard about the upcoming C63 seem more realistic. Admittedly, AMG’s engineers didn’t flinch when this claim was thrown at them.
Rainy day on the playground
Eager to try out this new setup, I ran outside to see a row of parked C43s, absolutely drenched in the rain. With the rest of the day to test the car and no sun in sight, I headed for the hills after receiving a tip from an ice cream vendor that bad weather tends to break in high altitude areas near. And a big thank you to this guy who will probably never read this, because he was absolutely right.
Getting there was another story. Leaving the picturesque town of Colmar, France, for the mountain roads, the rain was truly incessant. So much so that I decided to seek temporary shelter on the main freeway and admire some of the other features of the C-Class.
My friend and colleague Brett T. Evans listed the new stuff when he drove the 2022 C300 last month. I agree with his main conclusion: the C-Class has had a major boost with this generation, more than ever influenced by the S-Class. With this DNA as a starting point, the C43 looks even better with an AMG make-up of good taste.
This test car was equipped with the AMG Night Package, which turns off the lights on many important exterior features, like the Panamericana vertical slat grille. Wheels are now bigger with 20- and 21-inch options to choose from – the latter looks stunning with its functional aero inserts and brushed metal finish.
Things are even better at the rear with a large decklid spoiler and quad-oval exhausts, both of which carry over as C43 signatures from the previous model. It wouldn’t be outrageous to assume this is the fastest model in the lineup, as the firecracker sedan looks more aggressive than ever.
At first, I thought my affinity for the C43’s cabin was due to its deluge protection on the outside. The thing is, this interior looks just fantastic in any scenario. Beneath the 11.9-inch MBUX infotainment screen is a stunning piece of glossy carbon fiber that runs the entire dashboard. This complements the red-hot seat belts and matching stitching that lines the door panels and seats.
Incidentally, those optional AMG Sport seats are still a pain point for me – and I mean that literally. With such a small cushion, these thrones belong in something that will spend time on an actual track.
Skip those seats and you have the best interior of any car in the segment. With this new C-Class, I was hoping Mercedes would put a little more distance between itself and the CLA to justify the extra cash, and it did just that.
After killing some time asking the voice assistant to tell me jokes, I finally decided to fulfill the ice cream man’s prophecy and put this car through its paces without the wipers. deep ice cream. Fortunately, the rain finally broke out, although the roads remained wet.
I started slow, giving the C43 a chance to find its footing in drier conditions. In Comfort mode, the car was consistent with the pleasant ride quality of the adaptive dampers. Steering felt quick and light in the hands. Nothing about its behavior was too aggressive for everyday driving. But it was far from a daily commute, so it was time to hurry.
The first few miles of fast driving felt eerily familiar. Different noises under the hood, sure, but this is still a small sedan that knows how to handle its business on a twisty road. This C43 strays from the compact designation, however. It’s four inches longer overall, with an extra inch between the wheels compared to its predecessor. To help mask this growth spurt, every C43 is equipped with rear-axle steering that draws power from the on-board 48-volt system.
With all four wheels changing direction, the car turned with surprising agility. And even in the absence of temperature, the Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires offer exceptional grip throughout the turns. Switching the drive mode to Sport and Sport Plus showed predictable marginal intensity upgrades. Shocks have been firmed up to keep the car more stable, and steering feel has been weighted. These two changes gave me more confidence when I encountered tighter hairpins.
But the C43’s party piece comes out of a corner, where its turbocharger kicks in with serious vigor. If reducing turbo lag was the main priority, then mission accomplished, as it seemed impossible to catch this powertrain off guard. The nine-speed automatic downshifted urgently to pick up the pace, but with 369 pound-feet of torque available, there was plenty of thrust even in too high a gear.
The standard all-wheel drive system has a fixed configuration delivering 31% of the power to the front wheels and 69% to the rear wheels. Even in the wet, the car never felt precarious or out of control. The C43 is just one of the cars that offers the perfect performance for a sports sedan.
But there is one more elephant that needs to be dealt with. I won’t say the four-cylinder sounds any better than the previous V6…because it doesn’t. As expected, the four-cylinder lacks the higher-pitched whine that made the V6 so delicious. But AMG loves drama when it comes to noise and the C43 delivers plenty of grunt, pops and growl. That’s the biggest downside of downsizing powertrains, and it’s a price I’m willing to pay.
Inevitably, the drops on the windshield started to accumulate again as I descended the mountain. Although time kept me from seeing this hot-rod sedan in its full form, it gave me plenty of time to think about the car’s place in the modern Mercedes landscape.
We’re still months away from tasting AMG hybrid performance in its most powerful form. The aforementioned C63 and other models like the AMG GT 63 S E-Performance will indicate whether or not the brand transition is going as planned.
But the C43 is a car that needs to balance speed and luxury on equal footing to do its job well. This second generation hits that middle ground even better thanks to its new engine, not in spite of itself. As the era of combustion-powered AMGs nears the finish line, it’s good to see that new models aren’t being overlooked in the mad dash for electrification.