Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, as the saying goes, and even starchy-collared Mercedes-AMG management will admit that the C 43 AMG owes a lot to two other cars: the Alfa Romeo Giulia QV and Audi S4 quattro. The former, with its pumped-up, responsive Ferrari-based six-cylinder engine, and the latter, with its unruffled four-wheel-drive system, are the lodestars for a potent new Mercedes-AMG silver arrow. An AMG that doesn’t have a heavy V8 motor up front, nor one with a proclivity for gobbling up its rear tyres: where do we sign on?
About time, too, because as Mercedes-Benz pigeonholes evermore sports-crossover-coupe-activity niches for its nouveau riche customers, it’s left vast tracts of primo sports-sedan real estate uncultivated. AMG has solved that problem with the recently revitalised Mercedes-Benz C-Class range, built in East London for local consumption and export. In 2018 the plant started building AMG derivatives, too, the the twin-turbo, direct injection six-cylinder you see before you is the first of its breed in fact.
Starting below R1 million, the (more) affordable 43 has had plenty of interested takers from the Sandton jet set already. Still understated in silhouette, like any good sports sedan should do, it comes alive in the detailing and badging, and courtesy of the AMG Line body kit and LED head and taillights equipped as standard. The 3.0-litre V6 powerhouse has warmed to 287 kW/520 Nm and while that may sounds stingy compared to the old anabolic V8, when you combine it with a specially calibrated nine-speed automatic gearbox, and 4Matic four-wheel drive, a genuinely crisp sports sedan is the result. The resulting schnell is impressive, too, with a claimed sprint of 4.7 seconds to 100 km/h.
The six-pot AMG weighs 1 670 kg, 200 kg lighter than its V8 big brother, and that’s despite carrying two extra drive shafts. Although, on the move, with the V6 bellowing away on throttle, and belching hard with every gearshift, you’d swear you were in something half the size, with twice the power. Take it from us; it’s even better specs suggest. There’s an unmistakable sense that this is taking on the masterful Alfa Romeo Giulia QV – the new German commandant, is a strategic, pragmatic riposte to the Italian generale.
This is down to a similarly responsive turbo motor and agility taking precedence above all else in the handling department. The C 43 is a sedan that pulls off that lovely trick of shrinking around you at speed. It feels balanced, composed and sure-footed with the 4Matic system. Previous two-wheel drives simply couldn’t cope with the volcanic AMG engines and their snatchy response. They were great for lurid power slides but little else. Now, armed with a lightweight, rev-happy engine and reassured paddle-operated shift points, all of a sudden the AMG C-Class comes alive in your hands. It’s a real mountain-strafing goer!
And yet, as we found on a high-speed blat through the flowing countryside, AMG has pulled off the uncanny trick of not just making it more reactive but more comfortable on the road, too. In comfort mode you can glide along happily in the knowledge you won’t suffer a compacted vertebra. Equally, closer stacked gear ratios between 3rd and 9th in the auto box make for a smoother transition between low- and high-speed ranges. Arm Dynamic Select to the Sport+ program and it morphs from civilised cruiser to absolute cruise missile.
Traction at corner exit is breathtakingly good, only an expertly driven two-wheel drive could hang with the 43 in tight bends. Understeer is a little accelerated by the voracious ponies channelled to all for wheels, though, and normally you could slack off the go-pedal to allow the front end to fall back in line, or employ a trail braking all the way to the apex of the corner, but this Mercedes is, rightly or wrongly, committed to its noise-first trajectory. A lack of adjustability at the extreme limit makes one question its out-and-out track credentials, but compared to the C 63’s rampant oversteer; for many, this represents the lesser of two evils.
You can forget your compact crossovers with four doors and a sloping coupe roof line, this is a niche Mercedes-Benz desperately needing filling and it’s done so with aplomb. For a well-heeled buyer with their hearts set on a not-too-showy sports sedan that loves to lap up occasional laps at the race circuit, too, the C 43 4Matic is a quality item. And it’s one East London can be proud of.
In a nutshell
Mercedes-AMG C 43 4Matic
Understated, powerful, satisfyingly usable
The half a second it’s slower than a C 63
Engine: 2996 cc, 6-cylinder turbo petrol
Power: 287 kW @ 5 000 rpm, 520 Nm @ 2500 – 4 200 rpm
Performance tested: 0-100 km/h 4.7 sec, top speed 250 km/h (limited
Tyres: 250/55 R18
Economy: 9.5 l/100 km (claimed)
Transmission: 9-speed auto
CO2 emissions: 213 g/km
Price: R 960 265