It would have been nice to make it to a 10th anniversary, to celebrate a full decade as a contributor to this august website. Oh, that a man might know / The end of this day’s business ere it come! / But it sufficeth that the day will end / And then the end is known. My first contribution to TTAC appeared on December 20, 2008. This is the last one. I’m not quitting the business; you can find me at Road & Track, Hagerty Magazine, Watch Journal, Bicycling, Popular Mechanics, Zoom-Zoom Magazine, and a few others. It’s time to move on to work on some other projects.
Oh, well. Let’s enjoy our final moments together. Come with me as I open the throttle on Mercedes’/AMG’s mild underachiever of a three-liter twin-turbo V6 from the Thai border to Hatyai and from there to Hua Hin. The speeds are outrageous, the 7-Elevens along the way are serving hot sandwiches, and the monkeys that hang from cages mounted to late-model diesel Hiluxes are giving us quizzical looks.
Earlier this year, I reviewed this car’s lesser sibling and was cautiously impressed. My biggest complaints at the time concerned the timid, clattering engine and the relative paucity of standard equipment. The C43 addresses both of these concerns at a price that hovers around the $55k mark here in the States. The problem, if there is one, is that about twelve “stacks” more will put you into a C63 sedan. Why not go all the way?
The biggest reason I can think of doesn’t apply to Americans. In many other countries, particularly in Asia, there are significant taxes on engine displacement. In Malaysia, for example, the difference in road tax between a C43 and a C63 over five years would just about match the original difference in sticker price. In many markets, the C43 is now the top C-Class offering because there simply isn’t measurable interest in anything faster. I suppose that’s reasonable.
Not that the C43 is particularly fast, at least not by modern high-performance standards. It will launch pretty hard from a dig, courtesy of the two small turbos and standard AWD, but if your stoplight opponent is driving something like a Camaro SS or Mustang GT you can expect to see some taillights in short order. Which is fine, because Mercedes-Benz does not admit the existence of those vehicles. The C43 is assumed to operate within the narrow ecosystem inhabited by the BMW 340i and Audi S5. Against them, it does fine. For 2019, USA-model C43 sedans will boast 385 horsepower instead of the 362 found in this current model. It won’t make much of a difference.
The preferred method of highway operation in Thailand goes something like this: Drive at 90-110mph until you reach a cluster of trucks, then wait patiently for them to move over, then floor it to the kickdown and drive to the next group. Somewhat embarrassingly, the C43 proved unable in these circumstances to keep up with the Volvo S90 T8 Twin Engine that I also drove over these roads. The idea that an AMG-labeled Benz can’t keep up with a Volvo? Not good.
When the road began to curve, however, the C43 made up the gap and then some. This is a rock-solid platform for high-speed cornering, offering linear turn-in and a reasonable amount of feedback from the 19-inch wheels. Default behavior is to push the nose, as is the case with pretty much every other Mercedes sedan in history, but unlike many of its predecessors this AMG doesn’t tighten the line with throttle. So you increase the pace until the nose starts to slide and then you’re not going to do any more. Which is fine.
This was a right-hand-drive car, which pointed up the relatively tight space between steering wheel and door panel for me. It’s funny how I didn’t notice this issue in the LHD variants. There must be something in my brain that re-evaluates driver fit when I’m sitting on the “wrong” side of the car. Or Mercedes-Benz has moved the wheel over a bit. I doubt that. Thirty years ago it was common for RHD cars to have wonky wheel positioning but surely the Benz-Borg now engineers them to be separate but equal.
The Burmester sound system is serviceable but no more; the Revel Ultima setup in a Lincoln Continental would shame it. Come to think of it, there isn’t much that a Continental doesn’t do better than a C43. It’s just as fast in a straight line, no less confidence-inspiring in corners. It offers more space, more features, and better materials inside. The rear seat is a joy, whereas the rear seat in a C43 is a bit of a punishment. If the two cars cost the same, which they do not when comparably equipped, you’d be silly to get the Benz. Why would you? Because it’s a “pure” rear-drive platform? What difference does that make when everybody forces their performance sedans to take a heavy dose of ZZZ-Quil in the form of an overactive AWD system?
It’s unpleasant to say so, but this car really has no business being labeled as an AMG anything. A simple ‘C450 4Matic’ badge would describe it nicely without writing checks the powertrain and suspension are unwilling to cash. The C63 which sits above it in the lineup isn’t exactly an inspiration to the enthusiast driver but it does carry on the tradition of putting a big(ish) engine in a small(ish) sedan. This C43, by contrast, is simply a competitor for the better-trimmed compact entry-luxury offerings from the other Germans. I’d rather save 14 grand and take a C300, which feels more comfortable in its own skin. Or I’d spend the extra money and get the big engine just to have that freeway head rush.
There’s nothing wrong with the C43 AMG. The problem is that there’s also nothing that would motivate a potential owner to make personal sacrifices or work longer hours to buy one. Eight years ago, shortly after I began my career here at TTAC, Mercedes-Benz changed its slogan to the evocative “The Best Or Nothing.” That’s not reflected in the C43. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not nothing. Nor, however, is it the best. Thanks for reading. I’ll see you around.
[Images Courtesy of Bobby Ang, EVOLTN Magazine]