AMG’s V6 is an effervescent item, but the firm’s famous V8 isn’t under threat – this is a situation when two engines are stronger than one.
MERCEDES’ mainstream models are obviously on a sales charge but, fittingly, an even quicker pace of percentage gain going forward seems likely to be set by its AMG performance models.
This fresh advancement by the brand’s Affalterbach arm will also disprove theory about there being no replacement for displacement. The model that is expected to spin up the buy-in to tyre-punishing frenzy is one that divests the brand’s more historically famous V8 and V12 powerplants for a more modest cylinder count.
While rivals BMW, Audi and Lexus have all done well with six-cylinders, AMG has by and large steered clear of that territory. Until now. A new back-end badge – with the numeric ‘43’ – signals an attack with a high-performance turbocharged V6 into those foes’ safe zones, led for now by Benz’s local best-selling pure road car, the C-Class.
The only saving grace for the competition is that the Benz move starts in modest form, with a $120,900 coupe. It’s an entry gambit that is sure to win plenty of attention – because slinky two-door cars are just magnets for stares – but perhaps not that many actual sales: Coupes simply require a degree of owner dedication that most Kiwis don’t have.
It’s the same around most of the world, actually, which is why there are more choices coming. By this time next year, Mercedes-Benz New Zealand, will have launched C43 in $116,400 sedan, $119,400 wagon and $135,900 cabriolet guise, in addition to the GLC43 medium crossover. Those who prefer to buy into the more potent ‘63’ series V8s won’t miss out – there are more of these coming, too, including the E63 large sedan just revealed internationally.
All the same, the brand’s perception is that, in this arena, 2017 could be a year when the new power player pushes to the front.
Regional public relations, product and corporate communications man David McCarthy reckons the C43 could oust the C63 as AMG’s top seller in our region, though he further suggests those models’ combined strength will be even more beneficial.
“We see C43 as a model that potentially has the ability to give C63 a run (in sales volume) but without actually stealing many sales from it,” he said. “(C63) is currently the number-one AMG … I don’t see that slackening off, but the growth of AMG is going to come from the 43s.”
Conjecture that the 43 will trigger a largely new AMG buyer base and raise interest from a clientele seeking something that looks a bit special for around $52k less than is asked for the full-blown equivalent seems reasonable.
Even so, insofar as coupe buying goes, the C43 will be more likely become a step up for a C250 driver than a step down for the C63 clientele, who might think a six-pot that has 105kW and 180Nm less to work with just dials down the drama a bit too much.
Well, I’d say try first, then decide. This is a very rapid coupe. Just, as the more subtly sporty looks alone evidence, it is a different kind of AMG beast. Still demanding respect, but less of a monster.
The only engine that the AMG volk don’t assemble by hand (hence why it misses out on the trademark nameplate) doesn’t produce a rumble as distinctive as the C63’s V8 from the get-go, and you need in fact to set the drivetrain modes into their most overt settings to find some serious snarl and shove. That process includes actioning something not required by the eight-cylinder, a switchable active exhaust.
However, once all the dials are turned to ‘max’, it provides bone fide AMG drama, chiming in with a decent enough 0-100kmh time of 4.7 seconds and going on to generate some impressive mid-range vigour, thanks to torque emerging at its fullest from 2000rpm to 4200rpm. Keep pushing and it entertains some free-spirited revving to its 6550-rpm redline. The more it is stirred, the sweeter it sounds, not least when the driver takes the $5000 exhaust package meted our car.
The C43 is the first AMG car with the new nine-speed automatic transmission that is also infiltrating into the mainstream Mercedes models. This version has been sharpened for AMG tastes and while it doesn’t have the rifle bolt incisiveness of the seven-speed that slots into the bigger gun, it is not without crispness, not least in Sport plus mode, which delivers an aggressive shift mapping. It also runs nicely in manual mode (though the switch is annoying hidden on the wrong side of the gear selector).
No launch control here, as per the V8, but perhaps it’s redundant with this model having all-wheel-drive, a factor that while adding weight and some complexity certainly had positive influence on a drive day across forest roads well-covered, at times, in light tree litter after a night of high winds.
Leaves atop of an already damp road were giving serious gyp to a Harley Davidson rider ahead of me yet presented much less of a low traction challenge from where we sat. With no chance of overtaking the far-from-easy-rider, we didn’t have opportunity to push the car hard enough to experience the torque split tuning that, in sending 67 percent of the engine’s effort to the rear wheels, apparently allowed the model’s attitude to be throttle-adjusted. Another day, hopefully.
The dynamic recipe involves the variable-ratio steering being tuned by AMG to improve directness and response and the adaptive suspension (with Comfort, Sport and Sport-Plus settings) being teamed with a multi-link front axle with increased negative camber. Steering knuckles and load-bearing joints were borrowed from the C63 for improved rigidity.
The coupe’s rakish looks also lend to the sporting experience though it is equally about delivering a luxurious setting. Turn the AMG Dynamic Select control to Comfort and, while the ride quality still retains stiffness, it settles down to becoming a more relaxed and refined cruiser, with even opportunity to stretch the economy by employing the ‘sailing’ mode that decouples the transmission from engine when the throttle is lifted. There’s auto stop-start for enhanced around town thrift, too.
The coupe is the least practical of the C-Class shapes – basically, for the main part, if occupants up front are long in leg then you need forget that has a rear seat – but it’s no less beautifully executed and the assembly quality is exceptional. Wind noise is very well quelled and the engine quietens down at cruise.
Reminder that AMG is also about luxury starts with performance chairs trimmed in beautiful leather and with full electric adjustability and heating and continues with all the usual high-end technologies that come with this badge.
Mercedes’ Comand system combines a 21.3cm TFT colour display with hard-disc drive navigation, digital radio, 10GB music register, Bluetooth connectivity, voice control, internet access and 13-speaker 590W Burmester audio system.
Other highlights include a panoramic sunroof, full LED headlights with adaptive automatic high-beam function, head-up display, full keyless entry with push-button start, surround parking sensors with 360-degree camera and automatic park assistance, and a Driver Assistance Plus package – complete with adaptive cruise control, automatic lane keep assistance, blind-spot monitor and full autonomous emergency braking (AEB).
An even more overt C43 option will be the convertible version – the first such drawn specifically of a C-Class - and though the outright sports edition doesn’t arrive quite yet, the open-top experience has begun with the 2.0-litre four-cylinder C200 and C300 models that have similar specifications to the coupe equivalents.
Obviously it’s all change overhead with a folding fabric roof that, while seemingly more simplistic that one rival’s all-metal approach, is actually deceptively swish, since the local issue cars have a supremely insulating multi-layer acoustic roof that's optional in Europe.
Letting the sunshine into the swish four-seater interior requires nothing more laborious than a pull of a silver metallic lever just ahead of the split-lidded console bin; from thereon the lid pops down quietly in 20 seconds at up to 50kmh if you cannot be bothered stopping. But stop my driving accomplice and I had to, for what turned out to be a quite prolonged period, because nothing happens unless the luggage partition in the boot is first slotted into place. This folds down from the boot cavity roof and isn’t easy to spot on a bright day when the boot carpet is black and you’re also wearing sunglasses. It took a quick flick through the handbook to find the partition then, once it was dropped, we realised that – even though we only had overnight luggage – one of those bags had to relocate to the back seat because the folded roof reduces boot capacity from 360 litres to just 285.
Running roof down will be preferred with a full complement of four passengers, not simply for ego-massaging purpose but also because, with the lid up, the rear seat is quite enclosed, and not simply for headroom. Accessing the rear might be simple enough, with a flick of a lever moving the front seat forward electrically (another returns it back) but it’s simply not decorous.
The four-pot models are more cruisers than bruisers, which some might argue is the better way to go with this variant. However, even with that in mind, the C300 seems the stronger choice, moreso than might be the case in other shapes.
It’s something to do with it having a stronger spec – including heated seats – and also due to the additional power and torque outputs being useful when hauling a bodyshape that, due to the extra strengthening required when a fixed roof is removed, adds 140kg to the power-to-weight equation.