AMG’s V6 engine breaks all the rules – it’s designed, but not built (nor signed) by the performance house. But even while going ‘lite’, it still does heavy pretty well.
For: Characterful, sweet engine; top-notch quality; great seats.
Against: Coupe compromises; wand-style gear shifter; jittery ride (GLC)
Calling on the glamour of the AMG name and image without fully immersing in its excitement - does that seem a bit of a marketing-led cheat?
To some purists, the concept of the emergent '43' line, which is producing product with the common tie of a stirring high-performance 180kW/ 370Nm biturbo V6 engine, might seem a little bit of … well, if not a cheat then something of a shortcut.
But if that’s the case, then a lot of customers are keen to take that dollar- and cylinder-saving drive nonetheless.
That the new derivatives are apportioned indirect Affalterbach attention - forget that the engine is not hand-built by AMG (hence the lack of that special trademark of an assembler’s signature), the cars themselves doesn’t come from its bespoke assembly hall, but instead are made on the same Mercedes production line that outputs mainstream product – doesn’t seem to be of any concern to the healthy customer base for go-faster Benz cars.
AMG imprint on the New Zealand market has always been very high and, it seems, the V6 cars have simply further elevated the excitement to be part of that gang. In recent months the six-cylinder newbies have been out-accelerating the brand’s more historically famous V8 and V12 powerplants. Clearly any perceptions of purity have simply been swept aside, assuming they ever cropped up at all.
What makes this an even better bottom line story is that the advance is wholly into fresh territory; most people drawn to this new back-end badge aren’t downsizing from the brawnier Benz product. They’re newbies, many drawn from driving six-cylinder performance BMW, Audi and Lexus product.
The ‘43’ thrust now encompasses the new E-Class, but the main attack comes from product within the next-size-down C-Class. On test today are today are the two coupe choices, a C43 road car in $120,900 fitout and a higher standing crossover, the GLC43, which is test trim was a $124,890 ask.
What’s a coupe? These says, the question seems to lack any relevance: A coupe was once a two-door, low-slung car. It’s still that but, according to Germany’s elite brands, it can also be a high-set, four-door low-roofed crossover.
There is one continuing historic reference. Both styles still require a degree of owner dedication that most Kiwis don’t have, because they quite clearly ask for compromise in respect to rear cabin space.
True, they’re not impossible for adult occupation – the C43 Coupe ran long distance with three aboard without too much complaint from the back. At least, until, she sought to step out. Even with a front passenger chair that auto-slides and tilts a generously, and despite the big doors having a good swing, fact is that the C-Class coupe is not the easiest car from which a person can emerge decorously, not least when it’s angle-parked beside other vehicles. Lowering the front door glass helped.
The crossover presents a different challenge. Even though the Coupe is eight centimetres longer, four centimetres lower and also a touch wider than the GLC wagon, and despite the back doors allowing independent access, the sloping roofline dictates that it really hasn’t a tremendous lot more rear seat comfort than the pure road car and perhaps no more headroom, either. The tall will find their heads brushing the roof and there’s really only space for two in comfort thanks to the large transmission tunnel. Boot space also suffers for this fashion; both cars offer deep and slightly shallow spaces, that are usefully shaped, but the GLC’s has 50 litres less with the seats up, and is 200-litres down with them folded, than the wagon alternate can offer and you have to lift items high to load them in.
Cabin storage in both cars is reasonable: the door bins and glovebox are a decent size, the centre console armrest flips up to reveal a deep bin, and rear seat occupants get cup holders in the armrest. But, you know, best pack lightish …
You cannot deny that both cars are real lookers. Reminder that AMG is as much about premium presentation as it is about performance panache is hardly disguised. The C-Class coupe, especially, is one of those models that, if you didn’t know the price, chances are any guesstimate would be too high. The GLC Coupe has a more brooding presence and also dresses the part with 20-inch rims and a lowered ride height, and while it perhaps doesn’t have such a ‘cultured’ ambience, it also draws the eye.
Even though they feel a bit enclosed, these cars are nonetheless extremely nice places in which to sit due to the quality of Benz’s design, materials and appointments. The GLC Coupe’s driving position is a bit lower than the GLC wagon’s, which helps the car feel like a sportier SUV, and is adjustable for all shapes and sizes, with electric steering wheel adjustment provisioned. Front visibility isn’t too bad but, as you’d expect, the sloping roof and thick pillars affect rear and side visibility. Best to rely on the rear view camera to help you out of tight spots.
The C-Class car’s luxury ambience is even more pronounced, with performance chairs trimmed in beautiful leather and with full electric adjustability and heating and with all the usual high-end technologies that come with this badge, though those chasing the very latest in electronic architecture best look to the E-Class.
The C-Class smarts are not clever enough for Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, so both cars here miss out on that working through the Comand system’s 21.3cm TFT colour display But it does have 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 panoramic sunrooves, 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).
The only engine that the AMG volk don’t assemble by hand doesn’t produce a rumble as distinctive as the C63’s V8 from the get-go and, in fact, requires the drivetrain modes to go into their most overt settings to find some serious snarl and shove – a process that includes enacting a switchable active exhaust.
But don’t think it is wussy. Once all the dials are turned to ‘max’, this mill certainly provides C43, s for the GLC43 - 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.
The 43 cars were the first AMGs with the new nine-speed automatic transmission that is also infiltrating into the mainstream Mercedes models. The performance version has been sharpened for AMG tastes and rewards with crispness, particularly in Sport plus mode, which delivers an aggressive shift mapping. It also runs nicely in manual mode, though in both models the switch is annoyingly located. All the same, with so many cogs, you shouldn’t be surprised that the highest ratios are wildly overdriven. When driven with any kid of verve, it seems to regress to being more like a seven speed. Indeed, I suspect the very uppermost gears might only put in appearance at cruise, though then it is very relaxed indeed.
No launch control here, as per AMG’s V8 cars, but perhaps that feature is redundant with these models having all-wheel-drive, a factor that while adding weight and some complexity certainly has positive influence. The 4Matic system is an interesting set-up; both cars always evidenced plenty of grip and purchase, but it hasn’t the involvement or entertainment level of Audi’s Quattro. All the same, these cars do run with a huge confidence when the surface conditions are far from optimal.
The dynamic recipe also 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). The C43’s steering knuckles and load-bearing joints were borrowed from the C63 for improved rigidity.
Gotta say that both cars remind that when AMG thinks luxury, it still holds firm views. Perhaps too firm in respect to the GLC. The C-Class car stops short of offering a magic carpet ride, but when the Dynamic Select control is turned to Comfort the road car at least expresses a semblance of suaveness, whereas the crossover simply retains degrees of stiffness.
Anyone who imagines this will provide dynamic advantage is also heading down the wrong track. Even with a low roof, the GLC is taller and it also carries more weight. Unavoidably, then while it can achieve impressive speed and maintain tenacious roadholding when driven through bends at speed, it is nonetheless harder work, with a degree of lean when pushing hard through corners that a drive will accept as good fun, whereas passengers might hold alternate views. Both achieve incredible cut-through, but whereas the C-Class scythes, the GLC tends to slash. All the same, Benz never skimps on the good stuff – the tyres in themselves are huge and top-drawer for grip – so these machines feel well tied down.
Being so swank to travel in does not harm, of course. The best interior Benz has to offer now belongs to the E-Class; it’ll be brilliant when the C models also step up to the bigger car’s dash-spanning media and instrument screen. However, for functionality and ease of use, the GLC and C43 have few foibles, save that the media player is a bit odd to enact and some of the sub-menus aren’t quite as intuitive as they could be.
Basically, though, the biggest bugbear is that these are the only AMG cars that, instead of having a mid-sited gear selector, use the mainstream Benz system of a shifter stalk that comes off the steering column. It works, and you can handshift with cogs, but sooner or later you know you are going to inadvertently mistake it for a indicator wand and bump it into neutral when ‘signalling’ a left turn.
Other than this, it’s a sweet ride. While the C43 sits its driver closer to the floor, whereas the GLC conforms to crossover tradition in providing a relatively higher-set position, but not only have excellent seats but also offer really good driving positions.
These body shapes will not appeal to all, but undoubtedly the styling is one of the elements at the root of their appeal. That style is equalled by impressive quality. Benz these days does not cut corners and AMG itself sets an even higher standard.
The V6 doesn’t deliver the last word in kapow, and neither car delivers as the be-all for driver excitement, but there is certainly enough performance and panache here to show that this AMG association is far more than simply a matter of the racer division having bunged on some badges and left it at that. These are pedigree products, good enough to stand alongside the sub-brand’s big dogs.