Entry-level AMG? Far from it. This Is A Rebel.
In the recent Black Panther MCU movie, Erik Killmomger, a forgotten rebel child emerges from the doldrums of exile, barges into the royal halls of the kingdom of Wakanda to claim his birth-right to its thrown. Riding on a misplaced zeal and askew intentions to liberate his oppressed race, he soon defeats his cousin, the Black Panther himself in a ritualistic combat ritual, to become the king. The narrative expands later on of course, but I couldn’t help but draw parallels between the Marvel supervillain Killmonger and this robust Mercedes-AMG C43. Like the heavily determined and forceful supervillain, this C 43 recently smashed open the doors into the hallowed halls of AMG with more than a fighting chance, with claims aplenty to the throne that’s currently occupied by its bigger C 63 lord. So, is the C 43 just as brutal? The short answer is no, but, it’s not far from being a proper road-bruiser simply because, the rebellious spirit in this pocket-sized beast is a thriving one.
This particular C 43 that I drove last week is in fact the locally-assembled (CKD) version, which means it comes with some tax-cuts. Upon its introduction, it came at an initial price of RM408,888 (RM91,000 lower than the imported/CBU version) but of course, with the new tide after GE14 and at ZERO per cent GST, this baby now comes with a staggeringly low price of just RM385,883.21. That’s another RM23,004.79 slashed off its price tag, making it a downright steal all around. As always, whether it is worth all that money is a matter of subjectivity and based on my time with it, the lines are as blur as the moral issues explored in the Marvel movie hit.
For the starters, the interior is not a full AMG affair. Being an entry level AMG, I’d have thought that Mercedes would go all-out in parading those 3 stellar letters at least. Instead, you only chance upon it on places like the speedo/rev dials and the floor mats, the latter of which can easily be sourced on the after market and not necessarily denote its purebred, ‘one-man-one-engine’ AMG heart. It does however, come with some nicely accentuated Mercedes-Benz leather upholstery and some sporty red AMG seatbelts latch you into your sports seats. Still, there’s a very old Merc look to the C 43’s cabin in general.
The small, 8.4-inch display screen is the first-thing that gives away this cabin’s age in terms of design. Although I don’t drive a modern car currently, I’m already accustomed to touching and swiping infotainment screens with my fingers. The screen in the C 43 doesn’t come with touchscreen options as standard. In fact, the cabin is so dated that there are still things like a slot for your old Frank Sinatra CDs. I appreciated it on a personal level, but I’m chewing the this issue out for the newer generation of customers and drivers who’d prefer convenience instead of hi-fidelity sound. Still, your phone connects to the Merc’s COMAND module via Bluetooth settings easily, but again, all that space to accommodate a CD player seems a little bit of a misfire.
Where the aesthetics and some appointments fail a little, the overall cabin experience is still premium in a Mercedes kind of way. For one, there’s a 13-speaker Burmester audio system lodged into the C 43 and my-oh-my, it makes any audiophile smile from ear to ear. But to be honest, I’m trying real hard at this point to fight for this interior’s plus-points. As a journalist, I will forgive the poor cabin because I’ve seen it time and again how Mercedes’ cabins have taken styling and comfort to new heights in the premium segment. The production E and S Classes are simply stunning and it’s a pity some of this design flair isn’t showboated in this entry level AMG rocket. If this is your first AMG option, then you’re going to be left ruing things when you see the interior of its bigger AMG relatives. There is the alternate view though, that with a driver-orientated car like this, do we really need it to be all posh and pizzazz top to bottom? No, says this writer.
Even so, while the cabin experience might be stuck in a lost decade, the pulsating drive experience with the C 43 AMG is quite a highlight and believe me, it’s so good that you automatically want to reach in and pull out your credit card. Is it a heavy hitting slugger like the C 63 AMG? Definitely no, but if the C 63 were Muhammad Ali, the C 43 would be Sugar Ray Robinson in his unblemished prime. Taking her down south to Seremban, Negeri Sembilan over the weekend was a good idea to flex its struts and gears a little more. Whenever road sections allowed it, I pushed the C 43 along the Lekas Highway and discovered how seamless its 9G-Tronic tranny is, which is actually due to the fact that it has that many gears to begin with, a joyous short-shifting galore. The delivery of its horses is not clumsy and the ratios have been nicely tuned to propel the sports sedan forward quite smoothly, with tasteful amounts of AMG punch to the gear-feel. While the gear-change lag can be felt when you’re negotiating Seremban Town traffic, on freer roads, I got to understand the transmission a little better to drive the C 43 in a more polished way. It’s sharp and very confident along curvy sections. Actually, it can be very aggressive when you go looking for the C 43’s limits. Just like Killmonger, it has a big thirst for mindless physicality and you can feel it in the C 43 how all that force-inducted power rushes out on tap so quickly with such venom and bite. However, the one issue you might face while driving this C 43 is its ride comfort.
Given that the theme of this C 43 is performance-orientated, its struts are still sprung a little too stiff in ‘Comfort’ and it was difficult to tell the difference between that and ‘Eco’ mode. In ‘Sport’ and ‘Sport +’, the automatic adaptive dampers, part of the AMG Ride Control system, are quite accurate in managing the car’s moving weight in tandem with spirited driving inputs. Again, I realise that the stiffness is what an AMG should have, but there can be some adjustments to the default damper settings of the C 43 in at least ‘Eco’ and/or ‘Comfort’ to soften things up. This is after all, what the German brand themselves call a “Track-ready Limousine”. The ‘Track’ part is bang on but the ‘Limousine’ part needs some work. Of course, I’m nit-picking here to search out a flaw. In comparison to its bigger AMG siblings, this is an AMG that does not hurt your spine. In fact, the entire AMG 43 range has a good comfort-performance balance in line with its entry-level AMG guise.
Right about now, you must be asking it; how does this C 43 feel in comparison to its bigger hooligan of a brother, the manic C 63 AMG? Well, if the C 43 is Killmonger, then the C 63 is the King of Wakanda himself, the Black Panther. Where the C 43 drives like a C-Class fuelled by a backpack of steroids, the C 63 runs like a demon choking on ecstasy. Very bad examples yes, but the theatricality is indeed vastly different between the two, and you don’t need to drive the two AMG Cs to tell them apart. Just knowing what’s under each hood will tell you one part of the story.
This C 43 kisses the tarmac quite sensually with its 19-inch alloys and gets its 362 hp from a 3.0-litre, twin-turbo V6 engine that also cranks out 520 Nm of torque. This allows it to blaze up to the 100 km/h mark in a mere 4.7 seconds. However, something like the C 63 S on the other hand, houses a much bigger engine- a 4.0-litre, twin-turbo V8 mill that pounds the road with 510 hp and 700 Nm of torque. No guesses then to who wins the century sprint; the C 63 S smashes it almost into supercar territory at just 4 seconds flat. And to put a lot more perspective to this, the base C 250 clocks the same feat at 6.5 seconds. I’m not going to put the rest of the C 250’s specs here for fear of embarrassing it but I must remind you, that in the right set of hands, even the base C-Class can run-ragged across Sepang Circuit, so you can imagine how thrilling it must be to drive a C packing a twin-tubro V6. That V8 from the C 63 is still the gospel though.
In a broader context, I loved how this C43 AMG explores the further, full potential of what the C-Class platform is capable of. Since the first generation W202 of 1993 (not forgetting the preceding W201 as well), the C-Class model range has only gotten better right up to its current fourth generation (W205). Very rarely showing any clumsiness in an overall sense, each new gen of the C-Class comes with bettered engines and more catchy styling that seeks to re-shape our perception of luxury automobiles. In fact, it is through the W205 C-Class that Mercedes-Benz began departing from the “Old Man’s Car” stereotype. If anything, the C 43, and to many extents, its C 63 sibling, are communicating a lot of ambitions that the German brand are gradually bringing to pass and needless to say, they are converting many Bimmer and Audi fans by the day because of this aggressive product offensive. There’s a slight quandary though to all this progressiveness, especially in providing such a wide product range across the board.
At the risk of being beaten by its own wide product portfolio and strategy, Mercedes-Benz needs to start focusing their message with these special, performance models like the C 43. I’m not having a go at their products because I think they’re getting more impressive with each new generation. I’m talking about carving the niche out clearly for us dimwits who might start questioning the relevance of some of these models. Yes, a car like this C 43 is awesome and by all means, whip out your plastic cards and swipe away because bar the dated cabin, everything else is actually at a steal.
In fact, the C-Class itself is a great, entry-level/first-Merc to buy, but if a brand continues slamming the market with too many product options, there might come a time when people will start questioning the relevance and for Mercedes’ case, the exclusivity of having so many performance models from one production model platform alone. Is it necessary for there to be a C 43, especially when there’s the juggernaut C 63 already? Believe me though when I say it, it’s not that customers are too fickle to decide. It’s that they’re getting mighty smart in telling the difference, especially when the prices for these cars are up there and far apart. True, the best brands provide more options, but it can also mean that a brand isn’t confident with its own products, a case of a slight indecision.
But then again, this is Mercedes-Benz we’re talking about, makers of the automobile, trendsetter cum pioneer of an industry that thrives on the ambiguity of value and pleasure. It’s a concoction that the German marque have mastered in manipulation, hence the audacity to create their own Killmonger in the form of this C 43, to rival its own C 63 Black Panther. I for one appreciate the romance at work here, how a baby AMG enters the fold to battle it out with its big-hitting sibling and to earn its street-rep to sit in the midst of other AMG warriors like the G 63, AMG GT, S 63 and A 45. I’m sure that’s not the intent, but I’m just propagating my own narrative to the C 43 because from my experience, it’s far from a mere entry-level AMG; it’s the real deal, full of promise, action and attitude. If my finances allowed it, I’d use the C 43 for my daily Monday-Friday jog because of the balance between subdued and raunchy. It’s the perfect sleeper if you ask me. Come the weekend though, I’d throw on my Led Zeppelin tee, forcefully pull on those raggedy ol’ Levis, slip into those seasoned Vans and jump into the C 63 Coupe for the drama of that rear-wheel, bellowing V8. Totally unnecessary of course, but that’s the point of an AMG anyway- you dont need one, but hotdamn, it’d be real great to have one.