Greater shove and some subtle styling tweaks for the 'baby' AMG C-Class, but the C43 Coupé makes less of a case for itself than the saloon or estate

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You know the C43 – it’s the link between a mainstream C-Class range dominated by 2.0-litre engines and the full-blooded V8 barnstormers built by AMG in Affalterbach.

The reason we’re driving it again is because for 2018 the entire C-Class range is being given a facelift. For the C43 that means greater power, some tweaks to the styling and a touch more flair within its overly sporting cabin, largely by way of a new digital instrument binnacle. These are subtle changes, mind.

The easiest way to tell a C43 from a C63 is the lack of flared wheel arches, which leaves the junior car looking a little semi-skimmed by comparison

The output of the 3.0-litre V6 increases only from 362bhp to 385bhp, thanks to larger turbochargers (mounted in traditional fashion outside, rather than within, the vee of the cylinders) that operate at higher boost pressure. Torque increases not a jot, remaining at a healthy 383lb ft, though it is now fed into the C43’s all-weather 4Matic driveline 500rpm later in the rev-range, at 2500rpm. It’s a recipe that has made this particular model something of a runaway sales success.

It also means the car’s 0-62mph acceleration figures remain unchanged, at 4.7sec for the saloon and coupé and 4.8sec for the estate, which is quick enough so long as you can forget the fact a C63 demolishes the same measure in 3.9sec. Meanwhile, combined fuel economy is rated at 30.4mpg for the saloon, which is enough for a range-nudging 450 miles.

Elsewhere, very little has changed other than the addition of two aerodynamically ‘optimised’ alloy wheel options of 19in and 20in in diameter. As such, the suspension retains a four-link design at the front axle and a multi-link rear, and features steering knuckles from the C63 along with AMG-derived elastokinematics designed to yield high camber stability at speed (spoiler alert: this has worked).

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On the subject of suspension, the easiest way to tell a C43 from a C63 is the lack of grotesquely flared wheel arches, which leaves the junior car looking a little semi-skimmed by comparison. There are, however, new exhaust tips – four of them, circular and all the more old-school for it – and there’s also a styling pack for those who crave a more aggressive front splitter, rear spoiler and broader side skirts.

You might spend a moment or two tinkering with the new 12.3in display that now inhabits the instrument binnacle. Optional elsewhere in the facelifted C-Class range but standard on the C43, it gets an AMG-specific skin with some useful indicators (engine, gearbox oil temps) and other less pressing statistics (boost pressure, g-force and torque output in, er, bar-chart form).

There’s also a new ‘Supersport’ design mode that puts the tachometer front and centre, a la Porsche, and uses bright yellows and reds – very sporty. Overall, it’s a marked improvement over a cockpit that was beginning to feel its age.

The new steering wheel shares the same smattering of dials, miniature touchpad and toggles as you’ll find elsewhere in the Mercedes line-up but, more importantly, boasts a rim reprofiled to be thinner and firmer where you grip it. What a welcome development that is. Along with its optional, ferociously bolstered AMG Performance seats, as you sink in and grasp the wheel our test car feels unexpectedly serious.

Is the C43 a true AMG?

The driving experience is serious too. Too serious, in fact. The torque split is calibrated to deliver 69% of what’s available to the rear axle (where there is still no limited-slip differential) and while that sounds encouraging, the C43, as before, never quite delivers the engagement you’d hope for. This chassis is decently well balanced, endlessly tolerant of sudden adjustments to its line and so rarely flummoxed on the admittedly smooth roads of the Mosel that its cross-country pace can be spectacular. However, from behind the wheel, you never feel so much of a driver as an operator, and that’s largely the result of massive stability and almost unbreakable traction.

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In fact, so composed is the C43 that its performance can be a bit blunted, even with the torque-curve of the V6 having been shifted to the right and a level of performance that is, objectively speaking, more than anyone could ever want. Top speed is limited to 155mph but that didn’t stop our test car from reaching an indicated 171mph with relative ease.

The torque-converter gearbox also leaves something to be desired. It is capable of delivering shifts in a smooth, uninterrupted fashion but in manual-only ‘M’ mode too often stalls momentarily when called into action near the redline. Not only is this frustrating if you’re attempting to enjoy a rare stretch of empty road, but the consequent shudder is uncomfortable. If the red-flashing upshift indicator could just keep its powder dry a little longer, rather than lighting up 800rpm shy of the rev-limiter, that’d be nice too.

How does the C43 compare to its nearest rivals?

Whether to buy one or not depends entirely on your priorities. If the coupé is the C43 you quite like, and feel, finesse and fun are what really matter to you, it would be criminal not to at least try BMW’s upcoming M2 Competition. And, frankly, barring a catastrophic change of tack in Munich, there’s only going to be one winner there.

There’s more dynamic fat to chew with either of those machines than there is on Audi ’s S5, however.

Catering more obliquely to the enthusiast mindset, should you require a blend practicality, all-weather security and a heady dose of straight-up performance, the C43 starts to come into itself in saloon and estate guise.

As a grand-touring companion with something special about it – and that could take a bit of everyday abuse and be more comfortable than you might imagine – this car still ticks plenty of boxes.

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Richard Lane

Richard Lane
Title: Deputy road test editor

Richard joined Autocar in 2017, arriving from Evo magazine, and is typically found either behind a keyboard or steering wheel.

As deputy road test editor he delivers in-depth road tests, performance benchmarking and supercar lap-times, plus feature-length comparison stories between rival cars. He can also be found on Autocar's YouTube channel

Mostly interested in how cars feel on the road – the sensations and emotions they can evoke – Richard drives around 150 newly launched makes and models every year, and focuses mainly on the more driver-orientated products, as is tradition at Autocar. His job is then to put the reader firmly in the driver's seat. 

Away from work, but remaining on the subject of cars, Richard owns an eight-valve Integrale, loves watching sportscar racing, and holds a post-grad in transport engineering. 

Mercedes-AMG C 43 2018-2022 First drives