The Mercedes-AMG C43 is a compelling sport sedan. It attacks corners with brute force and finesse, like Jack Sparrow wielding a sword. From a driving dynamics standpoint, the C43 is one of the most captivating sport sedans you can buy today. It’s luxurious and packed with tech, too. But because there’s such a focus on performance above all, it makes for some serious trade-offs in daily-driver comfort and livability.
A swift punch
The C43 is such a thrill to drive fast. Under the hood lies a 3.0-liter, twin-turbocharged V6 that blasts 385 horsepower and 384 pound-feet of torque through a fast-acting nine-speed automatic transmission. Zero to 60 miles per hour is cracked off in 4.5 seconds, and with the variable exhaust fully open, the six-pot lets out an intimidating wail reminiscent of a World War II war horn.
No matter which way I ask this thing to change direction, it follows my lead like a telepathically connected dance partner. This is especially evident with the quick-ratio steering. Chuck the AMG C43 into a corner, and the sedan reacts rapidly, but with poise, kind of like Evander Holyfield delivering a knockout blow. The C43 offers some of the best turn-in of any car I’ve driven. The front-end grip is substantial, and as I’m making my way through twisties, a refreshingly high amount of feedback is delivered through the steering wheel.
There’s plenty of rear-end grip as well, thanks to 4Matic all-wheel-drive. I love the extra speed I can get when pulling onto a busy road. Mash the gas pedal into the carpet when making a right turn, and there’s no drama from the tires. It’s simply a grip-and-go affair.
When it comes time to rein in all that speed, massive 14.2-inch brake discs up front and 12.6-inch stoppers out back can haul the C43 down without breaking a sweat.
For a luxury-sports sedan that leans heavily on the sports side of the spectrum, the C43 is actually fuel efficient. Most of my week was spent on the highway, albeit with a heavy foot, so a combined average of 24.7 miles per gallon is notable for a car that’s EPA rated for 19/27 city/highway mpg.
Speed- and spine-shattering
The C43 is one of the most athletic-feeling sports sedans you can buy today, but that athleticism comes at a huge cost: ride quality. Regardless of whether I have the dampers in Comfort, Sport or Sport+ mode, even moderate road irregularities are uncomfortable. The C43 may have engaging driving dynamics, but when it comes to the ride, I feel as though I’m driving a 17-year-old’s ’90s-era Honda Civic with cut springs.
Some of the blame for that awful ride goes to the extremely low-profile 19-inch wheels wrapped in 40-series rubber up front and 35-series rubber out back. Furthermore, the level of tire noise I can hear from behind the wheel is crazy — certainly too high for a sport/luxury sedan like this. Tire roar gets especially raucous over concrete sections of freeway. My advice: Choose the smaller, 18-inch wheel/tire package. You’ll get a better ride and maybe a little less noise in the cabin. You’ll also save $850.
A tech redemption
It’s not all bad news with the C43. This C-Class’ tech game is strong. In front of me lies a crisp, 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster flanked by a 10.25-inch screen to the right, with Car-to-X communication, embedded navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Mercedes offers a few approaches to control what I see on the center stack. The easiest is via the rotary dial on the center console, but the touchpad just behind it is pretty useful as well. I also have the option of controlling the infotainment and vehicle functions via touchpads on the steering wheel. The wheel-mounted controls are a little busy, so it might take me more than a week to get used to operating them without looking, but overall, the interface is pretty good.
The Burmesteris nice, offering an enveloping sound experience, but the audio quality drops off at lower frequencies. Burmester systems in more expensive Mercedes-Benz vehicles sound better, but $850 is reasonable to step up to mostly decent audio.
The C43 also offers plenty of driver-assistance features. The $1,800 Driver Assistance Package carries conveniences like blind-spot monitoring with cross-traffic braking and adaptive cruise control with steering assist and lane-change assist. The C43 is impressive with the way it automates lane changes, but I found myself rarely using the steering assist. When it was engaged, I often had to fight the assistance in order to keep a smooth line through gentle turns.
Beautiful inside and out
I’m beyond impressed with my tester’s Multibeam LED headlights that emit numerous LED beams that can be individually switched on and off to prevent dazzling oncoming traffic. These lights are like automatic high beams hopped up on 100 cups of coffee. Plus the light show they offer on startup was my favorite thing to show off to friends and family.
Moving inside, there’s a similarly beautiful light display to be had, the optional, 64-color ambient lighting showing off the cabin’s elegant, flowing lines. In fact, aside from some lower-rent plastics in the areas where you don’t touch, the C43’s interior is inviting and impressively crafted.
That said, I find my C43’s AMG Performance Seats to be wildly uncomfortable. Sitting in them for even a few minutes makes my lower back go numb as there’s hardly any cushioning on them. Whether driving around the corner or across Southern California, I found myself frequently shifting in the seats to minimize discomfort. Perhaps some of my displeasure is due to the fact that I’m quite thin, but I’d still strongly suggest saving your hard-earned $2,500 by getting the standard seats. They’re great.
Moving back to the trunk, you won’t find a lot of space. There’s only 12.6 cubic feet back there, whereas most competitors offer 13 cubic feet or more. If you need more room, though, the rear seats fold in a 40/20/40 split, which can make things more practical.
How I’d spec it
The 2019 Mercedes-AMG C43 Sedan starts at $55,250. As tested, mine comes out to $72,605 including $995 for destination, but the one I’d buy wouldn’t be nearly that high. In addition to the $3,350 in options I’ve already recommended you skip, my tester also features the $1,750 Exterior Carbon Fiber Package, which is as frivolous as filling a swimming pool with champagne. Pass.
My must-haves include the sharp-looking $720 Diamond Silver Metallic paint, the $900 Exterior Lighting Package, which includes those amazing Multibeam LEDs, and the $2,300 multimedia package that adds embedded navigation along with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. I’d also add the head-up display for $990, the surround-view camera with automated parallel parking for $1,090 and the AMG Performance Exhaust System for $1,250, which totals out to around $66,000.
Too much of one good thing
The Mercedes-AMG C43 is an incredibly capable sports sedan, with strong power and sharp handling. It’s also loaded with cutting-edge tech, which begins to make the car feel more well-rounded, but the awful ride and loud interior pretty much cancel out any of its inherent luxury.