Mental images of Benz C-Class AMGs are usually clouded by smoky burnouts generated by torquey, tyre-shredding V8s.
So, despite the existence of the A45, we’re probably not alone in struggling to get our heads around the idea of an Affalterbach-altered mid-sizer with six cylinders and all-wheel drive.
Seems Benz is also slightly confused about the Mercedes-AMG C43, which was originally a sportier version of a C400 and badged C450 AMG Sport.
What hasn’t changed is a 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 that produces 28 per cent fewer bubbles than the C63’s full-fizz 375kW 4.0-litre dual-snail V8. Mercedes will be hoping it proves more popular than Coke Life.
View it with a half-glass-full attitude, though, and with 270kW and 520Nm the C43’s outputs almost identically match those of the decade-old C55 AMG – in the good ol’ days when a Benz badge was actually related to engine capacity.
A run in the Coupe variant of what will eventually comprise four body styles reveals a sweet engine. While it can only propel the C43 to within seven-tenths of its angrier sibling in the 0-100 sprint despite the advantage of the 4Matic system, the 4.7-second quote matches its most direct rival – the 260kW/500Nm Audi S4/S5.
Maximum torque arrives at 2000rpm, though low-rev throttle response is doughy in Comfort mode so a switch to mid-mode Sport or top-mode Sport Plus is necessary to stir the most desirable reaction from the six-cylinder.
There’s a delectable raspiness to the engine even if it’s not as omnipresent as the C63’s V8, but the most AMG-like noises come from the Performance exhaust that’s part of a $4990 Performance Ergonomics Package option. It ensures the C43 burbles on the over-run and pops and crackles on flat-out upshifts.
Those shifts from the nine-speed auto are crisp and quick without matching the ferocious rapidity of big-brother’s seven-speeder. Less acceptable is the auto’s reluctance to downshift from third to second for hairpins on command, and its determination to change up 250rpm shy of the 6500rpm redline even if the ‘manual shift mode’ button has been engaged.
If this is naughtiness of the wrong variety for an AMG, the C43 is also a little too polite on the road. Mercedes says there’s a rear bias to the all-wheel drive system, though power oversteer is certainly not freely available on tap, detracting from the inherent sportiness of the new model.
While it‘s tempting to call this an AMG with training wheels, owing to its predictable rather than playful handling which verges towards mild understeer on the limit, the C43’s agility still impresses – as does its excellent traction out of corners.
And on rainy days, that AWD system is a welcome USP for a speedily piloted C-Class.
The steering doesn’t lose any involvement either, providing the right kind of feedback – in contrast to the BMW 440i’s rack – and commanding obedience from the C43 Coupe’s front end.
The suspension is almost identical to the C63’s, give or take what Mercedes says are some minor calibration differences. Yet while even in Comfort there’s the familiar ultra-stiff set-up, that’s neither a back-breaker nor deal-breaker, some floatiness across compressions suggests the C43’s dampers aren’t quite as disciplined across undulating country roads.
That firm ride isn’t the only factor providing at least the sensation of being in the flagship AMG. The aforementioned Ergonomics Pack also brings the C63’s Recaro-style Performance seats and its flat-bottomed leather/microfibre steering wheel – albeit without the contrasting grey centring stripe.
And the chequered-flag-design AMG instrument cluster is standard among the now-familiar upmarket presentation of the C-Class cabin.
The C43 gains head-up display, darker trim details, a sunroof and LED intelligent headlights. The Coupe and Cabriolet variants add heated seats over the sedan and wagon versions.
The C43 has more in common visually with sibling four- rather than eight-cylinder Coupes, particularly as all the two-doors wear an AMG body kit as standard.
While there’s an AMG badge, it sits on a diamond rather than black-mesh grille, and the exterior also misses out on the C63 S’s bicep-flexing ‘power dome’ bonnet, more aggressive-looking lower air intakes, quad exhaust tips, and one-inch-bigger (20-inch) rear wheels, possibly to the model’s detriment.
Mercedes understandably has to protect the more expensive AMG, especially as it carries a premium of more than 50 per cent over the $105,615 C43 Coupe. The Mercedes-AMG C43 Coupe, in fact, is positioned perfectly in both specifications and pricing – the latter landing it in the vicinity of both the BMW 440i and Audi S5.
The badge is trickier to reconcile. Where Audi and BMW have found a good middle-ground with their respective S and M Performance sub-brands, the C43 feels like it’s missing some key strands of AMG DNA. It’s more sanity than satanic.
That broader appeal will hopefully do wonders in the showroom for the brand, of course. Yet while the original C450 AMG Sport moniker doesn’t carry the same marketing muscle as the new badge, it seems a more natural fit for what is still another highly likeable C-Class.
3.5 OUT OF 5 STARS
LIKE: Plenty of grunt; strong grip and traction
DISLIKE: Not quite true to the AMG brand we know and love
Engine: 2996cc V6 DOHC twin turbo
Power: 270kW @ 5500-6000rpm
Torque: torque 520Nm @ 2000-4200rpm
0-100km/h: 4.7sec (claim)