If you buy a sporty car, you want to know that, when the craving to go on a long drive down a very twisty road strikes, your chosen wheels will satisfy the urge.
Of course, the challenge is often buying a car that’s going to give us this fix, but one that we can drive on a daily basis while maintaining sanity.
With our Mercedes-AMG C43 long termer we’ve basically established that it’s a great companion for the daily grind. A nicely appointed interior with loads of genuinely helpful technologies, a decent ride, generous standard equipment and fantastic seats, all make it a joy to use on a daily basis.
But there are plenty of cars out there like this. The real skill lies in making these cars docile and cruisey when you want them to be, but then growing horns when the road turns twisty.
To test the C43’s ability to switch personalities, we took it across the Great Alpine Road, 312km connecting Wangaratta to Bairnsdale over the Victorian mountains. Mount Hotham, the ski field, is in the middle, at the road’s highest point – and indeed, this is Australia’s highest sealed road.
Checking the weather having not really crossed our mind like it might in a rear-drive car, we make our way from Melbourne 325km to Bright, a trip that isn’t the slightest bit onerous in the comfortable C43. Bright is a great town, a hub for hikers and mountain bikers in the warmer months with surprisingly good pubs, bars, burger joints and cafes. There’s decent accommodation, and a BP with Ultimate.
Leaving early the next morning as the sun rises, with blue-tinted mountains through the windscreen, the road becomes tight and twisty as you start going up in altitude. And it’s here I feel like I’ve made a mistake. Perhaps it’s too early, perhaps I’m a long way from the driving ‘groove’, but the C43 is more frustrating than fun, owing mostly to second and third feeling more like cousins than siblings, odd in a car with a nine-speed auto. But it means second’s not there when you go to intuitively select it under brakes, so you can over-slow the car and get an engine revving too high; or end up lower in the revs in third than you’d like as you go to punch out of the corner.
The electronics also seem to cut the power slightly (and frustratingly) if you get on the gas early and aggressively – exactly what you thought you could do in an all-wheel drive car.
Fortunately the 270kW twin-turbo V6 C43 goes hard and sounds great with a hilarious crack on upshifts and crackles on the overrun. The brakes feel awesome, the steering is pointy and communicative and the seats nice and supportive.
After a coffee at Dinner Plain at the top of the mountains, it’s a fast drive to the small town of Omeo, followed by one of the best stretches of road in Australia as you snake along the Tambo River. And this is where all former memories of the C43 vanish: it is effing awesome, coming alive when the lowest gear you’ll ever want is third, and when traction is not important.
By god, the C43 is fast for what it is – and super competent. A conservative understeer-biased chassis tune invites you to stay on the brakes right into the corner, just to make sure the rear end is awake, and turns the drive from dull to thrilling. We get out at the end stunned at what the C43 can do – and immensely satisfied. There’s even a temptation to return to Melbourne back the way we came. Which – credit to the C43 – says it all, really.
Grunt, snug seats, noise, front end, awesome brakes
Understeer bias; too-short second gear; 19.8L/100km if you’re up it
Tambo River stretch of the Great Alpine Road
Fuel this month: 12.1L/100km
Distance this month: 2038km