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2023 Mercedes-AMG C43 First Drive Review: Electrified Turbo Feels Like Magic

Despite boasting some of the most novel electrification tech available today, with the new C43 Mercedes-AMG chooses to focus on a natural, analog driving feel.

2023 Mercedes AMG C43 sedan with Selenite Gray Magno matte paint by a pond
Through the magic of electrification, the 2023 C43 boasts more power than before with less displacement and half as many turbos.
Antuan Goodwin/CNET

The most impressive part of the 2023 Mercedes-AMG C43 isn't the mild-hybrid assist system, the rear-wheel steering or even the F1-inspired electric exhaust turbocharger. The most impressive part is that, from behind the wheel, you can't really feel all that gadgetry working behind the scenes. Despite being very tech-heavy, the C43 feels very analog out on the road.

With the launch of the fifth-generation C-Class chassis, the C43 jettisons the previous generation's 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged V6 in favor of a 2.0-liter, single-turbo I4. That may look like a downgrade, but this isn't just any ol' four-banger -- it's the hand-built, AMG-specific high-output block shared with the current batch of AMG A-Class variants (A45, CLA45 and GLA45). In the C43, the engine has been further augmented with a 48-volt mild-hybrid system and Mercedes' new electric exhaust-driven turbocharger, which promises to make turbo lag a thing of the past. 

All-in, you're looking at a total of 402 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque -- 22 hp and 9 lb-ft more than the 2019 Mercedes-AMG C43 sedan with a third of the displacement and half as many turbos. And that's before you factor in the 48-volt system's capability to provide an additional electric boost for short scrambles.

Mated to the flywheel is a nine-speed automatic transmission that features a wet startoff clutch for improved launches and reduced weight versus a traditional torque-converter setup. While most of the powertrain increases in complexity, the standard AMG Performance 4Matic all-wheel-drive system simplifies with a fixed, rear-biased 31:69 torque split.

Active suspension, rear steering

Helping the C43 shine during my test drive in France on some of the best driving roads in the world, the sport sedan comes standard with Mercedes' AMG Ride Control suspension. This setup features adaptive dampers with three settings (Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus) all of which are fairly firm. Also standard is rear-axle steering, a feature that is more commonly used on large or long-wheelbase vehicles. At speeds below 37 mph, the system can add up to 2.5 degrees of steering opposite to the front wheels to boost agility and reduce the sedan's turning radius. At higher speeds, stability is improved by steering in tandem with the fronts and limiting articulation to just 0.7 degree.

18-inch wheels are standard equipment with upgrades to 19- and 20-inch packages available. Interestingly, both wheel upgrade options also boost to the top speed from 155 mph to an electronically limited 165 mph. My example rolls on the dubs shod with 245/35ZR20 Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires. Big 14.6-inch discs are grabbed by four-piston brake calipers on the front axle with 12.6-inch rotors and single-pot calipers fitted to the rear. Of course, behind the scenes, the C43 benefits from numerous chassis upgrades over the standard C-Class, including additional bracing, beefier suspension components and bushings and firmed up anti-roll bars.

Indistinguishable from magic

Around town and in its Comfort or Efficient drive modes, the C43's punchy little I4 is easy to modulate, unobtrusive and is even fairly quiet. The stop-start system is extremely smooth with no noticeable hesitation on startup and, with a bit of tweaking, you can even activate a Glide mode that shuts down the engine while coasting to maximize efficiency. The Comfort ride setting is still a touch firm over speed bumps and city streets, but overall the C43 feels like a fantastic and easy to live with daily driver.

The dark concentric rings between the spokes of these 20-inch wheels are said to boost aerodynamic efficiency.

Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Switch the AMG Drive Unit selector to the Sport or Sport Plus modes (or just smash the throttle) and the electric motors mated to the engine and its turbocharger come alive. However, there's no artificiality; the line where hybrid assist begins or ends or when the turbo is getting an electric boost is almost imperceptible. From the driver's seat, it feels more like the engine simply grows in displacement when you need it to and magically sprouts a second turbo, the transition is so smooth. The feeling is surprisingly analog and satisfying. The resulting performance is a thrill ride.

The C43 sprints from 0 to 60 mph in a quick 4.6 seconds, but I'm more impressed with how responsive the engine is at speed. The turbocharger is able to spool up and down with astonishing speed and precision, creating immediate, meaty acceleration when throttling out of a corner followed by upshifts that come with almost no lag or interruption of thrust.

The handling feels well-matched to the high-performing engine with plenty of grip at all four corners. The C43's adaptive suspension, variable steering and rear-wheel steering systems are as transparent in their operation as the electrified powertrain bits. In the heat of the moment, you may not notice that, for example, the steering ratio constantly changes based on the drive mode and speed or that the AMG Dynamics stability control system helps boosts agility in its sportier modes. But you'll definitely notice the surefootedness when diving into a corner and how the steering wheel always seems to have just the right weight and feel.

With a chunky steering wheel and deeply bolstered sport seats, the C43's cockpit is nicely equipped for spirited driving.

Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Cabin tech, bells and whistles

The dashboard is the one place where the AMG C43 doesn't hide its tech. Just ahead of the steering wheel is a large 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster that's matched by a 11.9-inch center LCD touchscreen powered by the company's MBUX software. My example also features a large, optional head-up display and the MBUX navigation with augmented-reality video turn-by-turn directions -- features that are great additions to a daily driver.

This version of MBUX features AMG-specific themes for both displays and is available with optional AMG Track Pace data-logging app that records speed, lap and sector times, pedal and steering inputs and over 80 other parameters when lapping a race track. The rest of the C43's tech and safety loadout is familiar from the rest of the fifth-generation C-Class, with optional lane-keeping assist and adaptive cruise control that works in stop-and-go traffic, standard Android Auto and Apple CarPlay with wireless connectivity for both, Burmester 3D Surround Sound and more.

Available late 2022

Neither pricing nor the EPA economy estimates have been announced for the 2023 C43; expect both to finalized before the sedan hits dealerships later this year. The previous generation started at $57,550 including destination and AMG says the new sedan will continue to compete directly with BMW's M340i xDrive and the Audi S4, so I'm expecting the 2023 C43 will remain in the same ballpark. Of course, we're talking about vehicles that easily stretch into the $70,000 range once you start adding options, so there's a bit of wiggle room for a small price bump.

The electrification tech behind the 2023 Mercedes-AMG C43 is impressive to be sure -- there's plenty to nerd out about under the hood -- but I most enjoyed how AMG's engineers chose to highlight the driving experience rather than the gadgets and gizmos, matching and blending the advanced technologies for a natural, analog feeling and engaging performance on the road that's almost indistinguishable from magic.


Editors' note: Travel costs related to this story were covered by the manufacturer, which is common in the auto industry. The judgments and opinions of CNET's staff are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.