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I'll admit it -- I wasn't the first person to jump up with excitement when Mercedes-AMG announced that it would be incorporating a second, lower tier of performance vehicles. AMGs, to me, have always stood as wild variants of otherwise-sedate luxury cars with immensely powerful engines.
When AMG announced the -43 lineup, packing turbocharged V6 engines, I clutched every pearl I could get my hands on.
But then I drove one, and I grew out of that phase. While they may not pack the same outlandish sound and feel as the -63 lineup, the AMG -43s are still boatloads of fun, offering just-crazy-enough performance with similar trimmings at a lower price point. Sounds good on paper, and feels good in meatspace.
Which brings us to the 2017 Mercedes-AMG C43 Coupe. This car is not let down by its engine, nor its interior, nor its appearance. It is an excellent sports coupe that just so happens to be permanently connected to one of the least comfortable suspension setups I have ever had the privilege of experiencing from a luxury manufacturer.
Just as the C43 is a mid-tier AMG, its aesthetics are slightly aggressive, but not overly so. Compared to a standard C300 Coupe, the C43 has angrier front and rear bumpers, black mirror caps and black window surrounds. Our tester had the $200 Night Package, which blacks out the front wing, rear diffuser insert and tailpipes, too, which was a nice touch for not a lot of dough.
Our tester also carried an excellent shade of white paint -- Designo Diamond White -- but it comes with a $1,515 premium. For white paint that's only slightly different than the free white paint.
Things were equally monochromatic inside. The interior was largely black, with seats made from Mercedes' MB-Tex vinyl that feels better than some mid-range automakers' leather. Red stitching on the seats and interior trim was a nice touch, and while gloss black looks premium, I don't like it because all it does is highlight fingerprints.
The interior looks good, but it feels a bit compact up front. The seats in the back are like those in the Toyota 86 or Porsche 911 -- good for very small children, or parcels, but not at all for adults. The panoramic sunroof helped alleviate some of the claustrophobia, but it was still a bit tight for a six-foot-tall driver like myself.
The real gem of this car is its engine -- a 3.0-liter, twin-turbocharged V6 putting down 362 horsepower and 384 pound-feet of torque. All-wheel drive is standard, as is a nine-speed automatic. All three of these components work together in harmony, providing more than ample traction as the V6 grunts and snorts its way down the street, flicking through the gears smoothly enough as to be nearly imperceptible.
If you aren't going to row through the gears yourself with the shift paddles, leaving the transmission in Comfort mode is probably best, unless you like unnecessarily high revs at commuting speeds -- Sport is okay, but Sport+ holds revs for far too long in normal driving situations.
That combination doesn't elicit the best fuel economy, either -- the C43 is rated at 20 mpg city and 28 mpg highway. A light foot will keep you on par with the highway estimate, but I was seeing closer to 15 in the city. Then again, I was also having fun, which tends to have a negative effect on mpg.
Brake pedal feel is grabby but consistent, and the steering ratio is quick. It feels lithe at all times, like a dog that's just raring for you to throw the ball so he can make the jump to hyperspace trying to catch it.
There's one part of the car that I wish wasn't so eager, and that's the suspension. It's harsh, almost punishingly so. It doesn't matter which of the three modes the suspension is set to -- even in Comfort, the ride is brittle and uncomfortable on any pavement that isn't perfectly smooth. Since that kind of pavement doesn't exist in Michigan, it was a long week.
Some of that can be attributed to our tester's optional 19-inch wheels ($850) and low-profile summer tires. Sticking with the 18-inch wheels that come with the car should afford some respite for your vertebrae. If you aren't taking it to the track or a glass-smooth back road, do your body a favor and leave it in Comfort mode.
Mercedes-Benz has a wide variety of technical gadgetry, and your experience will largely depend upon how much money you feel like throwing at your dealer. Our tester had what I would consider the middle ground of tech.
The optional $2,650 Premium 2 package gives the C43 SiriusXM-based traffic and weather, a touch-capable infotainment controller, power folding mirrors, an electronically operated trunk and ambient lighting. If safety systems are your hang, you'll have to shell out $5,550(!) for the Premium 3 package, which adds adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist and all that good stuff.
That's not surprising for Mercedes-Benz, even if you can get some of that stuff on a Toyota without paying an extra penny. At least automatic braking is standard.
Mercedes-Benz has a few different iterations of its COMAND infotainment system. When you have two massive 12-inch screens, it's great. When it's all jammed into a single 8.4-inch screen, not so much. The menus are occasionally confusing, internet-connected services are hit-or-miss at best, and the touchpad controller never seems to figure out what I'm trying to have it do.
The C43 Coupe starts at $55,900, but you probably won't stop there. Nor should you, if you want your car loaded with some degree of creature comforts. And I'm a weirdo, so my personal C43 carries some extra frippery that I feel enhances the experience.
I opted for $720 Dakota Brown paint, saving a bit of money over the more expensive Designo Diamond White our tester had. I'd stick with the aesthetically pleasing $200 AMG Night Package, too. Inside, a $325 black ash wood trim upgrade gets rid of the annoying-to-me gloss black trim. I'd also replace the red seatbelts with black ones, because red is too flashy for me.
I would spend $1,090 for the Parking Assist package that adds ultrasonic parking sensors, because I like that extra bit of security. I'd plunk down $2,200 for the Multimedia Package, which confers all the infotainment-related upgrades from the Premium 2 Package.
I'd cap it off with the $1,250 sports exhaust, because it's an AMG and it deserves to be as loud as humanly possible. That leaves me with a price tag of $62,680 (including $995 for destination), which is only a couple hundred bucks higher than our tester.
It bears mentioning that Mercedes only has the 2018 C43 Coupe available for building on its website, which is the tool I used. Thus, prices and packages have likely changed slightly compared to our tester. If you're buying pre-owned or from dealer stock, you won't be able to pick-and-choose many options, anyway. If you can wait, I'd recommend ordering one straight from the factory to ensure it's exactly how you want it.
The C43 is a mid-tier sports coupe, and thus, only really competes against automakers who created similar offerings. It's perhaps closest to the Audi S5 coupe, which is a little cheaper at $54,600. The S5 has more power but less torque, and it also comes standard with automatic braking. It's more efficient in both city and highway driving, too.
Its other chief competitor is the Infiniti Q60. Opt for the top-tier Red Sport 400 trim, and you get a 400-horsepower V6 and all-wheel drive for a starting price of $54,000. It's nearly equal in terms of fuel economy, but it falls short of the Mercedes when it comes to interior quality and infotainment.
The BMW 440i Coupe xDrive is only a quasi-competitor. Its starting price is close at $51,700, and it's more efficient than even the S5, but its six-cylinder output is lacking at 320 hp and 330 torques. It's not really marketed as a proper sporty thing, either. It's just a 430i with a larger engine.
If you're willing to plunk down an extra $10,000 on the car's base price instead of options, the world opens up with some additional competition. The Cadillac ATS-V Coupe starts at $64,790, but its V6 puts out a rip-snorting 464 hp and 445 torques, and you can even get it in a manual. The Lexus RC F is in that same price range, and its V8 packs 467 hp.
If, after you've finished cross shopping, you're still hell-bent on the C43, you won't be let down. It's a great drive surrounded by some very fetching sheet metal. If you can get past the spine-jarring ride -- or, if you live near the smoothest roads on earth -- it's almost nothing but upsides.